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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fried Fish Parcels (with Turmeric leaf)

Few days back, I had posted the recipe for fried fish parcels using the banana leaf. Loved the flavour that it imparted to the fish and wanted to try out the recipe using various other kinds of leaves like pumpkin, saal, etc which are generally used in the villages of Odisha. But since I could not get my hands on any of these, my Mom suggested that I give it a try with turmeric leaves. With Prathamashtami celebrated a few days back, some of these leaves were still lying in the fridge. I had eaten enough Enduri during the past week and so I decided to put these super aromatic leaves to a different use.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 30 mins

Ingredients -

  • 4 pieces of Mirkali fish (Rohu/Bhakura is also fine)
  • 2 tsp mustard-garlic-coconut-green chili paste 
  • 1 1/2 tsp mustard oil
  • 2-3 green chilis (slit lengthwise)
  • 2 pinch turmeric
  • 1/5 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp mustard oil for frying
  • 8 pieces of turmeric leaf

  • Preparation - Wash and marinate the fish with salt, turmeric and mustard-coconut paste. Leave aside for 10 mins.

    Make a cross with two turmeric leaves. Place a piece of fish in the centre. Drizzle mustard oil over it and place 2-3 pieces of slit green chili. Close the parcel and secure it with a string.

    Cooking - Heat the mustard oil on a pan. Once it gets smoking, add the parcels and immediately lower the flame. Once the leaf on the bottom surface has turned brown with black spots showing at some places, flip it over. Let it sit on the pan till the leaf turns brown. (it takes roughly 7-8 minutes to cook on each side)

    Switch off the flame and remove the pan. Keep aside for 5 minutes.

    Carefully open the parcels and discard the leaves.

    Serve hot with white rice and dal.

    Note - For the mustard paste, the ratio of the ingredients is ' 2 tsp black mustard seeds : 2 tbsp freshly grated coconut: 4 garlic cloves : 1 green chili '. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Kyunki Bolega Nahin Toh Badlega Kaise

Female foeticide/infanticide is one of the major problems that plagues India (and quite a few other nations too). Not surprisingly, it is a reflection of the status of women in such societies. The girl child grows up into a woman and is married off, and therefore she is hardly able to contribute to her parents' family. An additional burden is incurred in the form of her food cum clothing expenses, education and an evil called dowry. On the other hand, the male child contributes to the family wealth once he completes his education. An additional incentive is the prospect of his bringing home a handsome dowry if his parents are able to able to showcase his correct value in the marriage mart.

It somehow affects the standing of women in overall society with women receiving less pay as compared to men in some of the work sectors. Our Bollywood and Hollywood stars are a such an example with lead actresses getting paid lesser remuneration as compared to their male co-stars. This disparity is also apparent at the other end of the economic spectrum as is the case with the daily wage laborers.

It also affects our day to day life with Indian women doing the lion's share of the household work. The Times Of India recently ran an article which was headlined "Indian men spend a mere 19 mins a day on housework". Such negative attitude is so deep rooted in our minds that even working women do not get any help from their spouse or in-laws in completing the daily household chores.

Unfortunately even our teachers are not exempt from such thinking. Many years ago when I was in school, the class teacher had appointed the students to clean the classroom, scrub the blackboard and arrange the desks everyday before the first period begin. This was to be done on a rotation basis and boys were exempt from carrying out such duties. While everyone meekly followed her instructions, I was not too happy to toe along. My protests resulted in a punishment which involved kneeling down outside the classroom for the entire day. This brought the matter to the open as other teachers stopped along and questioned why I had been punished. It helped that I was a good student. Though not immediately, there was a change over the next few weeks. New housekeeping (we used to call then 'ayah') was appointed to take care of such duties instead of students doing the cleaning. That incident instilled in my mind that any change is possible if we have the courage to stand up and speak for ourselves.

This post is written for http://www.abmontubolega.com/. With the Swach Bharat wave sweeping India, let us all take the initiative to sweep out the dirt from everywhere including people's minds. Find out more about the #AbMontuBolega campaign on their Facebook and Twitter page. Afterall, this is your chance to speak up and be heard.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Patanjali Herbal Kajal Review

Another great product from Patanjali. Bought this around 2 weeks back along with some other products from the brand. Since they are quite economical, I thought of trying out a few of them. This happens to be one of my favorites. Being a Kajal person, I have tried out quite a few brands and the 'Faces' one was my favorite till I experienced some irritation when I applied it on my waterline. Had discontinued applying kajal for a couple of months and was thinking of trying a good brand. And I chanced upon this product which is priced at just Rupees 90/- . Bought it without any second thoughts.

Though not the deepest black, it offers decent color. One stroke may apply quite light but with 3-4 strokes, the colors deepens noticeably. It does not sting my eyes even though I wear contact lenses throughout the day. On the other hand, it soothes the eyes and they feel quite fresh/cool. The kajal does not smudge much and lasts for 3-4 hours on my waterline/lower lash line. It is a bit difficult to apply on the upper lash and I could not get a decent enough line/color even with multiple attempts. That is ok with me as I like applying it mainly on my waterline.

The packaging is good and it does not open if you carry it around in the handbag.

In short, these are the pros and cons of the product -

Pros -

1. Herbal product with impressive list of ingredients.
2. Priced reasonably.
3. Does not smudge much.
4. Does not irritate sensitive eyes
5. Packaging is sturdy.
6. Pigmentation and texture are good though it does not work too well on upper lids.
7. It soothes the eyes. (I find it to be the best part about it)

Cons -

1. Availability could be an issue as it is sold only at the Patanjali counters.
2. Does not apply well on the upper lid.
3. Could smudge if one has oily skin.
4. Wear line is somewhat less as compared to other brands I have used.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Alu Pitha (Potato Dosa)

During my childhood days, my grandmother used to travel to her native village frequently. She used to bring back all kinds of freshly harvested produce from our ancestral fields and we would eagerly lap it up. Among all the things she brought back (including the smoked fish and the bamboo shoots), i loved the newly dug out baby potatoes the most. They had a taste and such a wonderful texture that one does not find in the variety sold in the markets.

Most of the times we used to cut it into half and stir fry it with a little mustard paste. That would be the heavenly accompaniment with 'Pakhala' (Read more about the famous 'watered rice' from Odisha HERE) during the hot summer months. Sometimes, we made alu dum with it. But on rare occasions, we turned it into a pitha or a dosa/uttapam kind of dish that goes very well with rice. I had quite forgotten about this recipe but when my mom made it during my recent trip to Rourkela, the memories came flooding back.

Read on for the simple recipe -

Preparation Time - 10-12 mins

Ingredients -

  • 9-10 baby potatoes
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1-2 dry red chili
  • 1 tsp rice (i used arwa/raw rice but one can also use Sona masuri instead)
  • 2-3 tsp mustard oil
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Soak the cumin seeds, red chili and rice for 30 mins.

Slightly crush the potatoes using a mortar and pestle . (else you can also chop it into small bits)

Take the soaked cumin seeds, red chili and rice in a mixer jar. Buzz it to get a smooth paste. Then add the crushed potatoes and give it another quick whiz. The mix should be coarse.

Cooking - Heat the oil in a pan/tawa. Add the potato mix to the pan and flatten it out like a pancake or uttapam. (do not spread it too thin)

Cook on one side till it turns reddish. Flip it over carefully and cook it to the same extent on the other side as well.

Remove from the pan.

Serve it piping hot with hot rice or pakhala.

Note - It does not taste good after it cools down. Re-heating also affects the flavour adversely. So, make it the last dish you cook when sitting down for your meal.

More than Just Luck(y)

Gaming. Lottery. Social Networking. Competition. And a genius to bring it all together. Lo and behold. The first App that revolutionizes gaming is born. While it allows one to indulge in that secret desire that everyone nurtures, it makes 'Getting Lucky' sound much more feasible than ever before. And unlike lotteries which are never transparent, this one is simple and easy. What's more, one can also turn it into a much more enjoyable and productive pursuit by tagging some friends along.

For one to play the game, one just has to download it and pick the shares of six companies (all it takes is a few taps on your smartphone screen). If the chosen stocks register the highest gains, one automatically wins. With all the brands being renowned ones, it requires one to do minimal homework before betting on the most alluring stocks. Nothing that most stock crazy Indians have not done before. And for the first time in the history of gaming, the prizes involve something more tangible than the ego-assuaging chest thumping among one's friend circle. Yes, there's cash and holidays to be won for all the time and effort that one has put in. Sounds much better than buying lottery, doesn't it ?

But since this is a game that thrives on social interaction (read 'sharing') like all others, it needs the help of social media to make the most out of it. So, say adieu to inviting friends to play 'so& so' games, only to be ignored or turned down. This time around, your friends are going to be grateful for receiving such an invite as it allows then to play and win something big. And as a bonus of your magnanimous gesture, Lucky 6 rewards you every time a friend wins. And this reward is a good 25% of what your friend has won in the game. So, the more you share, the more are your chances of winning in this game. And add that to the goodwill that one gets from a friend who has won. Friends that play together, stay together. Isn't that super cool ?

Another plus is that 'Lucky 6' being a fun social game, it is completely free. There is no catch as with other internet games that get one addicted and make one pay to go through the higher levels even as one keeps competing among friends. Sadly there are no rewards for the free publicity that such Apps/Games get via the users playing and sharing them. But it is soon going to become a thing of the past with 'Lucky 6' and Fat Cat Gaming. Excited to be going the Fat Cat way with "He who shares,wins".

This post is written for Fat Cat Gaming. Do try out and enjoy their new game....Keep playing keep winning

Fried Fish Parcels

Bored with the various kinds of fish curries and fries, I had been planning to try out something new with fish. And the Rohi fish being so very fresh in Odisha, I was reluctant to try anything crazy lest I spoil it. It was during one such confused moment that I came up with this rather simple preparation.

After marinating the fish in a salt-turmeric-mustard-garlic-green chili paste, I placed it on a banana leaf and drizzled it with more mustard oil. Then I threw in 2-3 pieces of slit green chili before wrapping up the leaf and securing it with the drumstick fibers( it was the first thing that I could find in the kitchen). People in villages usually use some kind of bark strips or natural fibers to secure the parcels.The parcels were then pan fried on low flame till the leaf turned black and shrunken. Though similar to a Bengali Fish Paturi, this one uses minimal spices.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 30 mins

Ingredients -

  • 4 pieces of Rohi (Rohu) fish
  • 2 tsp mustard-garlic-green chili paste 
  • 1 1/2 tsp mustard oil
  • 2-3 green chilis (slit lengthwise)
  • 2 pinch turmeric
  • 1/5 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp mustard oil for frying
  • 4 pieces of banana leaf (8" X 8" preferably) (tender leaves are best)

  • Preparation - Wash and marinate the fish with salt, turmeric and mustard paste. Leave aside for 10 mins.

    Place each piece on a banana leaf. Drizzle mustard oil over it and place 2-3 pieces of slit green chili. Close the parcel and secure it with a string.

    Cooking - Heat the mustard oil on a pan. Once it gets smoking, add the parcels and immediately lower the flame. Once the leaf on the bottom surface has turned brown with black spots showing at some places, flip it over. Let it sit on the pan till the leaf turns brown. (it takes roughly 7-8 minutes to cook on each side)

    Switch off the flame and remove the pan. Keep aside for 5 minutes.

    Carefully open the parcels and discard the leaves.

    Serve hot with white rice and dal.

    Note - For the mustard paste, the ratio of the ingredients is ' 2 tsp black mustard seeds : 4 garlic cloves : 1 green chili '. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kolotha Dal ( the Western Odisha Version )

A heart warming recipe that is usually made during the winter months, Kolotho or Horsegram dal is one of those dishes that never given their due credit. Perhaps best known for keeping the body warm and driving away the common cold, its equally beneficial properties of regulating blood sugar and reducing/preventing the incidence of kidney/gall bladder stones are hardly known to many folks.

This is the time of the year when the freshly harvested batch of the lentil hits the markets. While most of it is sold whole, sometimes tribal women (especially in Odisha) also sell the roasted & broken version of this dal in the weekly markets (also known as 'haat'). Here is the version that my mom makes and I can never resist myself from having a bowl of the hot dal when it has been freshly tempered -

Preparation Time - 20 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1 1/2 cups roasted & broken horsegram
  • 1 medium sized tomato
  • 1 ambula (or dried mango)
  • 2 dry red chili
  • 4-5 fat garlic cloves
  • 1/3 tsp panch phutana (else one can also use a mix of mustard & nigella seeds)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp oil
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Wash and cook the dal with 3 cups water, salt and turmeric in a pressure cooker. It takes 6-7 whistles or about 15 mins on a medium low flame. Keep aside till steam escapes.

Soak the ambula in 1 cup hot water.

Cooking - Heat the oil in a wok. Add the panch phutana and the broken red chilis.

Add the crushed garlic once it gets spluttering. When the garlic starts turning brown, add the finely chopped tomato and cook till mushy.

Pour the dal into the wok. Bring it to a boil. Allow to boil for 2 mins before adding the ambula along with the water in which it had been soaked. Simmer for 5-6 mins.

Remove from flame and serve hot with rice.

Note - This dal will not get completely mushy such that when you allow it to stand for a few minutes, there is a layer of clear liquid which separates out. Once can also add more water while cooking this dal and use only the liquid portion as a soup.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Patanjali Shikakai Hair Cleanser & Olive - Almond Conditioner Rave Reviews

One month. Fifty days. Hundred days. Six months. The steady flow of report cards on the performance of the Modi government refuses to ebb. I personally find it tiresome that a nation that had monumental patience with the Congress ( or should I say Gandhi family ) expects results overnight. Unlike instant noodles of coffee, government run machinery takes time to be installed and only when things are in their proper place, it can churn out the desired results. While I am no blind follower of Modi, I would like to give him time to bring about any conspicuous change.

However, coming back to vainer pursuits, we all love it when a product gives us great results from the very first use. The Patanjali Kesh Kanti Shikakai Shampoo and Kesh Kanti Conditioner (Olive-Almond) definitely falls into that category. I must confess that while I loved the first shampoo variant (yellow bottle with orange cap) launched by Patanajali, the subsequent hair cleansers (Reetha, Natural, Milk protien) failed to live up to my expectations. So, it was with a good deal of hesitation that I tried out the latest variant and the newly launched conditioner.

Read on for the reviews -

Patanjali Kesh Kanti Shikakai Hair Cleanser

A translucent shampoo with a light orange tint, it gives a good amount of lather with a small quantity and cleans my hair of excess oil from the very first wash. And my hair does contain a fair bit of oil as I do a good amount of 'Champi' on the previous night. The fragrance is quite good (slightly ayurvedic but not heavy) and lingers on for a day or too.

It contains natural ingredients like Shikakai, Hibiscus, Bhringaraj, Sugarcane and walnut which nourish the hair from scalp to the ends. Actually it reminded me of the home made hair masks I used during my school and college days. I actually left the product in my hair for 5-6 minutes as most herbal formulations usually take sometime to act. But as a downside, it contains silicones and is surfactant (detergent) based.

The product claims to be useful in dryness and roughness of hair, prevents hair fall and improves hair glow.

It is priced at Rupees 95 /- (for 200 ml).

Patanjali Kesh Kanti Hair Conditioner - Almond

A white color thick cream that spreads well, it requires only a tiny amount to cover my hair. Applied it to my hair after shampooing and thoroughly squeezing out any water. Worked it though the ends and left it on for 3 minutes before rinsing it off. I could feel the de-tangling effect even as I applied it. The directions printed on the tube mention that the product should be applied to hair after a wash, gently massage onto the scalp and leave for 1-2 mins before rinsing off with water. But as a general rule, conditioners are not supposed to be applied onto the scalp as they make it greasy and block the hair follicles, hence I applied it only on my hair ends.

It leaves behind a very mild fragrance once it is washed off and hair feels beautifully nourished from the first use itself. The product claims to condition, nourish and detangle hair, reduce hair fall, split ends and make hair healthy and strong.

It contains natural ingredients like olive oil, almond oil, gooseberry extract, hibiscus extract, shikakai extract and Bhringaraj extract. However, it also contains chemicals like silicones and parabens.

It is priced at Rupees 60 /- (for 100 mg).

The light orange liquid shown in the below pic is the shampoo while the white cream next to it is the conditioner.

A quick Recap -

Kesh Kanti Shikakai Hair Cleanser 

Pros -
1. Light shampoo with a good fragrance
2. Lathers well (even with oiled hair)
3. Priced economically at Rs 95 /- for 200 ml.
4. Contains beneficial natural ingredients.
5. Made my hair smooth, tangle-free and shiny. Even the scalp seemed clean but not dried out.

Cons -
1. Contains silicones
2. Availability might be an issue but one can buy it online too .

Kesh Kanti Hair Conditioner Almond (God knows why they forgot to mention Olive in the English print. The Hindi one reads "Jaitoon-Badam").

Pros -
1. Good de-tangling effect and makes hair quite silky.
2. Nice fragrance that is also mild.
3. Priced very economically at Rs 60/- for 100 gm. Will go a long way as very little amount of the product is required.
4. Contains beneficial natural ingredients.

Cons -
1. Contains silicones and parabens.
2. Availability might be an issue but one can buy it online too .

Friday, November 21, 2014

Biri Gojja ( A Steamed savoury delicacy )

Biri Gojja is one of the very few savoury pithas that I have ever tasted/tried. While most of the Odia pithas are more or less on the sweeter side, some like the saru chakuli, poda pitha (the Western Odisha version), sada enduri (without stuffing) and biri gojja fall into the exceptions category. Since I do not have a sweet tooth, I am naturally inclined towards the latter and love to have then with a nice curry like Ghuguni, alu dum or even Mutton/Chicken curry.

The biri gojja can be described as similar to a sijha/sukhla manda with an steamed 'biri bara' kind of stuffing. Biri or black lentil is ground into a thick batter and seasoned with various spices before being stuffed into the pitha. This recipe belongs to the Salepur/Padmapur region of Odisha and not many people know about it. However my in-laws belong to that region and my  MIL's sister churns out the most lip-smacking gojja's ever. Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 1 hour

Ingredients -

  • 1 1/2 cups raw rice 
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ghee

For the stuffing -

  • 2/3 cup black lentil/biri (skinless)
  • 1-2 finely chopped green chilis
  • 1 sprig curry leaves (finely chopped)
  • coarsely crushed black pepper
  • salt to taste

Preparation: Soak the rice for 10-15 mins. Wash and drain all the water ( Use a colander, do not dry under the fan or the sun ). Put in a grinder and grind into a fine powder.

Wash and soak the black lentil for 2-3 hours. Grind into a smooth and thick paste. Season it with salt, pepper, curry leaves and green chilis.

Cooking: Bring the water to boil. Add salt. Add the rice flour in small batches and mix continuously so that no lumps are formed.

Stir the mixture on a low flame for about 15 minutes till it takes on a softer consistency than the dough used for making rotis. Sprinkle the ghee and mix in . Switch off the flame at this stage.

Allow the dough to cool down a few degrees till it is tolerable. Rub ghee all over your hands and knead the dough for 5 mins to make it smoother.

Rub some more oil over your hands. Pinch small lumps out of the dough. Roll each lump into a ball and gently pat it to flatten it out into a circle. Put some of the black lentil dough on one half of the circle and fold the other half over it. Press it gently to close on the sides but keep the middle portion slightly open. (This ensures that the batter gets cooked thoroughly during steaming).

Boil water in a idli maker/steamer. Spread some banana leaves/thin cloth over the idli plates. Put the gojjas/dumplings over the leaf/cloth. Close the lid and steam 25-30 mins. Allow to stand with lid covered for 5-10 mins.

Take out of the idli vessel/steamer and serve warm.

Note: When adding the rice flour to milk and water, pass it through a sieve to avoid any lumps. It is important to work with the dough while it is hot else it loses its elasticity .

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Magic of the senses

The demands of parenthood and the rush of corporate life often leaves couples with very little time to nurture their relationship. The magic of looking into each others eyes, whispering those murmured words, resting one's head on the other's shoulder, one hand seeking the comfort of the other are lost in the cacophony of ensuring that life runs on the smooth track (read maintaining a steady income).

Me and my husband being no exceptions, had become quite oblivious to each other in the years following our marriage. It took a vacation to Coorg and some exclusive time together to ignite the dying embers in our relationship. The Monsoon getaway was planned in a hurry and we did not get the best of the hotels. But our accommodation was neat and cozy.

Travelling from Bangalore to Coorg by car can be quite tiring. Add that to the fact that it started raining almost immediately once we reached the hotel.  Thankfully, the hotel was ensconced in the thick vegetation of the valleys and our hotel room provided a beautiful view of the misty peaks. With no other option at our disposal, we decided to take a short rest in our room. The journey had taken its toll on our kid who was blissfully sleeping by now. After a quick shower, we changed into more comfortable wear and ordered for some tea. With time at my disposal, I quickly rubbed on some Parachute body lotion ( this was another ritual that I had been ignoring for sometime ).

There was no network in the area which meant that our smartphones and laptops would also afford a vacation. Even the TV installed in the room provided a limited number of channels for our viewing. The prospect of being bored loomed large but even before we realized it, conversation was flowing freely over the comforting ginger tea. We ended up reminiscing about our honeymoon in Ooty, our first date and the way I had spilled ice-cream over his shirt, the Goa trip where we has spent hours sitting on the beach and even the online chats (on Yahoo Messenger) during those months of being in a long distance relationship.

Suddenly he was besides my chair and seeking my hand. The moment our fingers were entwined, it brought back all the warmth that had somehow gone missing in our life. Suddenly it was yesterday and it seemed we were holding hands while sitting on the beach. The sun had gone down and the raindrops which had been splattering aimlessly on the window panes has magically transformed into a million diamonds in the lights from the hotel lobby.

This article is written for Parachute advanced body lotion (click Here). Check out the awesome video to infuse a little bit of magic into your relationship -

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tomato Bhendi Hendua

Hendua or the dried form of bamboo shoots ( also known as Karadi in Odisha) is one of the lesser known ingredients from Western Odisha. While it has a sharp and quite distinctive smell, it lends a note of tanginess along with a delectable flavour when added to any dish. Since it offers a gustatory sensation quite unlike anything else, you either love it or hate it, but you cannot simply choose to ignore it. This dish was cooked by a dear friend's mother at my request. A big thanks for sharing it with me.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 15-20 mins

Ingredients -

  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 5-6 nos ladies finger or okra
  • 3-4 green chillis
  • 3 tsp mustard paste
  • 1/4 tsp panch phutana
  • 1 tbsp hendua
  • 2-3 pinch turmeric
  • 3 tsp oil
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Chop the tomato into small pieces. Cut the okra into small pieces along its cross-section.

Cooking - Heat the oil in a wok. Add the pancha phutana and the slit green chilis.
Once the chilis start to brown, add the hendua and fry for 1-2 mins.

Add the chopped okra and fry lightly for 2-3 mins.

Finally add the chopped tomatoes along with the mustard paste, turmeric and chili. Allow it to cook till the tomatoes have softened completely and any raw smell/taste has gone off.

Serve it with white rice.

Sajana Phula Batibasa ( Drumstick flowers cooked with poppy seeds )

Another simple and tasty preparation with drumstick flowers. Making to most of the opportunity to sample drumstick flowers and leaves during my stay in Rourkela, I cannot help but try out both old and recipes with them. Since winter has set in, most of the leaves have fallen out but the drumstick trees are laden with flowers and fruit during this time of the year.

Read on -

Preparation Time - 10-12 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1 1/2 cup drumstick flowers
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp poppy seeds
  • 1 small onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 garlic flakes
  • 2 green chili (broken into 2-3 pieces)
  • 1 1/2 tsp mustard oil
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Pluck the drumstick flowers from the bunch. Throw away the dried and shriveled ones. Wash and clean them.

Cooking - Mix all the ingredients in a small wok. Add about 1/4 cup water. Cover with a lid and cook on a low to medium flame for 7-8 minutes.

Serve hot with white rice.

Janhi-Chingudi Sukhua Tarkari (Ridge gourd-shrimp curry)

It is no secret that I love mixing veg and no-veg ingredients in my recipes. Maybe it has got something to do with my Odia roots. But I suspect that laziness plays a good part in it. Since cooking veg and non-veg separately calls for more effort and simply skipping one just does not sound/feel right, one has to choose the middle path of mixing and matching the ingredients from both core groups. I keep trying out recipes from different parts of the state/country. Poee chingudi, chingudi dalma,chicken saagwala,  maccha mahura, maccha chencheda, sukhua-bilati baigana poda, the list is a long one.

This recipe however is indigenous to Western Odisha. Most village folks prefer to add fresh shrimp caught straight from the neighborhood pond/river. But when the water dries up during the summers, the sun dried/smoked version of shrimp makes for a good substitute.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 15 mins

Ingredients -

  • 3 cups ridge gourd (cubed)
  • 1 cup dried shrimp
  • 1 medium sized onion (roughly chopped)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp pancha phutana
  • 1-2 dry red chili
  • 2 tsp big mustard seeds
  • 2 pinch turmeric
  • 3 tsp oil
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Wash and soak the dry shrimp for 1/2 hour.

Grind the mustard seeds, garlic pods and 1 red chili into a fine paste. Dissolve it in 2/3 cup water.

Cooking - Heat the oil in a wok. Add the broken chili and pancha phutana. Once it gets spluttering, add
the onion. Fry till translucent.

Add the shrimp and fry for 2 minutes before adding the ridge gourd cubes to it. Fry for 2-3 minutes.

Add the water in which mustard paste has been dissolved, taking care to discard the solid bits that have settled in the bottom of the cup.

Add salt and turmeric. Cover with a lid and cook on medium flame till the ridge gourd is done. Increase the flame a bit if there is a lot of water remaining. This curry should have a semi dry consistency.

Remove from the wok.

Serve with white rice.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Toilet for Babli (A Domex Initiative)

Dreams of making it big drives them to school, but bitter ground realities like the lack of basic sanitation (read toilets) forces them to stay away. With nearly 47 % of the government school lacking toilet facilities, the girls prefer to skip school (on those days of the month) or even drop out altogether once they reach adolescence. A big blow to any development/growth  plan considering that women make up half of the population or workforce of the country. The CIA World Factbook suggests that if just 1 percent more girls were enrolled in schools in India the country's GDP would rise by an estimated $5.5 billion. Most of these drop-outs who have not completed basic schooling end by being married off early which more often than not results in early motherhood (and miscarriages or low-weight babies in most cases). If at all they choose to work, they have to make do with menial work and dismally low salaries. A catch 22 situation, this perpetuates the existing gender gap between men and women.

Those few ambitious ones who dare to brave it out resort to extreme measures like skipping the breakfast or mid-day meal and even forgoing on the minimum water intake so that they do not have to answer nature's call during the school hours. However such habits can lead to further complications like nutritional deficiency, lack of attention stemming from low hemoglobin levels and in a few cases even urine infection from holding it for too long. The other option available is defecating or urinating in the open fields which more often than not leads to various infections and health ailments. It is also a blow to their dignity as have no choice but to expose themselves to the prying eyes of whoever chooses to watch them.

The situation back home is no better for most of these girls. Forced to step out of the safety of their homes if they need to answer nature's call during the night, they are sitting ducks for most sexual predators. A recent crime (involving minors) in the heartland of India brought this lacunae to light. Ensuring that every Indian household has a toilet has become imperative to ensuring the safety of the women. While the issue of open air defecation is not specific to a particular gender, it is highly diabolical that while women are being murdered in the name of honor, no attempt is made to preserve their honor within the four walls of the house. Or maybe these are people who believe that it is 'OK' for the womenfolk to expose their bum rather than their faces.

It is high time that such people are educated and brought in the fold of the 'Swaach Bharth' campaign that has been flagged off by our Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. It would do everyone good if some of his enthusiasm rubs off on each and every Indian and we do our bit to make India a cleaner and wealthier nation. Three cheers for Domex (and HUL) for taking this great initiative.

This article is written for Domex which runs the Domex Toilet Academy programme which makes toilets accessible and affordable. The '#ToiletForBabli' is an initiative to make Indian villages 'open-defecation' free and provide our children with a better and healthier future. You can bring about the change in the lives of millions of kids, thereby showing your support for the Domex Initiative. All you need to do is “click” on the “Contribute Tab” on www.domex.in and Domex will contribute Rs.5 on your behalf to eradicate open defecation, thereby helping kids like Babli live a dignified life.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sajana Phula Bara (Drumstick flower fritters)

Another easy recipe with drumstick flowers !! This one is in the form of a snack and takes minimal effort. Given the fact that it is loaded with nutrients, your guests will be more than happy at being served a plateful of good health.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 20 mins

Ingredients -

  • 2 cups (packed lightly) drumstick flowers
  • 1 large potato (boiled, peeled & mashed)
  • 1 medium sized onion (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 pinch garam masala
  • a pinch of turmeric
  • 2 tsp coriander leaves (chopped)
  • 1-2 green chili (finely chopped)
  • 1 tbsp besan (gram flour)
  • 4-5 tsp cooking oil
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Wash and clean the drumstick flowers. Be careful to retain only the fresh flowers and buds.

Cooking - Heat 3 tsp oil in a wok. Add the onions and fry till translucent.

Add the flowers and fry for 2 mins .

Add the mashed potato along with chili powder, garam masala, salt and turmeric. Fry for 3 mins.

Finally add the green chili and coriander leaves, mix in and remove from flame.

Allow to cool down till it is bearable to touch. Pinch small portions and shape into flattened discs.

Make a thin batter of the besan. Season it with a little salt and chili powder. Lightly brush the discs with the batter. (one can also roll them with some bread crumbs to get a crispy outer layer)

Heat a non-stick tawa. Sprinkle a few drops of oil. Place the discs on the hot tawa and cook on both sides till there is a little browning.

Remove from tawa and serve hot with ketchup.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sajana Phula Bhaja

Drumstick flowers or Moringa flowers are known as 'Sajana phula' in Odia. Not very long back, a drumstick tree was a mandatory part of every garden in Odisha. The other must plants were the banana plant, papaya and a fruit tree like mango and/or guava. But with rising land rates and shrinking plot sizes, the gardens are being dispensed with and most people no longer have access to such a delicacy. And sadly one does not find it being sold in the markets.

Residing in Blore, I could only dream of having access to it. So, when I made the annual trip to my native, it was on my must-eat list along with 'karadi' and the famous Rourkela 'Gupchup' . Though I sometimes have it in Bhubaneshwar, the Gupchup here is simply a class apart. Almost everyone swears by the vendor in their own locality or a nearby place. But there are some crazy folks who would not mind making a trip (in some cases a long one)  to Sec 15/ Ispat Market /Sec 20 for savoring the stuff sold by a particular vendor. Since I no longer have the inclination to follow in their footsteps, I am happy to sample the stuff dished out by the nearest vendor.

Coming back to the recipe, it is a frugal one made with the simplest of ingredients. Read on -

Preparation Time - 10-15 mins (most of it is used for cleaning the flowers)

Ingredients -

  • 2 cups drumstick flowers
  • 1 green chili
  • 2 pinch pancha phutana
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp oil
  • salt to taste
Preparation - Pluck the drumstick flowers from the bunch. Throw away the dried and shriveled ones. Wash and clean them.

Cooking - Heat the oil in a wok. Add the broken green chili and pancha phutana. Once it stops spluttering, add the crushed garlic flakes along with the cleaned flowers.

Stir fry for 3 mins. Add the salt and mix in. Remove from the flame.

Serve as a side dish with rice/rotis and dal.

Note - The very tender drumsticks can also be fried along with the flowers. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ghora Manda

Yesterday was the first Gurubar(Thursday) of Margasira month (2014). The custom in my father's family is to observe Manabasa for every Thursday of this month, so my mother kept the Manaa (which symbolizes Goddess Lakshmi) and offered prasad three times a day. This may vary for some folks who may choose to keep the Manaa only after 'Prathamashtami' has been observed or even others who choose to keep it after Sankranti. Apart from this, these days one may also find some Odia women (m ostly those who are working) observing only the last Thursday of the month.

Each Manabasa Gurubar calls for a special 'bhoga' or offering. While the offering of the 'chakata bhoga' or mashed banana, chenna, milk and sugar/jaggery at the first prasad in the morning is common to all parts of the state, the anna bhoga or afternoon meal offered to the Goddess widely differs. Kheeri, Tarana, Khechudi, Arwa bhata, Dahi pakhala, Kanika are some examples of the 'anna bhoga'. The evening bhoga is usually a type of a pitha like Kakara, sijha manda, Malpua, attakali, gaintha, chakuli, etc. While some folks may also choose to offer the pitha along with the anna bhoga, the general rule it that it should contain rice as one of the ingredients. Though not a hard and fast rule ( and people do have a general tendency to twist the rules as per their convenience ), one can add a small amount of rice flour if making the kakara/manda/malpua with suji or maida.

One such pitha that is very popular in the Sundargarh (or more specifically Bonei) district is the Ghora or Ghura Manda. Made with a watery rice batter (not flour), this one has an amazing texture that it akin to to a pudding. The stuffing or 'pura' can be a mix of coconut, chenna (cottage cheese), sesame and groundnuts. Soft and melt-in-the-mouth types, this takes a few trials to perfect but is very much worth the effort. Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 45-50 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1 1/2 cup arwa rice
  • 1 coconut (grated)
  • 1 1/2 cup chenna (cottage cheese)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • jaggery/sugar as per taste
  • 2 tsp ghee
  • a pinch of camphor
  • 1-2 pinch cardamom powder

Preparation - Wash and soak the rice for 2-3 hours. Drain excess water and grind into a fine paste. Adjust the consistency to a flowing liquid one ( just like Chittau Pitha batter or Neer Dosa batter ).

Take the grated coconut, chenna, camphor and cardamom powder in a mixing bowl. Mash everything together.

Cooking - Slowly drain the batter into a large wok taking care to leave behind any solids (residue) in the bottom of the grinder/mixie jar. (If this residue gets into the wok, it makes the pitha grainy and spoils the overall texture.)

Add salt and a little jaggery to the wok. Switch on the flame taking care to keep it low. Keep stirring at regular intervals so that it does not catch at the bottom. Once the mixture thickens to that of a custard ( or somewhat thicker than Ragi malt ) consistency, switch off the flame.

Pour ladles of the hot mixture onto a greased steel plate or banana leaf. Gently spread (but not too much) using the back of a spoon. Layer with the stuffing of sweetened coconut and cottage cheese. Seal it or top it with more of the hot mixture. (While the more seasoned cooks can afford to touch the hot stuff, the rookies are warned to keep their fingers safe and unscathed)

Allow it to rest till it is completely cool.

Serve. (It tastes even better the next day so do remember to pop in a few pieces into the fridge)

Click here for details on the Manabasa Gurubar Puja .

A visit to Maa Cuttack Chandi

When I visited Cuttack recently, a visit to the Cuttack Chandi temple was on my must-do list. Cuttack Chandi or the living Goddess as referred to by the locals, is the presiding deity of the town. From where we had put up (Near to Biju Patnaik Chowk), it took us hardly 10 mins to reach the place by an auto. While it can be very crowded during the Dusshera and Kali Pujas, there were few people in the temple that day.

Image - courtesy Wiki

A small structure, the temple is quite inconspicuous by itself. At first glance, one would mistake it for just another temple like I did. Only when the auto driver took a U-turn and asked us to get down before the entrance, I realized that we had arrived at our destination. Like most temples, it had a little pond /tank to wash ones feet and a set of taps of clean ones' hand and mouth. Upon entering the temple, we found the usual shops selling earthen lamps, lali sankha (red bangles), chunni and the prasad items. Some pooja books were also available. One must be careful in asking the price (especially of the bundled items) while buying from such shops. The shopkeepers will usually mention the prices of 2-3 items and skip the rest. Once you return the basket after doing the pooja, they quote a higher amount thus taking you by surprise. Seasoned devotees/visitors do not fall for such traps but outsiders may sometimes be taken for a ride.

After lighting the lamps at the big lamp stand, we entered the temple and offered worship to the Goddess. While the temple is of recent origin, the actual deity is rumored to be an ancient one that belonged to the household of the Gajapati King. Legend has it that it was buried under earth to protect it from the plundering Muslim invaders. A purohit (priest) who happened to take an uneasy nap at the same spot was visited by the Goddess herself and the idol was reclaimed at her will. It is said that the piece of land yielded no less than forty bullock cart loads full of Red sindoor before the idol emerged. The temple has been built on the same land and the family (present generations) of the late priest Sri Hansa Panda is in charge of the daily rituals of the temple.

The beautiful idol of Maa rests on a silver throne and is adorned with silver jewelry. She is depicted having four hands, one holding a paasha (noose), the other holding an ankusha, while the other two hands convey the abhaya (fearless) and the vara (boon) mudras respectively. Adorned with the kapala (human head) mala made up of silver and lots of fresh flower garlands, the idol is very enchanting. It surrounds one with a divine feeling and one is left spell-bound.

The various avatars of Shakti

There are a few other idols/small temples situated within the premises. After offering our worship to all the Gods and Goddesses, we headed back home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bali Jatra 2014 (Odisha's Largest Fair)

Crowds set my heart rate soaring. I even start getting nauseous and my palms get cold with all that sweating. It is due to this reason that I avoid crowded places and even train journeys to whatever extent possible. Maybe it boils down to that childhood trauma of being separated from my father in a Puja mela. Even though it was only for a few minutes, those memories continue to haunt me at times. So, when I decided to visit the Bali Jatra fair this year, it took a solid resolve and a desire to put those demons to rest. "Some things just need to be done. Even if it feels like a kick in the ass."

Most of my Odia readers would be well aware that being the largest trade fair in Odisha, the Bali Jatra is host to various artists and craftsmen of Odisha. The cultural programs are attended by eminent artists from all over India. Though it is not as popular as the Puskhar Mela or the Boat races of Kerala, the Bali Jatra has its fair share of tourists from outside the state. This fair is held on the Gadagadia ghat ('Gada' refers to the dilapidated Barabati fort) of the river Mahanadi and pays tribute to the rich maritime trade legacy of erstwhile Kalinga. 'Bali Jatra' literally translates as a journey to Bali or the distant lands where the sailors (known as 'Sadhabas' in local lingo) of Kalinga had established their trade links. However it is not uncommon to come across an ignorant person who puts Bali Jatra as a fair held on 'bali' (which means sand). Kartik Purnima is supposed to the holiest day in the Hindu calendar and the traders used to set sail on this particular day after worshiping their boats (also known as 'boita'). Hence the tradition of Boita Bandana or the symbolic sailing of paper/thermocol boats on Kartika Purnima.

The entrance to the fair grounds is in the shape of a gate which upholds a huge boat. The crowd start flowing in around 2-3 pm and peak time is usually from 6-9 pm. Though the crowd thins out after that, the fair goes on till the wee hours of the morning. With almost 1300 stalls and maybe an equal numbers of vendors displaying their wares, it almost takes the entire duration of the fair, that is seven days, to browse through it. Also, one must visit the Barabati Stadium and the Barabati fort which are situated very near to the fair grounds.

Once we entered the fair grounds, we encountered vendors selling almost everything from paper toys to hangings to artificial flowers. The stalls were taken up by the big and medium sized enterprises/traders of Cuttack and Bhubaneshwar. Home electronics, cooking ranges, furniture, two-wheelers, furnishings, cosmetics, home decor, name it and one will find it here.

However, we headed straight to the 'Pallishree' section of the fair which showcased the Handicrafts and traditional wares belonging mostly to Odisha and few other states of India. There were stall displaying Filigree work, brass artifacts, bamboo paintings, Sambalpuri sarees, Pipili hangings, and various pottery items.

Sambalpuri Weaves in gorgeous colors/patterns

All the shopping and bargaining had made us hungry and yet we were feeling reluctant to move away from the beautiful handicraft stalls. Finally when we could not take it any longer, we headed towards the Food Plaza held by Ruchi Foods. They were selling lassi in various flavours, milkshakes, biryani, tikka, chicken nuggets, spring rolls, malpua-aludum, etc.  In addition to the hygiene factor, they had something to suit everyone's tastebuds. However Bali Jatra is famous for its Thunka puri-chenna tarkari and Cuttacki Dahi bara- Alu dum, and the more adventurous folks should not miss it. There were also quite a number of stalls selling Mathura cake, lanka chop (Mirchi bajji), Kulfi, fried crabs and various chops.

Can you see the fried crab hanging in the middle ??

After a quick bite, we rushed to explore more stalls. As it was almost five, people had started flocking and it was getting increasingly difficult to take at dekko at the displays. Since we were staying near to the place, we decided to return home and get some rest. By the time we were back, the crowd had thinned out and it was easier to get a close look at the stalls. After picking some junk jewelry, a pair of mojdis, a few puja items, some artificial flowers and ceramic ware, the shopaholic in each of had reached an Utopian state. Happily trudging back home, I could not resist casting a last look at the fair grounds. One day is just not enough to soak in the flavours of Bali Jatra.

Great collection of junk jewelry at great prices

Manna with Goddess Lakshmi painted on it

Various moulds for making Rangoli/Muruja

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