Prasadam - Bataka, Part 2


Kozhakattai with fragrant spices

Jun 03, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.

Dumplings can be one of the most fundamentally simple foodstuffs imaginable, or they can be amazingly opulent, even artistic preparations. While we often think of dumplings as round, they can be made in all sorts of shapes. When floated in a pot of dahl, soup or stew, even the most basic dumpling will take on the full flavor of the dish, providing excellent texture as well.

Perhaps the simplest of all dumpling recipes is this: one cup of flour mixed with cup of water. Mix together, form a ball, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. When ready, roll the dough out to 1/8" thick, slice into squares or strips, and throw into a pot of hot dahl or stew just before serving. Cook until the dumplings are soft and tender.

At the more opulent end of the scale, dumplings can be made with multiple layers of other tasty foodstuffs. For example, a simple dough like the one described above can have minced fresh herbs mixed into it, or it can be layered with a thin coating of chutney, paste or filling, the dough doubled over, then re-rolled and made into dumplings. This sort of fancy dough can also be stuffed with yet another filling that's rolled into the center and sealed.


Dumplings can be cooked in many ways: steamed, pan fried or poached, deep fried, broiled or baked. Or, they can be cooked by using a combination of these methods, and each combination produces a unique preparation. For example, a stuffed sweet dumpling can simply be deep fried, then soaked in a bath of sugar syrup, kheer or yoghurt. Or, it can first be steamed, cooled, then deep fried in ghee. This produces a very different texture on the skin of the dumpling.

Likewise, a dumpling can first be ghee fried until crispy, then poached in a pot of hot dahl. Dumplings that have been steamed and have a soft, translucent skin can be broiled or seared over open flame on one or two sides for a nice combination of textures.

How the outer skin of the dumpling is treated, or prepared, will have a lot to do not only with texture, but also with flavor. The more porous the skin of the dumpling, the more it will let other flavors in, for example, from the stew pot or milk bath it ends up in.

The end product the combination of flavors you wish to produce will depend on the skin, the filling, and the flavors in the broth the dumpling ends up floating in. This is like the example given in yesterday's segment of Radharani preparing a dozen unique preparations for Krsna by combining four chutney fruits and two dahl batakas in different ways.

In the following passage from Govinda-lilamrta (verses 88-109), Rohini Devi is describing to Mother Yasoda some more of the exceptional batakas made for Krsna:

    "Have a look at these wonderful dumpling!" says Rohini. "Some are made only from chickpea flour and fried in ghee, and the rest are filled with moistened whey and amla [gooseberry]. Here are cakes made by boiling chickpea flour, mashing it, and then frying it in ghee with ground coconut and spices, some are soft and others are hard. Many preparations are made from fruits and vegetables using various spices like jayaphala [nutmeg], cinnamon, teja [bay] leaves, gurutvak and rasabasa, etc."

    "Oh sakhi! Oh auspicious Yashoda! Radha made the dish called rayata with yogurt, squash, pumpkin, jyotanika and rajika seeds. And look! Here are Krishna's favorite baka flowers and kanchan flowers simply fried in ghee and mixed with yogurt. Over here, two types of flowers were fried in ghee and made into dumplings, adding yogurt, and here are patola fruits fried in ghee. These are squash pies made with arum roots, sagara roots and potatoes. Some are mixed with juta leaf powder or cabika (a hot spice).

Today's recipes are in the category of sweet bataka. Many devotees know and love the North Indian sweet dumplings, particularly favorites like Gulab Jamun and Ras Malai, or Gujhia, a sweet dumpling made with wheat flour and stuffed with khoya. In South India we find many similar bataka, called by different names, like Kolakattai or Kozhukattai, in Tamil, or Kadabu in Kannada. These are different names for the same basic bataka, which are usually sweet, but can also be salty or spicy.

A similar bataka known as Karanji in Marathi, or Kajjikayi in Kannada/Telugu, are deep fried sweet dumplings made with wheat flour, and stuffed with dry or moist coconut mixtures.

In our recent Prasadam segment on Camphor, we included a nice recipe for Sweet Kolakattai Dumplings (Kadabu), a steamed sweet bataka. The outer shell of Kozhakkattai is always a steamed, sticky rice dough. The sweet versions are typically composed of a filling made with coconut, cooked lentils and jaggery, while the salty version is usually a mixture of steamed cracked lentils, chilies and spices. The lentils may also be left out.

The category of sweet dumplings described above by various names are also commonly known as Modak. Modak (in Marathi), Modhaka in Kannada, or Modagam in Tamil, are dumplings with a covering of steamed rice dough that is stuffed full of fresh coconut and jaggery, often eaten hot, with ghee for dipping. Modak is said to be Lord Ganesh's favorite sweet, and it is always a featured feasting item for Ganesh Chaturthi and Laksmi-puja. As we know from Govinda-lilamrta, Sri Krsna also loves sweet dumplings, which are likewise offered in Krsna temples on many festival occasions.


Sweet bataka are frequently offered by family members to their ancestors. The Baudhayana Dharmasastra, part of the Vedanga Kalpasutra, recommends that dumplings made of flour should be thrown to the birds, just as they are offered in ancestral sacrifices, because the ancestors may sometimes hover about in the shape of birds.

Following is a basic recipe for sweet dumplings, being the 'no-frills' Kozhukattai version. Once you have the basic recipe down, you can add endless stuffings, spiced doughs, etc.

Kozhakattai mold and finished dumplings



    1 cup Rice flour
    2 cups Water
    1 cup Jaggery, powdered
    1/4 cup Coconut, grated
    2 Crdamom pods (green), powdered
    1 tsp. Sesame (gingelly) oil

Add 1 cup of water to the rice flour and mix well. Melt the jaggery with the remaining water and strain to remove the impurities. Return the strained jaggery water to the pan and bring to a boil. Add the rice flour, sesame oil, coconut and cardamom, and stir constantly to keep the mixture smooth. When the dough begins sticking to the sides, remove from heat and let it cool.

When the dough is cool enough to work, put a little oil on your palms and roll the dough into small lime-sized balls. If you like, shape the balls by squeezing with your fingers to scallop the edges, etc. Steam the balls for 10 minutes, and offer the Kozhukattai while warm.

One nice variation on the basic Kozhukattai recipe is to use a slightly soured dough, prepared like an Idli batter, by letting the soaked rice sit overnight, then grinding it and stiffening the batter with a little dry flour, as needed. You can also replace the water that's mixed into the flour with another moist substance, like a fruit jam. The bataka can then be filled with your choice of stuffings. A mash of raisins, coconut and nuts, all slightly fried in ghee, are a traditional stuffing. If your steamed balls tend to stick to the plate or idli pan, just coat the pan with a little ghee before steaming.

Another variation, Paal Kozhukattai, is basically the same rice flour dumplings, but made smaller, steamed, then floated in a bath of seasoned sweet milk or yoghurt. The milk can be thin or a thickened kheer; it can be seasoned with jaggery or honey, and any of the aromatic spices, like cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, or camphor. The dough for Paal Kozhukattai sometimes includes a little salt, and once the dumplings are floating in the milk bath, a little fresh black pepper is ground overtop. The salt and pepper provide a nice contrast to the sweetened milk.

Paal Kozhakattai (bataka in milk and jaggery syrup)


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