Being Makar Sankranti the day would go incomplete without starting the day with a good dose of pithey. Also known in Bengal as Poush Sankranti, this marks the end of the inauspicious 29 days of Poush and is celebrated to hearld the arrival of Spring throughout the northern hemisphere over a period of three days. The harvest festival is celebrated with delectable desserts called ‘pithe’ usually prepared with rice flour from freshly harvested paddy, coconut, milk and date palm syrup. Every household serves up a variety of pithe’s like ranga alu’r pithe, the famed gokul pithe, ashke pithe, dudh puli, soru chakli , patisapta, a savoury pithe called nonta puli (made out of rice flakes with a pea filing). These are either fried or steamed and dunked in milk.
I have two sweet teeth and generally do not require much external impetus to indulge in desserts. This year for the first time I tried my hand in making Monoranjan Pithe – Sweetened coconut filled semolina dumplings simmered on a thickened milk syrup. Monoranjan meaning pleasing. What else a way to please your senses.
For making the dumplings:
Half a coconut - grated
Semolina – 2cups
Ginger – ½ inch coarsely grinded in a mortar pestle
Sugar – ½ cup or as per taste
Water – ½ cup or as required
For making the milk syrup
Milk – 1 litre reduced to half
Sugar – to taste
Green Cardamom – 3
This is not a time consuming dish to prepare if you can prepare the coconut filling a day earlier and refrigerate to quicken the prep time.
To make the filling, grate half a coconut – you can use a hand grater to scrape out the flesh from the coconut once broken in half or cut the chunks of the flesh and grind in a food processor (a coffee grinder can also be useful). Desiccated coconut can be substituted if its too much of a trouble.
Heat a saucepan or kadai, add the coconut and stir for a while till it starts getting dry and easily comes off the side of the pan. Keep the heat on medium flame, add in the coarsely grated ginger and stir well till the coconut turns slightly golden. Add in the sugar and cook well till it dissolves. You can keep sprinkling some warm water while working on the filling. Keep aside.
In another pan, dry roast semolina for about 5 mins. This will enhance the flavour of the pithe. Once done, set aside and add boiling water in parts till the mixture is moist. Take it out on a plate and knead well into a dough while it is still hot. Keep a bowl of hot water ready for sealing the dumplings. Make small balls from the semolina dough, pressing them in the middle to make a small bati (where the flattened surface gets a cavity to get the stuffing). Take a small amount of the coconut filling, place in the middle of the cavity, pinch the edges and seal with the hot water to give it a semi circular shape as shown in the picture. This needs to be done quickly so that the semolina does not dry out. Once dry, it is difficult to mould the dough.
For the syrup, boil 1litre milk and reduce to half to give it a thickened consistency and throw in some cardamom seeds. Add a little water if it is too thick. Pour in the sugar and place the dumplings slowly and let them simmer in the milk syrup. You will know the dumplings are cooked thoroughly when no trace of the semolina can be seen. Stir carefully not to break the dumplings. The milk syrup should be thick enough to judiciously coat them individually. Keep aside for a while and serve warm.