Magh Bihu is one of the most anticipated festivals in Assam celebrated in the month of January. This is a harvest festival marking a lot of feasting and festivities. Magh Bihu is therefore also called the Bhogali Bihu literally meaning “to enjoy”. Magh Bihu festivities in Assam normally lasts for at least a week marked with visits to near and dear ones.
Read my blog post on Magh Bihu for details on this harvest festival of Assam.
Magh Bihu is celebrated with a feast on the night of the Uruka day, the lighting of the Meji the next morning followed by an extensive meal which includes traditional jolpaan and a variety of pitha. There’s no end to the types of pitha one can prepare but there are a few basic pithas that are prepared during Magh Bihu. Let’s prepare this pitha platter for Magh Bihu by following these simple steps.
#1 Til Pitha
The ingredients required are bora saul (sticky bora rice), gur (jaggery), and til (black sesame). The rice is soaked for about 2 hours, drained and left out to dry a little. Finely powdered rice flour is made by pounding the bora rice in a dheki (pic included) or khundona (pic included), strained, and kept aside covered with a lid. The filling is prepared by roasting the black sesame first and then grinding it to obtain a coarse powder. Then add jaggery and mix properly.
Next start by heating an iron tawa (preferable). Add a big spoonful of rice flour on the pan and spread it out in an oval or round shape. Put a little bit of the black sesame mixture in the centre of the pitha. Now slowly roll up the pitha from one side and allow it to steam on the tawa for a while. Flip the sides and let it turn crisp.
1. Don’t let the rice flour moisten, therefore cover properly with a lid.
2. Timing is everything in preparing crispy til pitha, so don’t be too slow nor too fast in rolling the sides.
#2 Narikol Pitha
Narikol Pitha is prepared in the same manner as til pitha except for the fact that the filling here is that of coconut (narikol). For the filling grated coconut is roasted and a little sugar is added to obtain a sticky mixture.
#3 Ghila Pitha
Ghila pitha or tel pitha is made in quite a few different ways. Some make it with only sticky bora rice which makes them chewy, some prefer using normal rice flour while some mix both the variety of rice flour. You can choose according to the availability and your preference.
Wash and soak the rice for about 2 hours, drain the water and let it dry for another hour or so. Now pound the rice to obtain a coarse powder. Add a little water to the jaggery to dissolve it, and a pinch of baking soda. Add this to the rice flour and make a dough. For flavors you can add orange zest, grated coconut also according to your preference or even black sesame which are all optional. Now make small balls out of the dough and flatten them. In a deep pan add mustard oil and allow to heat, now add the flattened rice balls and deep fry in high flame. Flip both sides to cook evenly.
#4 Narikol Ladoo
Start by grating a coconut in a mixer. Traditionally we used to grate it in an iron rukoni which literally looked like a bird (pic included). Add sugar (about one-third of the quantity of grated coconut) and cardamom powder for flavour. Mix it well and fry the mixture on medium flame while stirring continuously. After about 15 mins check the mixture to see if it binds properly, then put off the flame and start making the laddoo immediately. If the mixture cools down then it will turn hard and binding won’t be possible.
#5 Til Ladoo
Start by dry roasting the washed and dried black sesame on a pan for about 5-6 mins while stirring continuously and then keep it aside. Add almost equal amount of jaggery on the pan, add half cup of water and allow it to dissolve while cooking in low flame. After about 6 mins check the mixture by dropping a few drops in water. If it does not dissolve then your jaggery mixture is ready. Turn off the gas, pour the roasted black sesame and mix properly and immediately start making the ladus.
#6 Hutuli Pitha
Wash and dry the black sesame first. Then dry roast the sesame on a pan with cardamom until they splutter and leave an aroma. Grind the sesame to obtain a coarse powder, add jaggery and mix properly. Keep this mixture aside. This is the same mixture like the one we use for til pitha.
Mix equal quantities of joha rice flour and sticky bora rice flour, add a pinch of baking powder and mix. On a pan add jaggery and little water and allow it to dissolve. Strain the water and add it to the rice mixture slowly to knead a dough. Make small balls from the dough , flatten it and add a little of the jaggery sesame mixture prepared earlier and wrap it up in the form of a hutuli (a musical instrument of Assam which is like the shape of the crescent moon). Prepare all the balls in the similar manner. Now heat mustard oil in a pan and deep fry the pithas on medium flame by flipping sides and cooking evenly.
#7 Tekeli/Ketli Pitha
Start by mixing little quantities of water to the rice flour to moisten the mixture. You can use milk also in place of water. Mix this properly without allowing it to stick. Strain the mixture in a saloni or strainer with bigger holes. Now take a little amount of this rice mix and put it on the inside lid of a kettle, add little jaggery and grated coconut and again pour a little of the rice mixture. Now cover the mixture and the lid with a clean thin cotton cloth. In a kettle bring about two-third water to boil, now put the lid with the pitha on the inside and steam for 5-6 mins. Take the lid out, remove the cloth and take the steamed pitha out of the lid.
These are the most basic varieties of pitha you can make for Magh Bihu. However the list goes on if you want to create more. As you can see there are also a few basic ingredients which are sticky and normal rice flour/ powder, jaggery, black sesame and coconut. You can create a variety with these ingredients by either steaming or frying. Try preparing these at home and happy eating!
Also I am very excited to inform that my first non-fiction travel guide book on Assam has been published with an ISBN number. I am sure the book would be helpful and interesting, covering a lot of different topics on Assam as a tourist destination. If you wish to purchase a copy then I will be adding the link below.