I opened the refrigerator and came face to face with horror. The gallon of milk was past its expiry date. I usually cheat and use it for another day or two, but this was a full week past its expiry date. Worse, it was an unopened can.
How does one throw away a full can of organic, low-fat milk? I could not bring myself to do it. All my thrifty Indian genes rose up and stood at attention. We will find a way, they said.
I poured the milk into a large saucepan and turned up the flame. Then I called my mother.
“How do I make khoya? ” I asked her. “Or, er, theratti paal?”
“Boil a liter of milk, keep stirring continuously,” she said. “For theratti paal, add a cup sugar or jaggery. But it takes hours, though you could do it on the microwave, it would be faster.”
Milk boiling has always remained a mystery to me. Maybe aliens come into the picture. Maybe time machines do. All I know is, I can keep staring at a pot of milk that is heating up nicely, but somehow, just a few seconds before it boils over, it will distract my attention and I will be looking elsewhere. Even milk that looks ice cold and hours away from boiling will prompty boil over in seconds if I ignore it.
I have tried milk cookers, but they scare me even more with their banshee shrieks. So I have resigned myself to mopping the cooktop every time I boil milk. Usually I never boil milk if I can avoid it.
Microwaving doesn’t help either. So my Mom’s idea gave me a sudden mental picture of a huge bowl stuck in the microwave, overflowing with milk, dripping on the floor, setting off the smoke alarm..
“I have this huge amount of milk” I wailed. “Close to two liters! I don’t want to microwave it”.
“Oh well, but it will take hours if you simmer it on the cooktop”, she said.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I will go off to the basement to exercise.”
“Then it will all get burnt and stick to the bottom of the pan”, she said.
My Mom does not know that I don’t really exercise for very long. This did not seem the right time to enlighten her either.
“It’s okay”, I said. “I will hear the smoke alarm from downstairs if it does get burnt.”
Then I heard it – a sizzling noise that was growing steadily louder. I turned around. The milk had boiled over.
As I rushed to the cooktop, I heard Mom laugh. “Why don’t you make rasagulla?”
I switched off the gas and started mopping operations.
“So how do I make rasagulla?” I asked.
“Google it”, she laughed some more and ended the call.
That, dear readers, is how I came about to making rasagulla.
There is one easy way to make rasagullas. I learnt later from friends’ experiences that there are even more easy ways to make rock-gullas. But I shall stick with the rasagullas for now.
1. Boil milk. Try not to have it overflow all over your counter top. Mop cooktop.
2. Switch off gas and squeeze a lime into milk. The milk will break up instantaneously and rather satisfyingly into a million pieces, which will then clump together, leaving a lot of greeny white whey. You have now had your revenge on the milk for messing up your cooktop.
3. Drain the whey. If you are a SuperWoman, you will have cheesecloth lying around right beside you, all organized. If you are an industrious cook, you will at least use white towels and such things. If you are me, you will just pour the whole saucepan into a large steel strainer and just trust to beginner’s luck. Amazingly, it works.
4. If it doesn’t drain out fast enough, squeeze it, use ladles to press it, crush it with cutting boards, anything. The recipes will all tell you it will take 45 minutes to drain. Don’t listen to them. You can’t let this thing get lazy. Give it five minutes at most.
Squeeze the lump that remains to take out every last drop of whey. You now have paneer. You can use this to make paneer dishes like paneer makhani or palak paneer. But since you are making rasagulla now, there are a few more steps.
5. Dump the stuff into a food processor and grind it for 1 minute. You will now get a nice, smooth paste. This is the most important part of the recipe. The traditional recipes call for rubbing the paneer with your hands until it becomes soft. Not too much, they say, and not too little.
You can imagine how that will work. A friend who tried the hand-rubbing technique tells me she tried 3 times, and each time she got rock-gullas instead of rasagullas. The mixer is much better.
6. In a saucepan, boil a mixture of 1 1/2 cups sugar and 4 cups water. If you like your rasagullas extra sweet, you can add a little more sugar.
7. While the sugar solution is boiling, roll the paste into small, round balls. Don’t make all the balls the same size. That is when you will get interesting conversations like “You ate all the big ones and left just the small ones to me!”.
8. Add the paneer balls into the sugar solution. Reduce the heat a little and let the rasagullas absorb the sugar solution.
9. Once the rasagullas have boiled for, say, 10 minutes, switch off the gas and cool.
10. After the rasagullas have cooled, add some rose water. Then refrigerate.
Resist the temptation to eat one immediately. Take pictures and send them to your mother. She will never believe you otherwise.
The recipe makes around 40 rasagullas. They were quite delicious too. But if you’d rather make rock-gullas (I hear they make excellent projectiles), you know what to do!