Come Bihu, and you will find different varieties of pitha being lovingly prepared by the womenfolk across the state and beyond. Pitha is a generic term used to describe a range of Assamese sweet treats, mostly made using rice. Since Assam is a rice producing state, this humble ingredient forms an integral part of the culinary lineage of the people, being used in myriad ways to create spectacular delicacies. To pick the first from the platter of pithas, we have ghila pitha, also known as tel pitha, which are sweet fritters made using rice flour and jaggery.
The process of fermentation plays a key role while making ghila pitha. It is what determines the flavour as well as the texture. This recipe calls for just two ingredients – rice flour and jaggery. Yes, that’s all you need. But mastering the skills of making it isn’t as easy as you may think. It takes practice. If you have hopped around different households indulging on this pitha during festival time, you will know that each person’s pitha is quite different from the other. Moreover, there’s also a difference between how upper Assam folks prepare it as compared to lower Assam folks.
Rice flour and grated jaggery are mixed together along with a little water to make a smooth batter, which is then left to ferment overnight. In upper Assam, home cooks use less of water to make a dough instead. In today’s time, people also add in other flavour boosters like nuts and coconut in an attempt at innovation. Once the batter or dough is light, with evident signs of fermentation, it is whipped or kneaded a little before dropping a spoonful of it into hot oil. It is said that at one time, you should fry just one pitha. That’s the rule. The batter does tend to spread a little before taking its shape, so don’t be in a rush. Fry it till they are nice and plump, then remove from the pan and drain the excess oil.
If made right, ghila pitha almost has a cake-like crumbly texture, otherwise it can turn out to be quite dry and chewy. Here’s a simple recipe for you to try at home –
1 cup rice flour (preferably sticky rice)
½ cup jaggery
- In a larger bowl, mix the ingredients well till they resemble breadcrumbs. Then add a little water to form a smooth batter. Cover with a lid and let it ferment overnight.
- Whip the batter a little using a fork. Heat oil in a small kadai and pour a spoonful of the batter into it. It will spread a little but allow it to take shape. Flip to the other side and fry till nice and plump. Drain excess oil and serve.