Playing with dough is my favourite pastime these days.
I tear a frugal bit from the ball of dough Didi has surreptitiously given me, unknown to Maa who is far from encouraging when it comes to what she calls ‘a thoughtless waste of food’, flatten it with my palms, gently press the centre with my thumb and smoothen the edges till it almost resembles the top of a truncated globe.
My miniature Kadhai, I beam with pride. This shall now be left to bake in the glare of the sun and once slightly hardened shall adorn the kitchen of my doll-house.
I proceed to badger Manikkaka – I now want tiny replicas of the treasured tea-set that Maa keeps perpetually locked in the glass cabinet, out of reach of Dada’s tennis ball projectiles, sculpted out of dough.
My princess, Manikkaka patiently explains, let me first finish scraping the coconuts for Ginnima (as he called Grandma). She’s making your favourite pithes today.
Patience doesn’t list amongst the virtues of a young girl, especially one who’s yet to reach double digits in age.
I go looking for Grandma now.
I discover Grandma in the kitchen, a mellow sunshine flirting with the kansa vessels perched in disciplined rows on the shelves, seated on her pnire (wooden pallet), stooped over what looks like rice-flour dough, her nimble fingers at work.
Two wooden combs and a bowl of water wait in patient anticipation by her side.
Combs in the kitchen ? I wonder. You never brush your hair in the kitchen, one of Grandmas golden rules, I distinctly remember.
Grandma tears a small ball of dough, covers it back with a wet muslin cloth, her experienced palms now proceed to shape the ball to a cone.
She effortlessly digs one of the wooden combs into the heart of the cone and then in one confident move rotates the cone along the teeth of the other comb that she holds firmly.
In a flash, the nondescript cone magically transforms into a beautiful shell, replete with crests and ridges.
What is that ? An awe-struck me asks, brimming with curiosity.
That’s Jhinuk Pithe, Grandma responds, pithe shaped in the form of a sea-shell.
Does it look like a shell ? Grandma asks, holding up the Jhinuk Pithe, looking for confirmation.
Of course it does, I approve.
And if you are wondering, these are new combs. She smiles.
You are a magician, I want to tell Grandma, you even know what I am thinking.
I don’t say anything though, I just hug her.
Grandma proceeds with her second Jhinuk Pithe and then the third.
Before long, the thala is pompously flaunting a heap of perfectly sculpted Jhinuk Pithe.
Jhinuk Pithe. Dough made from fragrant newly harvested rice. Deftly shaped using combs to form beautiful shells. Pan-fried. And then stewed languorously in milk sweetened with nolen gur.
Divine, isn’t it ?
And by chance, if you are as ardent a fan of pithe as I am and looking to making a batch of pithe this Sankranti, these pithe puli of mine are a must-try !!
Jhinuk Pithe (Shell-Shaped Rice Dumplings in Milk Pudding)
- 1.5 cup gobindobhog rice
- 1.5 lit cow milk
- 2 tbsp date palm jaggery or nolen gur
- 1/2 tsp salt
- oil for frying
- 2 new combs
- Soak the rice for 2 hours, allow the rice to dry over a newspaper or muslin cloth to drain any excess water.
- Grind the rice to a fine powder, keep aside, covered with a cling film.
- Take a pan, add 1 cup of milk, add 2 tsp oil and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Lower the flame, add the rice powder to the milk to form a thick batter. Keep stirring continuously to prevent any lumps from forming.
- Continue to cook till the rice is cooked and the batter has turned into a soft dough. Remove from flame, allow to cool just enough to be able to handle it.
- Knead the dough well, cover with a wet cloth. Keep aside.
- Grease your palm with a little oil, tear a small ball from the dough and shape it like a cone as shown in the picture.
- Now take the two combs and patiently shape the doughball like a jhinuk / shell as shown in the video given in the recipe note.
- Repeat for the rest of the dough. Cover with a wet cloth and keep aside.
- Heat oil in a pan. When it is medium hot, deep fry the jhinuk pithe over medium flame slowly till light brown. Keep over a kitchen absorbent towel.
- Pour the remaining milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan, let it simmer over a low flame till it reduces to almost one third of the volume.
- Gently add the fried pithe one by one into the milk. Cook over low flame, stirring frequently, another 8-10 minutes or so.
- Switch of the flame. Add nolen gur. Give it a hearty stir. (If you like it sweeter, feel free to indulge - add some nolen gur!!)
- Allow to cool to room temperature and serve.