With a throat infection, raging fever and a sprained wrist, you’d probably think I was insane to make these……but yesterday being Rakhi, how can I not make something special? Now, I am a single child, no siblings, and though I have cousins, most of them are settled far, far away. So my Rakshabandhan celebrations have always just meant a very quiet day, where I would tie the sacred thread to my Dadu (maternal grandfather).
And even after his demise in 1991, I have always celebrated the day. Earlier, it was Mom who would cook something special, and dedicate it to his memory via me…and now, it’s me who does it.
My Dadu was a hardcore foodie, born and brought up in Lucknow, with a huge penchant for ‘gor-gorey’ or rich food, sweets and savouries. This year, I dedicate my Rakhi wishes to my Dadubhai with these soft, juicy and succulent “CHHANAR JEELIPIS.”
Chhanar Jeelipi is a traditional Bengali sweet that is made from fresh chhena or cottage cheese. The chhena is kneaded (with other ingredients) until a smooth dough is formed, which is then rolled, shaped and deep-fried. The deep-fried jalebis are then dunked in warm sugar syrup, akin to a ‘gulab jamun’.
These days, finding these sweets has become quite a rarity, owing to the fact that most sweet shops are creating more of fusion sweets, or something unique. But why fret, when you can make these so easily at home? The process is slightly lengthy, but pretty easy. Also, these are best made with homemade chhena, and not store-bought paneer (though I’m sure that is doable, but I personally haven’t tried, and cannot guarantee success).
Chhanar Jeelipi (Bengali Paneer Jalebis)
Ingredients: (Makes 6)
- Full fat milk – 1 liter
- Lemon juice – 1 to 2 tsp (or distilled white vinegar)
- Semolina or sooji – 2 tbsp
- Plain Flour – 1 tbsp
- Milk – 3 tbsp
- Milk powder – 3 tbsp
- Baking powder – 1/4 tsp or about a large pinch
- Ghee – 1 tbsp
- Oil+1 tsp ghee – for deep frying
For the syrup:
- Sugar – 1 & 1/2 cups
- Water – 2 & 1/3 cups
- Saffron – a big pinch (or orange food colour, a tiny pinch)
- Cardamom – 3 to 4 pods
- Start by making the chhena; in a big heavy-bottomed pot, put the milk to boil.
- Once the milk starts to boil, immediately pour in the lemon juice (or vinegar). Use a ladle to stir the milk, turning the flame down.
- The milk will soon begin to curdle, allow it to boil until the whey and cheese curds completely separate, and the water turns clear.
- Strain into a large strainer (reserve the whey for making chapati/bread dough, etc), and quickly give a rinse under cold water to get rid of the lemon-vinegar smell.
- Now transfer to a muslin cloth.
- Tie the ends of the muslin cloth securely and hang the chhena for about 30 mins to an hour (or more if you have time).
- Transfer it on to a plate and place a weight on top; leave it be for at leasr an hour.
- Once the chhena is completely drained of whey, untie it from the cloth and tip it on to a large flat plate.
- Start kneading the chhena slowly with the heel of your palm, much like you would knead a bread dough.
- Knead until it turns smooth, and then add the semolina, flour, ghee, milk powder, baking powder and milk. (You can also soak the semolina with the milk for 10 mins and add it to the chhena).
- Knead again until the chhena mixture is smooth, soft and supple; your palms will look oily, that means its done.
- Take a large lemon-sized ball and begin to roll between your palms until smooth.
- Now place this on a plate and begin to roll out a long rope of the chenna ball. Don’t apply too much pressure, and gently, with your palm apply a back and forth motion until the rope is about 7 or 8 inches in length.
- Now carefully, holding the ends of the rope, shape it into a ‘U’, and twist into a spiral.
- Don’t worry about cracks, just pinch and press them gently and smooth out the spiral; the semolina and flour will ensure they don’t break.
- Repeat the process for all the jeelipis.
- Now heat a deep-bottomed vessel or kadhai with oil and a tbsp of ghee, deep enough to accommodate the jeelipis well.
- At the same time, put another pot of water to boil, with the sugar, saffron and cardamom.
- The syrup should have a one-string consistency, just like gulab jamun syrup.
- Keep the oil on a low flame, and drop a small ball of dough to check if oil is hot enough.
- Once sufficiently hot, drop the jeelipis one by one into the oil; don’t crowd them.
- Fry them on a low to medium-flame until they turn deep golden brown on each side (allow them to cook on a low flame so they’re cooked from inside too).
- Immediately, take the jeelipis out and dunk them into the simmering sugar syrup.
- Let them soak the syrup for a couple of hours (turn off the heat once all the jalebis are fried and dunked in syrup).
- Garnish with flakes almonds, pistachios or cashews, and serve the jeelipis warm, or at room temperature, or just warm in a microwave before serving.