It would take three people to carry the bucket full of kneaded dough and then another to bring the container of sugar syrup to the living room where all the kids would gather, prepared to make the best delicacy of the year. Later, an adult would carefully make small balls out of the dough and assign each kid their share to create shapes using moulds. Amidst the continuous chatter, the TV serials playing in the background and the sweet fragrance of cardamom, ghee and melted jaggery, the competition of creating the best looking thekuas would commence.
This is how Bengaluru-based techie Akarsh Kumar Sinha recalls his childhood in Bihar celebrating the Chhath Puja — one of the most significant festivals celebrated in the region. The Puja and Thekua are intrinsically linked. He points out that more than being a prasad for the Puja, Thekua is a symbol of togetherness that involves the entire family.
“Back in the day, all the cousins would compete with each other to create the best shapes. We could use the wooden moulds or even shape with our palms. I loved the leaf and star shaped thekua,” shares Akarsh, who adds that he never won.
Thekua is a traditional cookie-like delicacy predominantly prepared in Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and even Nepal, during Chhath Puja as a prasad or religious offering. Made from wheat flour, sugar or jaggery, ghee, dry coconut and dry fruits, Thekua is either prepared in the evening of Kharna (second day of Chhath) or the next morning, Sandhya Ghat. Dipped in nostalgia, this delicious cookie has a tough and crispy surface with a soft buttery texture inside that takes immense patience and love to perfect.
But beyond the nostalgia, the religious sentiments and the enticing flavour, Thekua, also known as Thokwa or Thekariis, is also known to be beneficial for one’s health.
A Healthy Hunger Slayer
“During my engineering days, my mother would send a bag full of thekuas to my hostel. It would get over in a day or two, thanks to my bhukkad (hungry) friends. So from next year onwards, I began to hide the boxes in different places — under the bed, behind the fat coding books and so on. No matter the time of the day, thekuas were always the perfect snack for gorging on,” says Akarsh.
As pointed out by him, this ultimate snack makes your gut and heart happy and can be prepared easily. It is the simplicity of its recipe, the health benefits of its ingredients and its long shelf-life which makes it a perfect complimentary snack ‘round the year, just like the good-old Nimki.
Here are some of the ingredients that contribute to its addictive but guilt-free taste:
Jaggery: While many people prepare the syrup for thekua using sugar, jaggery is said to be a traditional and healthier choice. A natural sweetener and energy booster, jaggery happens to be good during the season and adds a unique smoky and earthy flavour to the cookies. On top of that, this ingredient acts as a detoxifying agent that helps cleanse the liver and is also responsible for preventing constipation. Loaded with antioxidants and minerals like Selenium and Zinc, it also helps combat free radicals.
Dry fruits and coconut: Preparation of thekuas can vary from person-to-person, but generally many versions include the use of dry fruits like cashew nuts, pistachios, almonds, etc, as they are a rich source of protein, iron, calcium, dietary fiber, Riboflavin and vitamins. Plus, the use of dried coconut enhances the flavour with a layer of subtle complexity, while also being responsible for improving brain function, low-cholesterol levels and preventing anemia.
Wheat flour: One of the main ingredients, the fact that makes thekua way more healthy than other cookies is the use of whole wheat flour, instead of all-purpose flour or maida. Not only does wheat flour cause the crispy crackle on the exterior surface of thekua, but it is also known to be an abundant source of Vitamin E, Vitamin B1, B2 and B3, in addition to folic acid, thiamin, zinc, copper, phosphorus, iron and fibre.
Ghee: The marriage between Indian sweets and ghee is forever. No matter the oil as an alternative, the fragrance and health benefits of ghee, especially during the winters, is unparalleled. For instance, ghee is a great source of good fat and keeps your body warm from within. While the traditional method includes deep-frying the uncooked thekuas in oil or ghee, one can improvise and bake it instead, with a generous brush of ghee.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)