Chanar Payesh-Naram Paneer ki Kheer-Dumplings of fresh Cow’s milk cheese in a reduced milk sauce with a hint of Cardamom, Orange zest, Bay leaf n Rosewater with Pistachio n Rose-sugar for the Bengali New Year
I love the fact that Bengali new year comes when its spring, just after spring, in fact most of the regional new year across India comes just around spring, when everything comes to life, the trees are filled with fresh baby green leaves, the fields are a sea of green wave-they are filled with new crop of the season n there is hope in the air and the sun is getting to summer…that’s how amazing this time is n so the new year is one with nature.
Sweets are an integral part of Bengali cuisine, it is as important as politics and football; yes the common thing between the three is all of them get you high. Bengalis are famous for their amazing sweets but sometimes it hides the other culinary gems, savory cooking is even more diverse n enriching than the making of sweets, that food history is so deep rooted that studying it is like studying the ocean floor. During the time of ‘Nabo-Barsho’, ‘nabo’ is new n ‘Barsho’ is year, the circle of sweets come into play, this is time for businesses to start a new year full of promises n traditionally all their calculation were done in a big fat red book, vibrant red book known as ‘Hal-Khata’ where the business details are stored, so a new year brings a new red book. Now off course computers n tabs have replaced them but not completely, walking around some streets in Kolkata you will still find piles of red books waiting for their customer.
Nabo-borsho comes in designed sweet boxes here in the land of Bengal if I say so, boxes are filled with different kinds of sweets, each different and one of them will be savory, mostly a crispy pastry deep fried in oil until golden called ‘Nimki’ and given to the loved ones, to the ones who has been fought with-to begin a new chapter, to the faithful customer n to the potential customer for more business. So when you wanna impress anyone give him a box of these sweets, bursting with terrific calories which surely gives you a high as sugar is so good doing that.
As a kid getting those boxes felt fantastic, along with the box there would be a yearly calendar, illustrated with the gorgeous picture of Hindu gods, such a box will contain 7/10 sweets like Pantua/Gulab Jamun, Laddu, Chamcham, Langcha, Kalakand, Danadar, Gopalbhog, Kheerkadam, Sandesh- yes they are all sweets, see I told you it is box of sweet calories.
Now I’m coming to today’s recipe, it is rich, subtle n tastes great when served chilled, it is called ‘Chanar Payesh’- payesh is a generic term in the Bengali palette which suggests something cooked in milk and reduced until the milk thickens a bit n sweet in taste, the sweetness may come from sugar or jaggery or fruit juice, mostly rice is cooked in milk, apart from rice, dumplings made out of rice flour filled with coconut jaggery mixture are cooked in milk.
Chana means soft fresh cheese obtained from cow’s milk by curdling it with some acid like lime juice or water saved from previous batch of cheese making or sometimes simply vinegar, the acid is diluted with water often since adding strong acid results in making the soft cheese hard quickly.
In my recipe the milk is thickened to one third almost in a big wide vessel, I flavored it with Indian bay leaf/tej patta, green cardamom and when it is done I give them another dimension by adding the sliced peel of orange which gives them the aroma of fresh oranges and I also add a hint of rosewater- the two most prominent flavors become cardamom n orange while in the background you get a little hint of rosewater n tej patta.
For making the chana all you have to do is to bring full-fat milk to boil, then add lime juice mixed with same amount of water to it bit by bit, when the milk curdles well and you see all the milk solids have separated from the whey, you pour the mixture over a muslin cloth to separate the milk solids, then the fresh milk solids are washed in fresh cold water so the acidic lime part washes away, then hang that cloth for the water to drip down for half an hour and you have got fresh cheese- once that is obtained, the fresh cheese is massaged to give it a smooth consistency which takes about 3-4 minutes, then a little sugar is added into the fresh cheese and you can give them shape or just add them to the thickened milk sauce you prepared earlier n simmered for 3-5 minutes n that’s all. You need to rest the whole thing for the flavors to develop n exchange after that.
After the whole thing has chilled in the fridge for some hours- it tastes divine, the soft chana dumplings soak that flavored milk and you get a spoonful of them with the milk sauce, the chana dumplings gives away with the slightest touch, literally melting in your mouth and the payesh coats all of that with the flavors of cardamom, orange, rosewater.
When serving I often add pistachio powder along with rose-sugar with some raisins/kismis, the rose-sugar is made by crushing the dried rose petals with sugar n it evokes an aroma, so imagine a spoonful of chanar payesh with a raisin and with pistachio powder n rose sugar in it-gosh it’s so wonderful, you have got to give this a go, so here is the recipe.
For The Recipe: You will need
Now it is time to take the chanar payesh out of the fridge, so before you add anything to it take spoonful n place it in your mouth, experience the flavors, take another spoon, feel what are the prominent flavors, what are the background flavors, as you keep it in the fridge for one day the flavor will develop even more. When you serve them sprinkle some pistachio powder n rose sugar over them, with some hydrated raisins and see how people fall in love with it and you have already fallen in love with it, isn’t it? Bon appétit.