Today I wish you all a happy Makar Sankranti. A harvesting festival, Makar Sankranti is also the oldest solstice festival, when Sun enters the zodiac sign Capricorn or Makar. So the name of this festival actually means the movement of Sun to Capricorn. During this time sun starts to move towards Northern hemisphere, making the days longer and warmer, marking end of winter and beginning of spring. From mid-December all the holy or auspicious activities are prohibited among Hindus. Makar Sankranti also marks the beginning of auspicious activities. This particular festival is celebrated on a fixed date, 14th of January, and celebrated all around India majorly as a harvesting festival. Different parts of India celebrate this auspicious day under different names, Uttarayan, Lohri, Pongal, Poush Parbon etc.
In Bengal, Makar Sankranti also known as Poush Sankranti and is celebrated as Poush Parbon. Today is the last day of Bengali month Poush, people worship the goddess of wealth Lakshmi and mother Earth on this day. People in villages decorate their house with alpana, a special ritualistic design. A huge number of Hindu pilgrims gather at Gangasagar, where river Ganga meets Bay of Bengal. People believe if they have a dip in the river Ganga on this day, all their sins will be washed away.
People from Bengal are known for their fondness for sweetmeats and would need just an occasion to make some. This Poush Parbon is no exception. Rather, this is also widely known as Pithe Parbon as several kind of traditional Pithe are made during this time. The main ingredient of Pithe is usually rice flour which of course coincides with new harvest. Pithe can be sweet or savory, steamed or fried. What makes the Bengali Pithe so unique is the use of date palm jaggery. Date palm jaggery is a special type of jaggery only available during winter. Almost every household of Bengal celebrate this auspicious occasion by preparing various kind of Pithe or pitha dishes with rice flour, lentils, milk, date palm jaggery, coconut etc.
This year I have made a deep fried pithe called Rangalur Bhaja Puli. The Puli is a stuffed dumpling with a unique shape with tapered ends. Rangalur Bhaja Puli or Sweet potato dumplings are stuffed with coconut jaggery filling, then deep fried and dipped in liquid jaggery. It sounds tricky but tastes heavenly.
Things needed to make Rangalur bhaja puli:For the outer covering:
- Sweet potato (boiled and mashed): 2 cups
- Milk powder: 1 cup
- Flour: 1/4 cup
- Freshly grated coconut: 1 cup
- Date palm jaggery or sugar: 1/4 cup
- Mawa (solidified milk): 1/4 cup
- Date palm jaggery: 2 cup
- Water: 1 cup
(sugar can be used to make the syrup, in that case use equal quantity of sugar and water)
Steps of making Rangalur bhaja puli:
1. Peel and wash the sweet potato. Boil the potato till fork tender. Drain the sweet potatoes and let them cool down.
2. In a heavy bottom pan, take the ingredients under the filling, mix them well and cook over low heat till the mixture release the sides of the pan. Keep aside and let the filling cool down.
3. In a bowl or plate take the boiled sweet potato, milk powder, flour and mix well till no lumps is felt.
4. Grease hand with ghee and make round shaped dough balls with the sweet potato mixture.
5. Make a dip at the center of the dough ball and put a spoonful of filling, gently close the dough and shape it into a puli, an elongated tapered end shape.
6. Heat oil in a deep pan, when hot fry the sweet potato dumplings, 3-4 at a time till brown in color.
7. While the dumplings are getting fried, in a sauce pan take jaggery and water to make the syrup. Sugar can be also used to make the syrup.
8. Dip the fried dumplings into the hot syrup. Dip them for 1-2 hrs, take out and store in an air tight container. While serving drizzle jaggery syrup over the dumplings.