The Spring Festival of India, Holi which is on the 10th of March this year is a festival of colours. Celebrated in March or April according to the Hindu calendar, it was meant to welcome the spring and win the blessings of Gods for good harvests and fertility of the land. As with all the Hindu festivals, there are many interesting legends attached to Holi. It is the second most important festival of India after Diwali.
Special sweets are prepared on Holi with the Puran Poli taking the place of pride and in the evening friends come together around a bonfire which is a representation of burning away all that is evil and starting afresh. It is a festival of fun and frolic and the exuberance and the festivity of the season are remarkable. The day after Holi is called Dhulwad in Maharashtra and is celebrated by splashing colours and water on each other. This is particularly popular with teenagers and collegians who are seen going around the city in large groups on their bikes and scooters having a fantastic time.
So coming back to Puran Poli this is what I have for all of you today. Puran Poli is the like the heart and soul of Maharashtrian cuisine and and it's a true test of your cooking skills. It's a skill not just learnt from a cookbook but something that is handed down generations. The best Puran Poli I have eaten is the one made by my mother-in-law. They are just the ultimate and I really have to keep a check on how many I eat . Having said that I also take great pride in saying that my own Puran Polis come out beautifully as well considering the fact that I make them only once or twice a year. My family loves them and we can never have enough. So I have to share them with all of you, don't I?
For those to whom Puran Poli is a new dish, Puran is basically a sweet stuffing made from chana dal and jaggery. Poli is a flat bread. This puran is stuffed in dough and then rolled out gently to make Puran Poli which is eaten with loads of melted ghee. It is heaven on earth.
Here's how I go about it:
Ingredients for the Puran:
1.5 cups chana dal
1 cup jaggery
1/2 cup sugar,
1/4 tspn grated nutmeg
1/4 tspn cardammom powder,
1/8 tspn saffron strands soaked in warm water
1/4 tspn salt,
3 cups water to cook the chana dal
Ingredients for the outer cover or Poli
1 cup wheat flour finely sifted
1 cup plain flour (maida)
1/4 tspn salt
8 to 10 tblspns of oil to knead the dough,
1 cup rice or plain flour to dust while rolling out the poli
Method for cooking the Puran:
Ideally the chana dal is cooked in a open saucepan till it gets soft and mushy but I prefer to cook it in a pressure cooker as that is much faster and and I don't have to watch it all the time. So place the chana dal with double quantity of water and pinch of turmeric in a pressure cooker container and then pressure cook it . I cook it for a little longer that I would cook normal dal .
While this is cooking prepare the dough for the poli. Mix the 2 flours and salt and form a soft dough by adding enough water. Pour all oil and knead well. The quantity of oil seems a lot but believe me it is necessary to make a delicious puran poli. Leave the dough covered for 1 to 11/2 hour.
When the dal is thoroughly cooked and mushy remove the container from the cooker and drain the excess cooking liquid from the dal. This is called Kat and is used to make a delicious spicy soupy meal accompaniment called Katachi Amti.
What I do now is blend the dal well with a hand mixer still it is smooth with absolutely no grainy texture. Then place this dal ,the jaggery and sugar in a heavy bottom pan and cook it on a low flame stirring frequently till the mixture thickens to the point where if you insert a serving spoon in it , it will stand in the mixture. This is how experts test it. Finally add the nutmeg , cardamom powders and the soaked saffron and give it all a good mix . Switch off the gas. Stirring the mixture frequently is important as it sticks easily to the bottom of the pan.
After the Puran has cooled you can rolling out the Puran polis by taking a ball of dough and thrice as much puran . Roll out the dough a little then place the Puran over it and pulling all the edges to the centre close the mouth of the dough. Dust a small amount of flour on the surface and on the rolling pin and gently roll the poli ensuring that the puran is evenly spread inside without breaking out of the dough.
To roast you need the tawa (skillet) just moderately hot. Roast on one side then flip once and the poli is done. Do not over cook. This is a delicate creation and treat it accordingly. To serve melt ghee and spoon generously( and I mean really generously) over the poli and with some warm saffron flavoured milk alongside. Serve hot.