Most of the time I fail to post a timely Indian festival related recipe because the traditional Indian Calendar follows lunar positions and I neither have nor know how to read a moon calendar. There are only four exceptions to my moon calendar ignorance (and there are at least 15 major Indian festivals), namely Holi, Diwali, Durga Pujo and Poush Sankranti. The first three because they require elaborate party planning with friends so I always know when they are happening, the last because it is a solar event with a fixed date (14th Jan) and also because it involves unapologetically eating lots and lots of sweets.
Since I was a little girl, Poush Shankranti has been a special ritual in our family house. On Shankranti mornings in those days, the mud and coal oven in our family kitchen was lit a few hours earlier than usual, because on those days my aunts had to prepare lunch for the whole family before the kitchen could be readied for pithe. As soon as the wood and coal fires started belching smoke from the kitchen windows in the late Shankranti afternoons, friends and neighbors started gathering in the family room, often with steel tiffin boxes in hand. Each year we expected, and prepared for, anywhere between 20-30 guests. Our family special was, and continues to be, doodh puli or rice flour dumplings stuffed with coconut and boiled in thick milk sweetened with date palm sugar.
I don’t remember if it was a holiday but I never went to school on Shankranti. I always spent Shankranti afternoons sitting in the kitchen next to my mom with a shawl tightly pulled over my shoulders and tucked under my toes, drooling over mounds of coconut stuffing, date palm jaggery and kheer. Sometimes my mom took pity and handed me samples of the various gooey treats when no one was looking (the treats had to be offered to Goddess Lakshmi before they could be touched by any mortal tongue), and I quickly slipped them into my mouth and without making any chewing sounds I sat still devouring the sweets as they slowly melted in my mouth.
Last year I was in Kolkata during Shankranti when my mom recreated my childhood for me with all of my favorite sweet treats. These pictures are from last year, and the recipe, like all of my better recipes, is my mom’s. Hope you too can relive your childhood with this recipe.
- 2 cups grated coconut
- 1/2 cup sugar or date palm jaggery
- 1 cups rice flour (preferably parboiled rice flour)
- pinch of salt
- Hot water (enough to knead the rice flour into tortilla/roti dough like consistency, takes a little more than 1/4 cup)
- 1 litre whole milk
- 2/3 cup jaggery (or to taste)
- Mix coconut and jaggery/sugar in a cast iron skillet or a heavy bottomed pan. Heat the pan over medium heat.
- Stir continuously until the sugar/jaggery melts completely and the mixture starts forming a lump and sticks to the spatula. Takes about 8-10 minutes.
- Turn off heat and let cool.
- Divide the coconut into 15-20 small balls.
- Quickly mix the rice flour, salt and hot water with a spatula and then knead with your hands when it has cooled slightly. The idea is to knead it quickly enough or else it will dry out.
- Now divide the dough into 15-16 small balls. Use a damp cloth to cover the dough the whole time or it will get dry and stiff.
- Slightly wet your hands and press a rice flour ball between your palms to flatten it.
- Now put one coconut ball in the centre and join the edges to form a half moon shaped dumpling (as shown in the pictures). Repeat the process until all the dough has been used.
- Boil milk in a heavy bottomed saucepan and simmer over low heat until it reduces to half of the original volume.
- Drop the dumplings into the milk and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat and sweeten with sugar/jaggery. If using jaggery, return to heat only if the jaggery does not melt completely. If returning to heat, do not cook for long after adding the jaggery. Sugar can be cooked for a little longer.