Kuch meetha ho jaye? Sheer khurma to celebrate Independence Day

DSC_0808As a country, India is now sixty -seven years old, an age when as individuals, most people have sorted themselves out and many are happy. Can we say this true at the national level as well? The British are gone, but is India independent from inner demons?
A person from Andhra Pradesh is a South Indian to me, a person from Rajasthan is Marwari (doesn’t matter if you are not from Marwar) and a person from the North East India is more alien to me than a Chinese (maybe). On top of that the difference in religion is like icing on the cake. We might be portraying a secular look on the outside but to my mind, right underneath the rather thin veneer of secularism religion is lurking like a malevolent demon.

My college hostel was in a neighborhood predominantly inhabited by Muslims from the lower socioeconomic strata of Indian society. In the two years that I lived there, two incidents shattered whatever illusions I had of the “Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai” (Hindu-Muslim brotherhood) fallacy. One was a roadside accident with an unfortunate Muslim kid being hit by a motorcyclist who happened to be Hindu. Within few minutes, the incident degenerated into a full-blown religious riot, with most participants least concerned about the kid and his treatment or recovery. Another time, a group of Muslim people started praying in front of the church and there you go, another riot. I always thought riots happened elsewhere, in strange places full of oppressed people, but no, here was one happening right in front of my eyes in kaalchar-loving Calcutta. It might have been a simple coincidence that the kid who got hit and the motorcyclist belonged to two different religions, but when it comes to our faith, I guess we Indians are still very sensitive about it. Sort of like saying to a stranger “ You there, on the street, I will kill you if you hurt my religious sentiment”. I know it’s illogical but I suppose logic can take a walk when God is involved.

DSC_0811Thankfully, I am an atheist (well, sort of) but I do celebrate Durga Puja, Diwali, Eid, Thanksgiving and Christmas because I like to feel good and be happy and share my happiness with others. I do like good food and I think it is a powerful agent for bringing diverse people together. So, I made a secular dessert eaten by many cultures in India and thought of sharing it with all of you. Call it semuier payesh (Bengali), semaiya payasam (South India), sevia kheer (North Indians) or sheer khurma (Urdu-speaking people), it’s the same thing. My recipe is closer to the traditional sheer khurma eaten in Muslim households, but then Eid was just last week and one never needs an excuse to make dessert, right?
Happy Independence Day to all of you. Let us be truly independent.

Recipe:

Ingredients:

Whole milk: little less ½ gallon/around 1.5 liters.

Evaporated milk: 350ml/one 16oz. can

Semai/vermicelli: around 1cup

Sugar: to taste

Dates: 4-6 nos.

Salt: one tiny pinch

Saffron: a small pinch (optional)

Rose petals: few (optional)

Pistachios/cashew nuts/almonds: 10-12nos.

Raisins: 10-12 nos.

Ghee/clarified butter: 1 tbsp.

Evaporated milk is optional, if you do not have it, start with whole milk and bring the volume down. I am lazy 😦

Just so that you know: In Persian, Sheer is milk and khurma is dates…so it literally means milk with dates.

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  • Mix the whole milk and the evaporated milk and put it on the stove top.
  • Bring it to a boil and then bring the flame to medium.
  • Take 2-3 tbsp of warm milk and add the saffron to it. Cover and the let the flavor come out.
  • Boil the milk and bring it to almost half the original volume. Add sugar to taste and a tiny pinch of salt (I mean tiny).
  • Heat up the ghee in a separate pan and add the raisins. They will swell after one or two minutes. Drain them and add them to the milk.
  • Roast the vermicelli (break the vermicelli in smaller pieces) in the same ghee until light brown and gives a light roasted aroma.
  • Add them to the milk as well.
  • Chop the dry dates and add them to the milk too.
  • Let everything cook on a low flame. Cook until the vermicelli is cooked. Check for sugar.
  • Add crushed pistachios or whichever nut you are using and the milk-saffron mix to the pudding.
  • Cover it for 5-10 minutes.
  • Let it come to room temperature and then chill it in the fridge.
  • Garnish it with rose petals and more crushed nuts and serve.

Remember: The whole pudding will thicken after a while and more so after you keep it in the fridge. So, keep a little bit more liquid than you would like. If it’s too thick, boil milk, let it come to room temp. and add it to the pudding. Mix and chill it again.

If you do not get access to rose petals, don’t worry, add few drops of rose water or skip it all together.

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Celebrated holi with tilanno/rice and toasted sesame seed pudding made by Maa

DSC_0981Who doesn’t know about holi? It’s the most exciting festival to me. It’s very well known all over the world now. It’s a festival of color and love. It breaks the boundaries of poor and rich, known and unknown, friend and foe. Westerners or anyone who is not familiar with the occasion might get intimidated by the thought of it. But to us Indians, it’s just fun. We don’t get scared by unknown people approaching us with a bucket of colored water. We smear red-blue-yellow-green abir on each other. Faces become psychedelic canvases, to the extent that we cannot recognize people even our next door neighbors.

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This is exactly how we look like.

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Maa at ISKCON ground

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Holi is also the first festival of spring, heralding the advent of the season. In Bengal (where I am from) it’s also known as ‘doljatra’ or ‘basanta utsav’ (literally, spring festival). In my region, the night of the full moon is celebrated by burning dry leaves and woods. It’s called “nera pora” (burning of the bald guy). I have no idea why the name though. The purpose was to burn all the dead and dry leaves and start the spring with fresh and green. A childhood memory that sticks is of roasting potatoes in the fire and then eating them with a sprinkling of salt. It tasted heavenly. All the kids from the neighborhood gathered around the fire, we played, danced and then waited eagerly for the potatoes to be roasted. We used to chant a poem:

“Aaj amader near pora,

Kaal amader dol,

Phete gyalo, phete gyalo

Kaali raamer dhol.

Bawlo hori bole, hori bole,

Bawlo hori bole

Phete gyalo, phete gyalo

Kaali raamer dhol…

Bawlo hori bole”

I am not even going to translate the poem; it makes no sense in English if I do so. The only lines that make sense are “today is near pora and tomorrow is holi”…that’s it.

Holi brings back so many childhood memories. Wearing the clothes which you will not mind throwing away, cleaning and brushing vigorously to remove horrendously toxic colors off our skin all through the afternoon, drinking sidhdhi (a drink made from cannabis leaves) and going to the neighbors house to sprinkle a little bit of aabir (powdered paint) on the elderly people’s feet and asking for their blessings…the list goes on.

This year my parents are with me, so I have something very special to share. It’s called tilanno (til=sesame and anno=rice). It’s basically rice pudding with toasted sesame seeds. It’s very fragrant and delicate. I loved, loved and loved it, so did my friends and my husband (who does not have a sweet tooth but appreciated the delicacy of the flavor).

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Recipe:

Ingredients:

Whole milk: ½ gallon

Atap rice (preferred)/any small grain rice: ½ cup

Sesame seeds: ½ cup (more or less according to your preference)

Cashew nut powder: 2 tbsp

Mewa/khoa kheer/milk powder: 2 tbsp. (optional)

Sugar: to taste (you can mix half n half sugar and gur/jaggery)

A tiny pinch of salt

  • Start boiling the milk. Keep stirring constantly on medium high heat.
  • Wash the rice with several changes of water and soak them for minimum 30 minutes. Drain the water. Let the rice become completely air dry.
  • Grind the rice to a coarse powder (do not make a fine paste, say half broken kind of)
  • Toast the sesame seed to a shade or two darker. You will get the nice toasted sesame aroma.
  • Let it cool down and then pulse it to a coarse powder as well. Do not make a fine powder.
  • Add the rice to the milk and let it get cooked. Add sugar and salt. Stir frequently.
  • Once the whole thing comes to almost the desired consistency, add cashew nut powder and mewa/milk powder/khoa kheer and the ground sesame seed powder. Stir and turn off the heat.
  • Let it cool down and then refrigerate it.
  • Sprinkle some whole toasted sesame seeds on top of it.
  • Serve chilled.

If you add gur/jaggery, add it at the end and then turn off the heat, otherwise the milk might get curdled.

The whole thing will be much thicker after it cools down, so keep it a little more liquidy and it will come to a thicker consistency after it cools down. If you se ethat it became too thick, add a little bit of luke warm milk.

I am sending this recipe to Sukanya of saffronstreaks who is guest hosting for Jagruti.

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Note: The name ‘Holi’ came from the name ‘Holika’ who was a demoness and the sister of the demon ‘Hiranyakashipu’ (a mythical character). You can read the Wiki article here and know more about the festival. Long story short, the festival is the celebration of good over evil (as most Hindu festivals are), symbolized by the dahan or cremation of Holika and the salvation of Prahlad (son of Hiranyakashipu).  Funnily, Holi lost its religious side a long time ago. Everyone plays holi now…doesn’t matter who you are.

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Holika

A modern day Holika waiting to be burnt.

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Notun gurer payesh/Rice pudding with jaggery

DSC_0677It’s never easy to pack your bags, leave everything familiar behind and start a journey for something ‘better’. But I can say that it’s much much easier now than it was before…and I mean ‘long before’. I have two Indian grocery stores close to my house. I can complain that the store close to my house does not sell fresh Indian vegetables and that I have to drive for 45 minutes to get them. I was whining and nagging for quite a while because I was looking for dried Kashmiri chili peppers and couldn’t find them. I wanted to make vindaloo and didn’t want to compromise on the chili peppers.  Am I not spoilt? Of course I am. I have the luxury of complaining. I can put a Facebook status message to look for the authentic spice and how sad I am not to find it in Patel brothers (the king of Indian grocery) and get 200 responses and 20 different sources to find them.

Right before writing this post, I read an article about the Bengali immigrants in the United States during the late 1800’s. They were among the early immigrants who came as seamen and then jumped off the boat to find a less brutal life. They came to the boardwalk of Atlantic City, NJ and moved further north, west and even far down south to New Orleans, LA. Being very few in number and mostly men, they had no choice but to marry women from other communities, mainly Venezuelan, Creole, Spanish and African-American. In retrospect, it must have been almost a one-way trip for them. In a world barely past the age of sailing ships, most of them probably knew they would not see their families ever again. The struggles they saw in those early days are not even comparable to my much softer landing in the US. I can’t even say that I had to ‘struggle’ to survive here. I think it would be hilarious if they knew that my biggest problem when I first came was to find place to get my eyebrows threaded.

DSC_0613Some of them tried to hold on to their Bengali heritage and some of them tried to blank out their past just to assimilate into the society. Being not only immigrants but also people of color, neither was an easy thing to do. It’s still not easy. Being a Bengali who’s lived in the US for almost seven years now, I am still kind of doing the same thing minus the real struggle. I am leaving some of my traditions behind while still clinging to some. Unrestricted by the unavailability of ingredients or opportunity, I have the luxury of maintaining many of my traditions. Damn it, I can even make nolen gurer payesh on Saraswati puja (the celebration of the goddess of education) and then write about it on my blog. I feel like a queen now.

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Recipe:

You can find the recipe here. The only difference is that you can replace the sugar with the notun gur/jaggery. If you do not have enough jaggery, you can add half sugar and half jaggery or any proportion to your preference. Once the payesh riches the desired consistency, take the pot out of the flame and then add the jaggery. Otherwise the milk might curdle.

You can find more nice posts of nolen gurer payesh by Sandeepa, Pree and Saffronstreaks.

Chirer pithe/Flattened rice dumplings in sugar syrup

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I know I am way too late for Sankranti (last day of the Bengali month Poush and also a harvest festival) but we can never be too late for a delicious pithe (a type of Bengali dessert).  Victim of some unknown inhibition, when I lived with my parents I learned only a small fraction of the many kinds of pithe my Maa makes. Many years later, now I am not afraid of cooking difficult things but pithe remains of those things which are on my to-do list but never materialized. I wish I had learnt them while I was in India, but then hindsight is always golden and I took everything for granted back in those days.

DSC_0404Without going into too much detail, let’s go straight to the recipe. Truly speaking there is as such no detailed recipe. I saw the link for this recipe a long time ago and made it only once. When I wanted to recreate the recipe last week and tried to find the link again, I realized that the web page was gone. Alas! My memories are now as fleeting as they are digital, and I am a slave of silicon wafers and spinning disks that may hold recipes one second and pornography the next! But, I was determined to make pithe even though the only source I had was my memory which is not very reliable. I kind of used my best guess and the outcome has not been too bad. I am not claiming it’s as good as the ones my Maa made, but you know what? I like it… I like the simple and easy way of making it. I didn’t have the time and energy to grind rice and then make the traditional ones, but something is better than nothing. So, if you want to hold onto your traditions but don’t want to spend the entire day making puli-pithe or patishapta, this recipe can be your friend. Try it out next time you crave for something sweet. You don’t need an auspicious day to make it because it’s a modern-day pithe and doesn’t mind if Sankranti was yesterday.

DSC_0384Recipe:

Ingredients:

Cheera/flattened rice: 2 cups, Grated mewa/Khowa kheer/Milk solids: 2 cups+4 tbsp extra for filling, Sugar: 2 cups, Water: 2 cups, Cardamom: 2 pods, Freshly grated coconut: around 1/4 cup, Mewa: ¼ cup, Raisins: 12-14 nos., A pinch of salt, Oil for deep frying.

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  • Wash the flattened rice very briefly and then drain the water.
  • Add the sugar to the water and bring the mixture to a boil in a deep heavy bottom pot. Break the cardamom pods a little bit and add them to the boiling syrup. Boil the mixture until it reduces to a medium-thick consistency. Do not make the syrup very thick; it won’t penetrate the rice balls.
  • Add the grated mewa/khowa/milk solids to the soaked chire/flattened rice and a pinch of salt and mix very well. It should form dough like consistency. If the dough is crumbly or dry, add milk to it (the ratio of chire to mewa is 1:1).
  • Shape them into lemon sized balls.

The filling:

  • Mix around 3-4 tbsp mewa and 3-4 tbsp coconut together to prepare for the filling (If you want, you can cook the coconut and the mewa mixture on low flame, but it’s optional. I didn’t). I didn’t measure the filling amount, so it’s an approximation. You might need a little more or less of coconut or mewa.
  • Put your thumb into the balls and create a small hole.
  • Put a little bit of grated coconut-mewa mixture, one/two raisins and then close the hole.
  • Press the ball with your palm and flatten the ball a little bit (optional).

Frying:

  • Heat up the oil and deep fry the balls on medium high heat until golden brown in color. Be very careful, if the oil is too hot, they will burn from outside and remain uncooked from inside.
  • Drain them on an absorbent paper.
  • Drop them into the sugar syrup and simmer them for 10-15 minutes.
  • Take the sugar syrup container out of the heat and let the balls soak in the syrup for several hours.
  • Serve them chilled.DSC_0401

You can omit the filling part completely and it still tastes great. You can put only coconut/mewa/raisin as a filling. I had all of them and that’s the reason I put everything together. 

I told you, it’s easy 🙂

Rum balls and a guest post by my husband

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I just love rum. In a subliminal way, my brain associates good rum with good sex. The warm sensuous flow of fine barrel-aged dark rum over eagerly waiting taste buds brings physical analogies to mind that are best not described in public. I suppose the mellow high after drinking enough of the good stuff has its own sexual equivalent as well. Overall, I’ve tried forming relationships with many other liquors, but none of them have tickled the gustatory version of my erogenous zones in the way rum has (I suppose rum has good technique, one could say). Maybe it has something to do with the combination of a darkly transparent color and an inviting aroma with many shades, none of them clear but all hinting at lovely possibilities. After all, I always was a sucker for dusky women with complex personalities.
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My long affair with rum has another parallel as well, which may be a bit harder to explain. I became a rum drinker at the age of eighteen, which was also roughly when I started seeing my first serious girlfriend. I’m thirty-three now and happily married. The intervening fifteen years, to put it delicately, have been enjoyable. Introspectively, what’s interesting to me is that the sort of woman who piques my interest (post-marriage in a detached way, I may add) has undergone a gradual but definite transition over this phase of my life. Long ago, I found regular “hot babes” desirable, but these days I’m drawn towards more enigmatic, confident women, often with dark or conflicted shades to them. In a strange reflection of this change, my rums over the years have sort of followed my women. For many years, the only thing to pass my lips would have been McDowell’s No. 1 Celebration XXX rum which is an economical and quality product but needs a cola mixer to be made into a decent drink. After moving to the US at twenty-four, I found other rums, but lacked the maturity to appreciate their finer points and tended to waste them by diluting them with whatever was at hand. Only in recent years have I seen how juvenile all of this was. By trial and error with many brands and ingredients, I’m happily settled now with a drink that I can live with for a long time (Ron Zacapa Centenario rum with one large ice cube in a highball glass). Hence, I can’t help but imagine that at some level, maturity is reflected both in one’s choice of partner and drink. There is a common theme that stands out here: take a long time to try out many, but if you find a good one, stick with it – rum or wife. You can probably guess that it’s my anniversary today.

Anyway, enough philosophy and self-searching for one article. Being the lovely girl that she is and having guessed that the two things on my mind right now are rum and sex, my wife made some rum balls (the dessert variety). Enjoy.

Ingredients
Vegetable oil, cooking spray
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark rum
Coarse sanding sugar, for rolling
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1. Preheat oven to 350. Coat a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray; set aside. Melt butter and chocolate in a small heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
2. Whisk together eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in chocolate mixture, then fold in flour. Pour batter into prepared baking sheet. Spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake until top is shiny and a cake tester inserted into center comes out with some crumbs attached, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
3. Break up brownie into small pieces; transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With machine on low speed, pour in rum, and mix until crumbs start to come together to form a ball.
4. Shape into 1-inch balls, and roll in sanding sugar to coat. Transfer to a baking sheet; refrigerate, uncovered, until cold, about 2 hours. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
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Komla lebur payesh/Orange and milk pudding

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Winter was a prized season in Calcutta, which I’m sure, is true for many other parts of India as well. Being in a Christian missionary school for 16 years, I had the luxury of enjoying a month long winter-Christmas holiday every year. Everyday after lunch my Maa and I would go on the terrace, spread a rug on the floor and sit there as long as the sun was warm. My Maa would spread her long, black, wavy hair on her back to dry it and gently peel the skin off the komla lebu (Oranges/Clementines). I loved the orangey smell that would fill the air. We would then patiently remove the white threads from the flesh and eat one koa (skinless wedge) at a time. Sometimes my pishi (father’s sister) joined us for the afternoon sun-soaking and my Maa and Pishi shared their gossip.
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When I was a kid, winter also meant going to Calcutta for a visit to the zoo. Maa cooked food to bring with us to the zoo. We would take spread a shatoronji (a light blanket with seven colors) on the ground, dig into the food and fruits and have an elaborate lunch. As if this was not fun enough, winter also brought out another great Bengali obsession – picnics. There were several different picnic spots close to my childhood home that would be packed with people on the weekends. People played Frisbee, football and the music from several neighboring picnics blared from loudspeakers to create random overlapping melodies. A little to the side, gigantic cauldrons would be simmering with delicious chicken or mutton curries and pulaos (spiced rice) or bubbling with boiling oil for puris (fried puffed dough) with which to soak up the delicious gravy from the curries.
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Anyway, winter in the DC area, where I live now, is very different from India. It’s not very harsh but it’s still not my favorite season. In December and January it gets really windy and I hate to bundle up before leaving the house every morning. Sometimes I like the chilly freshness, but not every day. There are very few winter rituals we follow in the US. It’s mostly the season for staying at home, visiting friends and family, eating and getting fat. Personally, I long for the summer to be back. The thing I dislike the most about winter is the early sunset. I feel like my days are compressed into fewer hours shorter, because even at 6pm the darkness sends a signal to my brain that it’s time to wrap up and go to sleep. I literally have to drag myself to do anything productive around the house all winter long.
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However, not everything is bad about winter. As the dinner invitations have already started, I keep getting more and more excited about what to cook and take to the hosts. We had an invitation at our friend’s place last weekend and she asked me to bring something sweet if possible. As komla lebu was a vital part of our winter back home, I thought of making komla lebur payesh. It’s very refreshing and tasty. It takes a little bit of time to peel the oranges and separate the individual segments but the end product is well worth the time. Otherwise, it’s a very simple dessert and needs very few ingredients. When everybody is baking Christmassy things, why not a little bit of my own tradition? I make it once every year during winter and it’s become my expatriate Bengali winter ritual…or what passes for one at least.

Komla lebur payesh recipe:
Ingredients:

Komlalebu/Clementines/Oranges: 4 nos.
Sugar: To taste
Milk: A little less than 1/2 gallon
Half and half:16FL OZ
Cardamom: 2 whole
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•Bring the milk and the half n half to boil and reduce to the flame to medium.
•Boil it until the milk reduces to half of its original volume.
•Add sugar and the cardamom pods (slightly cracked) and boil again.
•Take it off the heat and let it come to room temperature.
•In the mean time, peel the clementines and discard all the white fibers. They will add a bitter taste if not properly removed. Separate the segments loosely.
•Once the milk comes to room temp., add the clementine segments, gently mix and put the container in the refrigerator overnight.
•Serve it chilled the next day.
•Garnish it with fresh clementine segments if you want.
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PS: You can add more or less orange to the milk. I like it kind of 50-50…not to orange-y, not too milky. I DO NOT add any nuts because that will interfere with the texture of the payesh. I got this recipe from my mother-in-law and she does not add nuts to it either.
You do not have to have half and half; you use whole milk or any type of milk and reduce it to the consistency you want. I like it a little creamy and prefer to add half and half.

Be very careful while adding the citrus fruits to the milk. If the milk is hot, it will curdle immediately. Wait until the milk comes to room temperature. You should always make this dessert the previous day. It takes time for the citrus-y flavor to really wok it’s magic on the milk.

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.