Some recipes are timeless and they connect with you in a way that goes beyond their ingredients and the cooking process. Such is the story of the Bihari cookie thekua that never really got its share of spotlight amongst popular Indian desserts like rasgulla, jalebi and gulab jamun. I sometimes wonder if it has to do with the plain Jane appearance of the humble thekua or because it was never really commercialized like its glamorous cousins like the balushahi. And yet thekua has become the brand ambassador of Bihar due to its significance in Chatth Puja. Thekua's ‘country cousin’ appeal has perhaps been a boon and saved it from oblivion, as well as the commercialisation of the halwai-sweetmeat shops or the more upmarket and sleek mithai brands. Either way, the home-made charm of thekua has stayed intact and its subtly sweet aroma tells tales of moms, grandmoms, chachis and mausis sweating it out to make this dessert that doesn’t need any preservatives and stays fresh for months in airtight jars.
Chhath Puja Connection
Though thekua is a round-the-year snack, it is primarily a revered prasad (offering to god) in the Chhath Puja that takes place exactly 10 days after Diwali. For the uninitiated, Chhath Puja is an ancient Hindu festival, native to Bihar, Jharkhand, eastern Uttar Pradesh and also the Madhesh of Nepal. The festival is dedicated to the Sun God, Surya, and his wife Usha to thank them for bestowing the world with sunshine, health and happiness. Thekua is the Chhath special prasad; it is made with wholewheat flour, jaggery or sugar, raisin, fennel seeds, coconut flakes and cardamom.
Notably, thekua offered during puja is prepared at home by the family members, and neighbours and relatives can pitch in, since the ritual dictates that prasad-making be strictly inside the home. People in Bihar still get a mitti ka chulha (clay stove) at home in reverence and preserve the sanctity of prasad making. I am not sure about its specific relevance to the festival but for some reason that I cannot fathom, thekua deep-fried in a big cast-iron kadai on the chulha turn out to be way more delicious than ones made on modern stoves. And the matriarch (she is the one who usually does the puja) of the family distributes thekua to those who attend the three-day long Chhath puja. Those who couldn’t be present on the occasion are sent a small consignment of thekua along with other puja offerings such as dry fruits and batasha—a dry, hard and sugar wafer.
What differentiates thekua from other desserts is its rustic, unfinished look and its wholesomeness. Have two thekua and you’re good to go for a couple of hours, full of nutrition and energy these Indian cookies travels long distances well without the fear of spoilage unlike delicate, milk-based mithais. Thekua continues to be relevant in the modern, well-connected world. It tastes great with masala chai and especially with green tea as a foil to its ruddy, grainy taste. You can make thekua more interesting and exotic by adding dates, orange peel or banana pulp. Here’s the recipe. Try it.
Total cooking time: 1 hour, 15 minutes;
Makes 10 to 12 thekua
400 gm wholewheat flour
2 tablespoon chopped coconut
300 gm jaggery
5-6 ground green cardamom along with flakes
200 ml ghee/vegetable oil
3-4 chopped dates
Pulp of 1 banana (optional)
- Mix jaggery and cardamom with two cups of water to make a watery solution. Mix 4 tablespoon ghee/oil to the jaggery and water solution.
- To this solution, add wholewheat flour, chopped coconut, raisins and dates to make a thick thekua dough (slightly thicker than what is made for chapatis).
- Take a lump of dough—the size that is usually used to make chapatis—and press it flat on your palm. Once flat, press the dough against a thekua mould (you’ll find it in stores that stock groceries from Bihar). Else, roughly shape an oblong thekua on your palm with your fingers.
- Deep-fry moulded thekua until they are rust brown in colour.
- Strain the ghee from thekua and let cool. Store in an airtight container.
Featured image: Shutterstock.com
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