Shubho Mahalaya and a Kalakand recipe (in Microwave)

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My city, like all others, is always buzzing with activity, with people and their busy lives, but this time of the year it is at its peak. This is the festive season, season to celebrate, to rebond with friends and families, to share smiles and exchange furtive glances with your special one. It is the time when everything else is forgotten and forgiven… everything other than love and happiness. Mahalaya brings about the final countdown towards 10 days of maddening glee. Hands filled with bags of bargained and non bargained items, bellies filled with food which is a must after hours of shopping, minds filled with ticking off items from the to do lists while adding some more to it, and hearts filled with content. ‘Pujo ashchey…’

My city, the city of joy, is not always filled with joy. Most often you see it struggling with the nuances of daily lives, with the shackles of its non progressive approach to simple things and competing feebly and, may I add, complacently with the other fast growing cities. The city which was once the capital of this country, which was once and still is the abode of great men and women, the centre for literature, art and culture, now appears to be saddled by its own legacy. Do not get me wrong,  I am completely in awe with this place. I came here unwillingly, fell in love with it inspite of all my prejudices and then lived here for 10 years. So I am already a victim of its irresistible charm. I know there is something so special here that will touch your heart and make you yearn for it when you are far far away. May be that is why when I look at other cities and countries, I realise that there will never be a place like Kolkata, but on the other hand I also wish it was so much more… So much potential and yet the stagnancy here drives all us Kolkata lovers away from it. Bengal has always and will continue following the “Cholchey – Cholbey” policy irrespective of who is in power. There was a time when I would defend this city with all reasonings, and with hope. Sitting miles and miles and mountains and oceans apart I am confused at the mixed emotions this city arises in me – to just give up and move on with my life or to hold on to that blind faith that someday something good will happen out of it.

Pic Courtesy: Bedabrata Chatterjee
Pic Courtesy: Bedabrata Chatterjee

However this isn’t why I am here. Today I wanted to convey my best wishes for the coming days. “Mahalaya” which in Hindu mythology means Homecoming of the Goddess Durga and the dawn of this day marks the ceremony of ‘Chakshudanam’ – literally meaning giving eyes to the Goddess (the artists, who make the idols, paint the eyes of the Goddess on this auspicious day). And Durga puja, being the main festival of Bengal,  is now in its final stages of preparations. I can see it all infront of my eyes… the roads all lighted up, the streets scurrying with innumerable people with their last minute puja shopping before they start pandal hopping, bamboo barricades being set up for the visitors, long queues for big and small restaurants, no place to walk in almost any part of the city.

But amidst all this I can not resist writing about the irony of this day and the bizarre situation of the city with the recent events. While on one hand we are all set to wroship the epitome of feminine power and strength, there is a section of the city (if not whole) which is hurting. Hurting against injustice, struggling against the inaction against female attrocities, fighting against a failing system. While one half of the city is getting together to celebrate, the other half is hoping that their rage will bring some change, will stir the conscience of a dying world, will empower people to have the right to walk and talk freely without being questioned about the lateness of the hour or the length of the dress. As we embark upon the celebratory mood, let us not forget this other half, let us keep reminding ourselves that we have to fight against the disappearing humanity. It might be a long time before we reach that goal, but lets hope and act for a better tomorrow!

So Shubho Mahalaya and may you all have a safe and delightful time!

I have a quick recipe for you – ‘Kalakand’ in microwave. This is an Indian sweet/dessert usually made with milk. Inspite of the hustle bustle of the Puja days, this sweet will take just 18 mins of your time and 2 main ingredients. Although, if in India, you can easily buy it from the local sweet shop wouldn’t it be nice to surprise your guests with this homemade version? This recipe is taken from Showmethecurry

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Ingredients:

  • Ricotta cheese – 15 oz
  • Condensed Milk – 14 oz
  • Cardamom powder – 1/4 tsp (optional, but preferred)
  • Chopped nuts – for garnishing, I used chopped pistachios. (optional)

Method:

  • Pour the condensed milk into a microwave safe bowl, preferably a square or rectangular one. That way it becomes easy to slice the sweets.
  • Add the ricotta cheese to it and mix it well witha  spoon/ whisk.
  • Cook it in the microwave as follows:
    • 5 mins – uncovered. Then Take out and mix everything well.
    • 3 mins – uncovered. Then Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – covered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – cross covered / partially covered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – uncovered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – uncovered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – uncovered. Take out and mix again.
  • Once done, sprinkle the cardamom powder and mix well.
  • Level out the mixture evenly by pressing it with a spatula or a flat spoon.
  • Sprinkle the chopped nuts for garnishing and press it lightly onto the surface of the prepared sweet.
  • Cover it and allow it to cool down and set a couple of hours. You may set it in the refrigerator (if in a rush) for an hour but I avoided it as I did not want it to harden too much.
  • Once set, take a knife and cut into the desired shape – squares / rectangles / diamonds.

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Narkeler Naru aka Coconut Ladoo

This Janmashtami I made Coconut Ladoo which in Bengali we call “Narkel-er Naru“. Janmashtami – the day celebrated in Hindu mythology as Lord Krishna’s birthday – is a grand affair at my in law’s. Me and my husband, well lets say, though we are spiritual at heart we do not follow any set rules for such religious celebrations. However this time, hearing my Ma-in-law talking about the preparations for the festival made us want to do something as well. So Hubby B decides to go veg (which is a BIG thing!). That was all I needed to workup a feast of luchi (pooris), cholar dal (chana dal) and sooji halwa. Narkel naru was added later to it and to keep it simple and quick I thought of using the can of condensed milk lying in the pantry.

You can also make it with jaggery and it looks brown, but we love the white sugary ones. This is probably the simplest and quickest of the sweets that I know and does not require too much of effort or ingredients or preparation.

Ingredients:

  • Coconut, shredded/grated (unsweetened) – 2 cups; I used coconut powder
  • Milk – 3 to 4 cups, if using half and half or evaporated milk or a combination of any of these – adjust the quantity accordingly; I used 3/4th of a can of Condensed Milk – approx. 300 gms and 1/2 cup of 2% milk
  • Sugar 1/2 to 3/4 cup or as needed, may need no sugar/less sugar if using condensed milk.
  • Cardamom powder – 1 to 2 tsp, optional (I did not use it)

Method:

  • Heat a pan on low heat. Add the shredded coconut and dry roast it, stirring continuously, for a couple of minutes.
  • Add milk /half and half / condensed milk or a combination of any of these to it. I added a combination of condensed milk and 1/2 cup of milk.

  • Raise the flame to a medium and let the milk come to a boil. Keep stirring continuously and do not let any of the mixture stick to the bottom of the pan. May have to keep scraping it off!
  • After around 10-15 mins the mixture starts to thicken, the timings depend entirely on the thickness of the milk used. If using sugar add at this point as to taste. The milk thickens considerably after adding sugar. If using condensed milk only, may not need any sugar at all.
  • As the mixture dries up add some cardamom powder to it if desired. I skipped this step.
  • You will know the mixture is ready when you can take a small portion of it and be able to form a firm ball out of it. Then, remove it a plate and let it cool.

  • Once completely cooled, grease your palms with a little oil, and make small lime sized balls out of it.
  • Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.