Komla lebur payesh/Orange and milk pudding

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.
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.
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.
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:

Komlalebu/Clementines/Oranges: 4 nos.
Sugar: To taste
Milk: A little less than 1/2 gallon
Half and half:16FL OZ
Cardamom: 2 whole
•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.
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.