Bhai phota/ Bhai dooj celebration with sondesh/Pistachio and cottage cheese balls

ভাইয়ের কপালে দিলাম ফোঁটা, যমের দুয়ারে পড়ল কাঁটা। যমুনা দেয় যমকে ফোঁটা, আমি দিই আমার ভাইকে ফোঁটা॥ যমুনার হাতে ফোঁটা খেয়ে যম হল অমর। আমার হাতে ফোঁটা খেয়ে আমার ভাই হোক অমর॥

The loose translation would be:

“I put an auspicious dot on my brother’s forehead to make my brother immortal

Yamuna puts an auspicious dot on Yama’s forehead and I put on my brother’s

Yama became immortal after getting the dot from Yamuna

My brother will be immortal after getting the dot from me”

Probably it doesn’t make any sense to you if you do not already know about the occasion. Bhai phota (Bhai=brother, phota= dot) is celebrated on the second day of Diwali which is why it’s also called Bhratri dwitiya or Bhai dooj too (Bhatri=brother, dwitiya/dooj=second). As you may have guessed from the name, it’s the festival of brothers and sisters. No, you don’t have to have your own brother to celebrate it. In India or at least in my community, it was for all the cousins and even the brothers from our neighborhood. That’s the beauty of our culture and I truly appreciate it.

The mythical story says that Yama (the God of Death) came down to earth to meet his twin sister Yamuna on this particular day and she made food and fed Yama to his satisfaction. She also put an auspicious mark/dot on her brother’s forehead and prayed for his well being. So, Yama in return said that whoever gets a mark/phota on this day from his sister will be immortal and will never experience hell. Since then it’s been a tradition among most of the Hindus to celebrate this particular day to wish immortality to their brothers by putting an auspicious dot on their brothers’ forehead.

For a long time my mother and I went to my mamabaari (maternal uncle’s place) to celebrate bhaiphota. We used to go the day before to prepare for the occasion ahead of time. We woke up early on the day, took a bath, wore fresh clothes and prepared plates of sweet and savory things for our brothers. We were not allowed to eat until we were done with the ceremony. We put a mark on each brother’s forehead with chandanbata (sandal wood paste), kajol (kohl paste) and doi (yogurt). After that we fed them sweets and put a little bit of durba (young grass shoots) and dhan (rice) on their head to bless them (this only if we were elder than our brothers). The house used to be filled with people and it was a true celebration. My Maa did the same thing with my Mamas (Maa’s brothers). We had scrumptious meals after the ceremony and got gifts from our brothers as well.

I have been missing bhaiphota for the last six years and I still hope that I could be there at least once in the future. I miss my brother a lot and especially on bhaiphota, I miss him even more. As sweets or sondesh (Bengali cottage cheese sweets) were a big part of the celebration, here is a recipe for this uniquely Bengali delicacy I made to share with you. I won’t claim it’s an authentic recipe, because it’s not. I totally made up the recipe based on all the sondesh I have eaten over the years and added lovely pistachio nuts to give it a delicate green color.

Pesta sondesh/Pistachio and cottage cheese balls

Whole milk: 6 cups

Pistachios: ½ cup and few more to garnish

Vinegar: 1 tbsp, diluted with 3 tbsp of water

Sugar: 1 cup

Cardamom: Seeds from 2 pods

  • Soak the pistachios in water.
  • De-shell them and grind them to a coarse paste.
  • Coarsely grind the cardamom seeds.
  • Bring up the milk to a full boil.
  • Add the vinegar slowly and stir well You might not have to add the whole amount of vinegar)
  • Turn off the heat and wait for the whey to separate completely.
  • Drain the whey on a cheese cloth or any fine cotton cloth and run cold water on the cottage cheese/chhana to get rid of the sour vinegar taste/smell.
  • Tie the cloth and hang it for 20-30 mns.
  • Squeeze the remaining water and knead the chhana to a smooth paste.
  • Transfer the chhana to a clean wok. (You can see how to make chhana here)
  • Add the ground pistachio and add the sugar and cardamom powder as well.
  • Cook the chhana and the pistachio paste for several minutes on low heat until you get rid of the raw chhana taste.
  • The chhana will come together and start leaving the wok.
  • Turn off the heat and wait for 1-2 mns.
  • Knead the dough well with hand and then form balls from them.

Do not wait for a long time; the sandesh will develop cracks if the dough has been sitting for a long time. Cover the dough with a lid while you are making the balls.

You can add more or less sugar. I go low on sugar and that’s how I like it. You can add green food coloring if you want to. I didn’t and liked the natural light green tinge. I have seen people adding food coloring in the sweets to make them look brighter….so it’s your call.

You can find great sondesh recipes here, here and here.

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This entry was posted in Dessert.

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