Saturday, 11 January 2014

Ghilla Pitha (Deep Fried Rice Flour Cakes)

I belong to the beautiful state of Assam in the northeast India. In Assam, apart from the other festivals like Diwali and Durga Puja, we have three major festivals- Magh Bihu (or Harvest festival) celebrated in the month of January, Bohag Bihu (or Spring festival) celebrated in the month of April, and Kati Bihu (or Autumn festival) celebrated in the month of September. Each Bihu has its own significance and bring with it loads of fun and celebration. While Bohag bihu is the one which is celebrated in the most pompous manner, Magh Bihu has its own charm. The new rice would be harvested at this time and the farmers would be thanking God for a good harvest and celebrate with a grand feast. The speciality of this wintery feast is that the food is cooked on a bonfire and all the family members and friends would sit together and chat and cook up a delicious meal for all. In the morning, they would make delicacies called "pitha" and offer it to fire god and pray for a good year ahead. They would bathe their cows and buffaloes with raw turmeric and "maah" (black gram) and take blessings of their elders for a happy and fulfilling new year. I have so many childhood memories of this bihu and its celebrations that it feels like just yesterday when I was a kid and would happily enjoy all the food prepared by Maa. Now that I am miles away from my family, I have a few friends here with whom I hope to recreate some Bihu memories for the future.

2 cups Rice flour
1/4 cup plain flour
1/2 cup jaggery, grated or mashed with hands
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp orange rind
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 cup water
Mustard oil for frying

Take a deep bottomed dish and add all the ingredients except water and jaggery. Now add the jaggery and add very little water at a time until a smooth batter is formed similar to the consistency of cake batter. If the batter is a little too thick, do not add more water as the jaggery would also be releasing some water of its own. Make sure there are no lumps. Cover and keep aside for at least 5-6 hours or preferably overnight. When keeping overnight, you can keep it in the refrigerator and take it out about 1-2 hours prior to frying. 
Heat a small wok and add sufficient mustard oil. Take spoonfuls of the batter and fry till golden brown on both sides on a low flame. Drain the excess oil on paper towels and store in air tight containers and enjoy this northeastern delicacy with a hot cuppa.

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