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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Nabo-borsho O Chanaar payesh-The Magic of rich Chanar Payesh in the Bengali new year

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

For the Chana dumplings:
Full-fat milk- 500 ml
Lime juice-juice of 1 medium lime mixed with same amount of water, strained
Muslin cloth- 1 piece measuring about 2 ft by 2 ft
Sugar- 1 tbsp, powdered

For the Payesh/ thick milk sauce:
Full-fat milk- 1 lit
Sugar- 4-5 tbsp
Green cardamom-2, crushed
Tej patta/Indian bay leaf-3
Orange peel- 1 medium orange, sliced thin without any white part
Rosewater- 1 tsp
Pistachio powder- 3 tbsp, pistachios slightly roasted, then powdered
Rose-sugar- 1 tbsp
Salt – a pinch

1. Begin with making the chana first, place the milk in a saucepan and make it come to a boil, stir in between so nothing catches at the bottom of the saucepan, in the meantime squeeze the lime juice n mix with water and strain, when the milk comes to a boil,  reduce the heat to minimum and begin adding the lime juice tbsp by tbsp and mix well, once you see the milk has started to curdle slightly add little more lime juice and stir well every time you add the acid to distribute it well. After adding a certain amount you will get a hint how much you need to add or not, once the milk curdles really well you will see big soft milk solids separating from the rest watery part and the watery part looks less cloudy than before, at that point don’t add any more acid, stir it slightly and the milk will curdle more prominently in the next few seconds, then pour the whole thing on a container covered with the muslin cloth n lift the cloth up to drain all the water. Don’t throw away this water, it is very nutritious, so use it in cooking or just drink it up. Then you need to place the muslin cloth with the fresh cheese under tap water to rinse with your hands to distribute the water all across the cheese, do it for a minute so that the lime juice washes away, we don’t want a prominent lime flavor in this, after that hang the muslin cloth from somewhere so that the water drips away from it, squeeze the pouch to extract most water by your hands, then hang it for 30 minutes, after 30 minutes, squeeze lightly to remove more water and it is ready.
Place the fresh cheese on a wooden board or chopping board and massage it with your fingers and your palm, after1-2 minutes you will notice it has started to go smooth, don’t do it in a blender, add a little powdered sugar to it and knead slightly, you can skip the sugar if you want, once it is just smooth, take little portions and give them shape either in the form of a ball or conical tiny cylinders or just scramble it, keep aside.

2. For the Payesh place the milk in a wide kadai/wok along with the bay leaf n cardamom pods,  a wider surface area makes the thing to go quick, so bring the milk to boil then reduce heat n simmer in medium low flame, stir n scratch the bottom n sides of the pan with a metal spatula every 2 minutes almost, whatever is gathering on the sides n bottom mix it with the milk, we need to reduce the milk to almost 1/3 rd and the milk will thicken n it will develop a new flavor which will take about 25-30 minutes, always scratch what’s gathering in the sides n mix it with the rest of the milk, when a film forms on the surface, gently move it to the side n mix back when the milk has thickened, when you can’t scratch what is on the side hydrate that part with some milk, so when the milk has reduced to 1/3 rd, add the sugar to the extent of sweetness you like and a pinch of salt,  remember once chilled it will taste slightly less sweet.

3. Add the chana dumplings into the thick sauce at this stage and simmer it for 3-4 minutes on low heat, then off the flame, add the orange peel and the rosewater. Pour the whole thing in a bowl and once it comes to room temp. Chill in the fridge for 3-4 hours.

4. For the pistachio powder place a frying pan on low heat and place the pistachio nuts in them, give them 3 minutes on low heat, shake n toss them in between, then put the flame off and transfer the pistachios into a mortar n pestle, let it cool slightly, in the meantime take the dry rose petals n place them in the hot pan you just roasted the pistachio, but on no flame, as the pan cools down it will crisp up the petals gently, that’s what we want, no flame here.
Crush the pistachios until you get a coarse powder, then remove and place the rose petals into that, add a little sugar over them and pound lightly to obtain rose-sugar.

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.

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