Wednesday, 16 February 2011


If winter's here, can puli-pitha be far behind?

Apparently, it can. Winter's all but disappearing round the bend in Calcutta, and apart from a couple of bowls of nolen gurer payesh (rice pudding flavoured with freshly-made jaggery), we've not made any puli-pithas. So before the winter waved its final goodbye, I decided to make roshopuli, for probably the first and last time this winter.

Despite my great-aunt's passionate proclamations to the contrary, roshopuli is a variation on the payesh theme, just minus the rice and plus the lovely pulis. I believe it's also called doodhpuli/dudhpuli,but the vital difference, I think, is that doodpuli requires a flour casing for the puli, thus making it rather like a dessert dumpling, whereas roshopuli has uncased pulis, fattening majestically in the jaggery-flavoured kheer.

Ingredients (for a bowl each for maybe four people):
Narkel kora (grated coconut) -- all or most of a small coconut.
Khejur gur, duto patali -- two regular-sized date-palm jaggery cakes.

My father's laughing his head off because I'm actually translating 'khejur gurer patali', but what's wrong with initiating the ignorant and sorely-deprived populace to the wonders of khejur gur, I'd like to know! I'm probably saving souls here. And now he's laughing harder.

Parents, eh?

Anyway, to continue:
semolina -- a little less than a 100 gms.
Whole milk -- about a litre.
Green cardamom and cinnamon (optional).

First, smash one patali into little pieces. I do this with our nora (no. ra), which is an excellent blunt instrument. But the patali does tend to scatter, so before bringing down the nora with the wrath of Olympus behind it, it's prudent to sandwich it between two sheets of newspapers. I suggest newspapers instead of kitchen towles et al because

a) you'll have to write off those sheets, since slightly melty jaggery will stick to them from now till kingdom come.
b) newspaper's in your house and need throwing away anyway. DON'T WASTE PAPER!


Now, wash the semolina with room temp. water. When it's clean of itsy bitsy particles, pour enough water to make the semolina appear like a thick grainy batter. Let it stand for at least twenty minutes. By the end of it, the semolina will have absorbed most of the water and actually become a granular mush.

Making the Puli:
Add the grated coconut and little patali bits to the semolina, and mix it all up. Don't worry about the size of the patali pieces, it'll all melt into nothingness right before your eyes once you turn the heat on.

NOTE: some people add ground cinamon and crushed green cardamoms to this. We don't, but feel free to. It can only make things better.

When you add the mixture to the pan/wok, be sure to keep the flame low. The mixture will immediately stick to the bottom and sides, and unless you take a spatula to it right away, start charring.  So be watchful and nimble, and keep the mixture moving, scraping up the sticky bits as you go. You'll have a slightly sore shoulder later, but it'll be worth it.

Unless you like your desserts smokey, of course.

(These and some later pictures are taken under the horrible white lighting we have in the kitchen, and therefore look like a little different from the rest. But it's the same stuff!)

 The semolina and coconut releasing water.

 As the water evaporates, the mixture cooks in its own oil and turns golden-brown.

Keep folding the mixture in the pan till it no longer sticks to the sides, but to itself. In other words, the slightly watery mixture has now become a well-oiled, clingy, sweet coconutty dough. DON'T EAT IT! We have miles to go before we eat.

Test readiness of dough by sliding the spatula under one edge, and flip it. When it's done, the dough will actually flip. Not like an omlette or a pizza-dough, but ponderously, like a thoughtful tortoise. But it will make a clean turn. Cook it a little more for a richer colour if you like, but at this point your dough is done. Spread it over the pan or on a dish, and let it cool.

When it's cool enough for you to handle, take a little in your palm, and roll it in to little balls or ovals. This is your puli. By the time you're done rolling a batch, your palm will be shiny and greased with coconut oil :-)

In a wide brimmed and thick-bottomed pan, for preference, pour milk and drop three or four crushed green cardamoms in it. Bring the milk to a slow boil. The milk is supposed to thicken and become creamier as it reduces. That's the entire point of a payesh. However, and this is my big problem with puddings, I don't like the feel of shor (that thin layer of cream that forms on top of hot milk) in my mouth. So I carefully collect the shor as it forms, and toss it down the sink.

This is why no one wants to eat the payesh I make :-(

Anyway, when the milk starts bubbling, lower the flame to medium and add the crushed bits of the second patali. Usually, half a patali is enough sweet for me, but some people have sweeter teeth. Stir gently as the patali melts and turns the milk a deliciously dark shade of cream. Once the patali dissolves, bring to a boil again, and drop the pulis by twos and threes. Keep stirring occasionally so the bottom doesn't char. If you spear a puli, don't worry, it'll only disintegrate and add to the flavour.

The pulis will sink as you drop them, but as you keep the milk boiling, they'll rise to the surface again. When this happens, you know your work is done. Ladle into bowls. Decorate, if you like, with pistachioes and chopped cashewnuts (I'm far too impatient to decorate my food). Serve :-)


sumana001 said...

Rimi, we don't like 'shawr' in our payesh either. One way - and the only way I know yet - is to keep on stirring the milk till kingdom come! The upper layer cannot be allowed to cool or left stagnant, no? My kitchen science :)

Rimi said...

Yes! Right! I do that too, but honestly, how much can you stir? It's boring, and makes my arm ache, to boot! :-)

Are you from hereabouts? Was there much puli-pithaing at your place this season?

Abhishek Mukherjee said...

The first sentence had really put me off. It took me some time to realise that it acted only as a launching pad.

This looks significantly similar to the one they make at my place, but... WHY DO YOU THROW AWAY THE SHOR?

Rimi said...

Because I am a philistine :-)

sumana001 said...

Rimi: I'm from a small town called Siliguri, and since the baaper-bari happens to be here too, I import most of the puli and pitha from there ;) I'd like to offer my crazy work life as an excuse but no, it's been a season of illness for me :( I managed to get some patali gur smuggled from across the border (ya, I'm lobhi like that!) which I hope to put to good use soon. We've had rains today - so winter is still here. To add good cheer :)

Rimi said...

Aww, we've been feeling the cool, moist breeze too. Shobai bolchhe it'll rain here over the weekend. Well, I certainly hope so!

Some people we know bought some patali from across the border too. They're all born here, but still refer to it as "desh" (sometimes, so do we :), and swear "desher" patali is much much better than the ones sold in Calcutta.

I hope you feel better!

sandman said...

May I have a pithe recipe with pictures? Nolen gurer pithe?

Please put measures so that it doesn't turn out as sweet as this batch.

Rimi said...

The sweetness depends on the quality of gur, so there are no measures. This isn't baking.

Add small quantities and taste, and keep adding in small measures till you have the kind of sweetness you desire.

Pitha is very unlikely this winter. I haven't got the time or energy, and the season is over. Dekhi.

Dea-chan said...

Oh nom nom Rimi! That looks deliciously tasty. And yes, I am that heathen that needed patali translated or I'd NEVER find out how to make this! I think I'm doing pretty good even knowing what jaggery is.

Lobster bake said...

Thanks for sharing the steps on how to make Roshopuli.

Sachinky said...

I fuckin' HATE shor, too.