JANMASHTAMI Nostalgia & the TAAL or Sugar Palm Fruit(3 Ways)!
1. TAAL'er KHEER
2. TAAL'er BODA
3. TAAL'er PAAYESH
TAAL the sugar palm fruit or locally known as the Todd palm is a seasonal delicacy available in the coastal towns of India and Southeast Asia during the summer months. Once they ripen during the monsoon months, the pulp is extracted through a process so arduous, that it made me categorize and dub the pulp as 'liquid gold'! Since the fruits of the palm tree are rich in minerals and vitamins B & C, as also Iron, Zinc, Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Thiamine and Riboflavin, they are a healthy diet option for diabetics or simply those on a diet as it has no fat! The jelly of the unripe sugar palm fruit is also an effective remedy against prickly heat. A face pack made of the same works wonders for those with sensitive skin.
We are now well into the second year of COVID -19, with the inclusion of masks, sanitizers and other safety measures well entrenched in our way of 'normal daily' life. It has been a tough ride for most of us, some way or the other. I sometimes take on a project of gigantic proportions just to feel a sense of triumph from succeeding in the same. If nothing else, it just might make you feel that you are in control of some small element in your life, when nothing else in the world outside seems to be. This was one such project, undertaken while my Mom was visiting me. The shared experience of creating the delicious desserts will serve as a beautiful memory in times to come. This was a retelling of the stories from my childhood and getting to feel close to my grandmothers (who have long left for their heavenly abode), while enacting their way of making these special treats, passing the baton of tradition from one generation to the next...
(My mother deserves a special mention for being a sport in allowing her photos and videos to be clicked, whilst she was dressed in her 'home wear' while she led the way in passing tradition from one generation to the next)
JANMASHTAMI is the birthday of Lord Shri Krishna, the naughtiest of the Gods in the Hindu religion. Growing up I have seen my Mother cook special offerings on this day. TAAL'ER Kheer and TAAL'ER Boda were especially offered first to the deity and then partaken as prasad, post the midnight puja.
Extraction of the Pulp/Sap from the Ripe Sugar Palm Fruit
This year I was fortunate enough to lay my hands on a couple of tree - ripened Taal. Thus I had the privilege of following in my mother's tradition. If you refer to the image of the taals(the second picture) you will see that the exterior shell of the fruits appear cracked. This is a distinguishing feature of a 'gaachh paka' or a tree ripened taal.
The extraction of the sap/pulp is time consuming and a messy process, but the extracted pulp is so precious, I was not wrong to dub it as 'liquid gold'.
Wash the taal fruits under running water and wipe dry.
Peel the outer hard dark brown colored shell. Be slightly careful while you pull and tug away at them, so as not to cut or bruise your fingers or palms.
Open up the golden colored inside layers to reveal the treasure. Usually the inside of the fruit is divided into three separate parts.
Bang the individual parts of the taal by holding them firmly in each hand and imitate a clapping sequence.
Sprinkle some clean water on each part and smear thoroughly.
Take a grater and carefully grate the fruit part, so that the pulp gets accumulated in a vessel placed at the bottom of the grater. Some amount of fiber will get entangled in the pulp.
Accumulate all the pulp. Then take a whisk and gently whisk the pulp and you will notice a majority of the fibers get entangled in the whisk, which you can then discard.
(An additional step followed by my grandmothers involves tying up all the pulp in a muslin cloth as securely as possible and hanging it from a height with a bowl placed strategically underneath. This is said to reduce the bitterness of the pulp as the sap contributing to the bitterness is discarded through the cloth)
TAAL'ER KHEER(Way 01)
Makes : 6-8 portions
Preparation Time : 60 minutes (extraction of pulp)
Cooking Time : 30 minutes
Taal'er pulp - 500 ml
Grated Coconut - one medium sized (250 grams)
Condensed Milk(you may also use full cream milk, but the process will take a little longer) -400 ml
Khoya/Mawa(optional) -200 grams
Brown Sugar -100 grams(to taste)
Cardamom Seeds (freshly pounded in a mortar and pestle)
Take a non stick Kadhai or pan.
Add the pulp into the Kadhai or pan.
Using a spatula, carefully stir the pulp so as not to allow it to stick to the Kadhai or let it burn.
After 10 minutes or so you will see the pulp start to thicken and change into a darker shade.
Add the grated coconut. Mix it in properly and stir continuously.
After another 10 minutes, add the khoya or mawa and mix it all together with the spatula.
Then add the brown sugar and stir it all together and keep mixing so as not to let it burn or get caught at the bottom of the kadhai.
Making the Cardamom Powder
Take a few pieces of cardamom or elaichi in a small mortar and pestle.
Tap them with the pestle.
The cardamom shell will crack.
Peel the shells and discard them(you may use these in your other recipes which can act as a flavoring agent) and put back only the black small seeds into the mortar.
Pound the seeds into a fine powder.
Sprinkle some of the powdered cardamom on the contents of the kadhai.
When you notice that it all comes together as one mass and there is no excess liquid or water like liquid in the kadhai, then your Taal'er Kheer is finally ready for consumption. (Refer to the video given below for a clearer idea)
TAAL'ER BODA/Fritters made of Sugar Palm Fruit Pulp (Way 2)
'Taal'er boda kheye nando nachite lagilo,..........'
This is the song of folklore associated with Janmashtami in Bengal. Translated it means that Nanda Maharaj the foster father of baby Krishna, started to dance in glee as soon as he ate the fritters made of the sugar palm fruit.
Makes : Approximately 20-25
Preparation Time(extraction of pulp) : 1 hour
Cooking Time : 20 minutes
Taal'er Pulp - 1 cup
Grated Coconut - 1 cup
All Purpose Flour / Maida - Approximately 1 cup (add as per the binding texture needed)
Semolina / Rawa / Sooji -1/2 cup
Rice Flour - 1/4 cup
Brown Sugar - 1/2 cup (adjust as per taste and the sweetness you want)
Baking Soda - 2 pinches
Mawa / Khoya (Optional) - 1 cup
Cardamom Powder - 1 pinch
Refined / Sunflower / Rice Bran /Peanut Oil for frying
Take a non stick or a heavy bottomed iron kadhai.
Pour the oil of choice into the same.
While the oil is heating, get your batter ready for the fritters.
Take a wide plate with a slightly raised curved edge.
Add the maida, grated coconut, Taal'er pulp, rawa, brown sugar, rice flour and cardamom powder.
The proportion of the Taal'er pulp : grated coconut : flour : rawa : brown sugar : rice flour is approximately 4 : 4 : 4 : 2 : 1
Mix all the ingredients thoroughly for the batter of the fritters.
Add a pinch of baking powder to the mix.
Mix thoroughly again.
You may add some khoya / mawa to the mix, to add a little more depth to the taste. It helps to soften up the texture of the fritters.
(I remember my mother used to keep the texture of the batter more fluid. She on some occasions also added some ripe bananas to the mix, to soften up the fritters. But I personally, don't like the batter to be too gloop
When the oil is hot and smoking, you may test whether it has reached the optimum temperature for frying by adding a tiny dollop of the batter into the oil. If the dollop floats up then your oil is ready for frying.
Add similar dollops of batter to the oil with a spoon or you could use your fingers as well, if you don't mind them messy.
Reduce the flame and let them turn a little darker.
Turn the fritters with a wooden spatula or a slotted spoon, so that they fry uniformly.
When the fritters are uniformly brown, slide them to the side of the kadhai , away from the oil with the slotted spoon and drain them. Then place them on a kitchen towel so that the extra oil is absorbed
TAAL'ER PAAYESH - Kheer made of sugar palm fruit pulp (WAY 03)
PAAYESH is a much loved dessert served on many an auspicious occasion. You will probably not find it in any sweet shop. Each household has their own special way of making the same. Here is my special Taal'er Paayesher Recipe.
Serves : 8
Preparation Time : 60 minutes (extraction of pulp)
Cooking Time : 45 minutes
Amul Gold Tetrapak (you may use any other full cream milk) - 1 litre
Gobindo Bhog Rice / Tukda Basmati Rice - 75 grams
Condensed Milk - 400ml
Taal'er Pulp - 1 cup
In a heavy bottomed deep pan, pour the milk.
Wash and soak the rice under running water for a couple of times till the water becomes clear.
Bring the milk to a boil, reduce the flame.
Add the rice, taking care not to get any of the splashes from the boiling milk onto your hands.
Stir well frequently, so as not to allow the milk to get burnt at the bottom of the pan.
After 15 minutes, the rice should be cooked, then add the condensed milk.
Stir well and as the Paayesh thickens, add the Taal'er pulp.
Mix well and when the consistency is to your liking, switch off the flame.
Tastes best when served chilled.