Sijha Manda Pitha is my all-time favorite pitha. And my mom makes it the best. She makes it on special occasions like puja or brata days, which calls for special desserts :) and she'll start making it early in the morning before the puja(prayer) starts. We're not allowed to have them before the puja, when it's offered to the God. I remember waiting for her to finish the puja so that I can devour them. And I'm so glad I'd no one to share it with, because my brother and dad doesn't like them, and my mom usually fast on those special days!! I usually finish most of them before any guests arrive, to be on the safer side :)
Pitha is a traditional Oriya preparation, mostly sweet but there are few savory variations too. Manda Pitha is very common in Oriya households and everyone has their own variations of making it. The covering can be made with soaked rice, powdered rice or semolina(suji). And it can be cooked with water, coconut milk or milk. The stuffing varies from coconut with Jaggery, sugar, channa dal or sprouted moongdal. Some put paneer, nuts and raisins in the stuffing. Everyone puts different species in the stuffing. The sweet ones usually have cardamom, clove and/or black pepper. The savory ones have ginger, black pepper and/or cumin. And some like to boil the Manda(dumplings) in water, whereas some like it steamed or even fried. I would say, when you're not sure if your Manda cover will break or not, go with steaming, the pithas are safe that way :) If the cover doesn't break at all while stuffing and molding, then go for boiling. You can always check with one Manda first, if it doesn't break you can add the rest to the water.
I make it the way my mom makes it, the ones that I like the most!! For that we'll need
For the cover
Rice Flour- 2 cups
Water- 2 cups as per required to make dough
salt- 1/2 tsp
sugar - 1 tsp (optional)
Oil (or Ghee)- 1 tsp , I use canola oil coz hubby doesn't like Ghee :)
For the stuffing
grated coconut - 1 cup (fresh or frozen)
sugar (or jaggery)- 1/2 cup, as per taste
Oil (or Ghee)- 1/2 tsp, I use canola oil
cardamom powder- 1/2 tsp
crushed black pepper - 1/2 tsp
Making the dough for the covering:
Heat the water in a nonstick pan. Add salt, sugar and oil. when the water comes to a boiling point, switch off the heat and add the rice flour. Mix it well till all the flour incorporates with the water. If the mix is very dry then add some boiling water. If the mix is watery then add a little more flour. Different rice flour needs different amount of water, so you've to be ready for either case. Then cover it and let it sit for 30 minutes or so, till it's just warm to touch. Take the dough out and knead it well for 5 minutes. It'll be a sticky dough, but it'll firm-up once it's cool down completely. You can oil your hand before kneading to make it more manageable. After kneading cover it and set aside.
Making the Coconut stuffing:Heat a little oil in the nonstick pan and add the grated coconut. Cook it for about 5 minutes in medium to high heat, till it turns golden brown. Then add the sugar and crushed black pepper. Cook it for another few minutes. Switch off the heat and finally add the cardamom power. Let it cool down to room temperature.
Molding the Mandas :)
Make small roundels of the coconut stuffing.
Divide the covering dough in small portions. Put a little water or oil in your palm (Using a little water or oiling your hand makes the task a little easier and the dough doesn't stick to the palm as much). Take a small portion of the dough and flatten it with both of your palm. Try shaping it as a disk. Now using your thumb and fingers try to deepen the disk so that it can hold the stuffing. When it's deep enough put the stuffing and gather the edges of the covering. Carefully seal the covering by pressing all the edges together. If the covering breaks then take small amount of dough and patch the breakage. Now carefully shape the Mandas(dumplings) rolling between your palms.
Cooking the Mandas
At this point you have to decide whether to boil it or steam it. If you had to fix the Mondas a lot while molding it, you'll need to steam it. They'll most likely break in the boiling water. This time my dough behaved well, so I'll risk boiling it :)
Boil water in a heavy bottom pan. Add a little salt to the water(optional). When water starts to boil, add the Mandas one after the other. Don't add all the Mandas at once, it'll bring down the water temperature. Don't cover the pan, and let the Mandas cook. The Mandas will be done when they start floating on the water, which should take about 8 to 10 minutes. Carefully remove them from the boiling water, one by one.
If you're steaming the Mandas, it should take about 10 to 12 minutes to cook.
Sijha Manda Pitha goes well with (Puri)Dalma or Bandhakobi Tarkari (Cabbege Curry)