I’m not a big fan of Indian sweets, but there is one particular dish my mom would make on Dusshera that is my favorite – kadali pitha (kadali means bananas and a pitha is a sweetened pancake in Odiya). Consider kadali pitha our version of decadent, delicately spiced, and deep fried banana pancakes.
I wanted to share my mom’s recipe so I called her to do some fact-checking and make sure I had the quantities and procedure correct along with gathering insight on variations. I wanted rich history. I wanted her to wax some poetry and shit, you know, take me back to the motherland. Except she was having none of that.
“There are different variations of this recipe but I made it one particular way because with three daughters always running around, with not one of you useless children showing any interest in helping me, and with my joints pains, my way of making this pitha was the easiest way to make on puja days. Plus, you and your sisters loved it. I would stand for hours frying it.” Then she trailed off with another “for hours… no help” for good measure.
Not quite the backstory I was hoping for. We never helped and we sucked. Awesome memories. Duly noted. Needing to resuscitate a conversation that I was quickly losing control over, I enthusiastically asked if there were any tricks I could share with my readers.
[Read Related: Nine Facts About the Nine Devis of Navratri]
“Tell them not to burn it” she casually said. Great advice. This recipe was practically writing itself. We exchanged a couple more “tips” and got off the phone. Minutes later the phone rang. It was my mom.
“I didn’t want to call and tell you because I thought you must be busy, but your dad badgered me to call and remind you that when you write the recipe, remember to use the right name.”
Really? I mean REALLY that’s why you called I was thinking! That’s your sage advice, that when I share a recipe I should make sure I use the right name?!?
“Um, OK, thanks -” I managed to say, though with a tilted edge.
My mom cut me off before I could go further. “Your dad reminded me that you girls call it kadali pitha and that’s wrong. The real name is malpua, spelling em-aye-eleh-” she began to say. Now it was my turn to cut her off.
“Wait, wait, wait, what do you mean the name isn’t kadali pitha?” I asked rather agitated at this point.
[Read Related: 3 ‘Thums Up’ Inspired Sweet Treat Recipes]
“You girls didn’t know how to pronounce malpua. You knew it was a pitha made from kadali so you called it kadali pitha from a young age. We never corrected you and well now who has time to remember such things and correct you? There would be too many things to correct.”
Da fuuuck I thought. We couldn’t pronounce malpua but we could pronounce kadali pitha?! Clearly this was not the time to discuss our language acquisition skills with mommy dearest. At that moment, I was more floored with the realization that I had been calling my beloved pitha by the incorrect name all these years.
What other dishes have we been made up names for that I don’t know about? I desperately asked. She assured me that she couldn’t think of any others, not on the spot anyway.
“Next time you’re sharing one of my recipes for Desi Sketchy, Sketchy hoo-ha, you just call and tell me like you did tonight and I’ll remember any corrections. Simple!” she said before launching into how I should call her more anyway and not just about recipes.
Then my dad piped up on the phone. “Don’t be sad you didn’t know the real name for malpua. Did you know Dussehra is victory over ignorance! Look! Now you’re not ignorant anymore about malpua!” See this is all timely!” he said with sarcasm dripping from his hearty laughter.
Look, knowing it by another name doesn’t make this recipe any less delicious. As my mom said, there are shit ton variations on how to make malpua. The interwebs can help you with that. Just Google “malpua” and NOT kadali pitha!
[Read Related: Kulfi Enthusiast Pooja Bajaj Wants to Bring Legendary Indian Dessert to Mainstream Grocers]
I’m still sharing my mom’s recipe with ya’ll though because as much as she drives me bananas, I’ll always love her version of kadali pitha best. And, as annoying as she may be sometimes, I’ll always love her.
Cue the sappy music, it’s time to cook!
To make one dozen kadali pitha aka malpua, thoroughly smash 4 medium bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 cup self-rising flour, ½ cup dark brown sugar, and ¼ cup atta to bananas. Measure 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crush it, and add to mixture. Combine thoroughly. Add 1 cup whole milk and continue mixing to form the batter.
Next, prepare a plate with a paper towel so you can drain the malpua of excess grease. Heat shortening over high heat in a heavy bottom pot or kadai for about 4 to 5 minutes. Fry batter in batches. Pour 1 small ladle (about ¼ cup) batter. Spread the batter gently with the back of a spoon. Reduce the flame to medium. When the base turns golden, flip the malpua. Fry each until the edges are crisp and the color is golden brown, about two minutes. Remove malpua from the kadai and drain. Continue to fry in batches.
To see more of Soni’s original food articles and comics, visit facebook.com/sketchydesi.
Soni Satpathy-Singh is a recipe writer and developer who resides in Manhattan. She is either always cooking or eating be it for work or simply because she loves to! She is working on her own cookbook and also recently created “Sketchy Desi” which provides daily humor, greeting cards, and apparel that celebrate brown culture. To see more of Sketchy Desi’s work, visit facebook.com/sketchydesi/ or stay tuned for upcoming posts on Brown Girl Magazine.