Pantua-Bengali Gulab Jamun

1:06 PM

I grew up in Santiniketan, an University town where most of the schools and colleges were residential. Every year when Monsoon will slowly make way to a clearer sky and white fluffy clouds will come floating,  my friends living in the hostels would yearn to go home. 

Nearing to Puja  Maa would make a trip to Kolkata to bring us new dresses and in class we would start rehearsing for Autumn Drama Festival 'Sharodotsav'. Our evening cycle trip to Kopai, a small river outside the main town with it's banks covered in white pillowy Kashful will make us believe...pujo asche (durga puja is NEaring).

Santiniketan during any vacation means a very sad place, an unusual quietness taking over the otherwise busy university life. With all the students gone home, lesser tourists the streets would be empty of the usual cycles and rikshaws. As if to escape the loneliness, evening would come early making the uncanny silence take over the vast grounds and surroundings. The yellow street lights would flicker glumly making the shadows of the age old trees grow deep, dark and mysterious. The shops will close much earlier than usual and by late evening the small university town of ours would feel like midnight. 
While my friends would go home to other cities and towns where Pujo meant pandal hopping, celebrating the festivities with families,  for us in Santiniketan it meant nothing. Following the Bramho religion there was no puja in the vicinity, no Sound of Dhak or chanting of shloka to be heard. For us, puja started and ended on Mohalaya, the day when the students would gather to sell artefacts created by them on Anondomela, a fair organised by the student body. After that,  the days of whole vacation was boring and lonely, far away from the fun, frolic and togetherness others experienced all over India.

Though we wore  new clothes and once in the five days Baba would take us to Bolepur, the nearest city where a few puja took place but that was witnessing the fun as outsider. We never belonged to any community, coming together and celebrating. somehow that feeling still lingers in me. Puja doesn't excite me much. and now a days with Maa's absence, I do not feel like going home either. 

Puja for me now is all about making memories with my kids. It's a relaxing time at home, a break that we cherish together with good food, fun and late night pandal hopping. and while coming back late at night, all tired...with the kids asleep in the backseat I roll down the window and smell the crisp air, redolent with the aroma of parijat blooms and Incense burning smoke. I can feel the faint footsteps of my favourite season closing in...and that's reason enough to make my heart happy.

Tomorrow is Bijoya Dashomi or Dusshera and it's a ritual at home to make sweets and snacks to greet guests who comes to visit. Today am sharing my Maa's Pantua Recipe, which is the closest to Gulab jamun but made with part chhena (homemade fresh cottage cheese). Pillowy soft as the autumn clouds and sweet as your Puja memories. Hope you all will like it.



Milk: 1 liter (preferably full fat)
Khoya or milk solids: 13/4 cups
Suji/semolina: 3 tbsp
Green cardamom: 3-4
Nokuldana/ Sweet makhana: handful for stuffing inside the Pantua
Sugar: 11/2 cups
White oil/ ghee: for deep frying

First curdle the milk and make Chhena (cottage cheese) and prepare it by hanging and pressing following this recipe 
Soak the 3 tbsp semolina with 1/3 cup water so that it becomes soft.
Grate the Khoya and keep aside.
Mix 11/2 cup sugar with 3 cups of water. Dissolve the sugar and bring it to a boil. Crush one cardamom and mix. Take off from flame.

Once the Chhena is ready start kneading it by rubbing on a clean flat surface. The kneading is very important to make it lump free and smooth. Continue kneading at least for 7-8 minutes or till the chhena feel soft and oily under your palm.

Knead the khoya similarly for 5-6 minutes till a smooth dough is formed. now mix these two together along with the semolina. Add a pinch of salt and mix all these three together. The dough should not be sticky or tight. Should be soft yet should hold shape on it's own.

Now heat enough oil for deep frying.
Take out small pieces of dough (size of Indian lime) and stuff each with a small seed of green cardamom and one nokuldana. I prefer putting the nokuldana inside as with heat this sugar ball melts making way for the syrup to seep in the hole. Close it tight and roll between your palm to make a smooth dough ball. Repeat.

Once the oil is hot put the flame on low and place the chhena balls in. Do not crowd the pan, place them in single layer. Fry for a minute and then keep the flame on low medium and fry by stirring occasionally till they are browned on all sides. It takes close to 8-10 minutes. Do not hasten this process.

Drain the excess oil and place them immediately in the hot syrup. I prefer to boil the syrup with the pantuas for 4-5 minutes and then let them soak for at least 30-40 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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