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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Chenna tarkari ( cottage cheese balls in a savoury gravy )

Travelling on a long stretch of road between Oltapur and Pahala on a late Sunday afternoon, our car is overtaken by an auto crammed with passengers inside and at least a dozen bundles of white cloth hanging outside. The watery fluid leaking from those bundles catches my attention and I throw a curious look at the husband. 'Freshly made chenna being transported to Pahala and Bhubaneshwar' comes the reply.

I had been in a dreamy state till now, capturing the sights of a setting Sun playing peekaboo among the trees, and lush fields swaying in the winds. Occasionally jolted out of my reverie by stray cattle blocking our way or scores of urchins asking for money ('chanda' as we call it in Odia) to build a temple/celebrate Durga Puja, the ride had been uneventful till that point.

In no time at all, we came across several autos, bicycles, rickety old mopeds (Luna/TVS), and even a swanky bike or two carrying these leaky bundles with the fluid leaving a trail on the dusty roads. In a few hours' time, the contents of these bundles would be processed and displayed as a mouth-watering array of sweets (chenna poda, chenna gaja, rasagulla, chenna jilapi, rasmalai, raj-bhog, etc ) on the shelves of a Ganguram/Atmaram/Capital sweets. Or maybe they will find their way into one of the many quaint-looking shops that dot Pahala and will be turned into the most melt-in-the-mouth type of Rasagola ever invented. One needs to visit these places in Orissa to experience the magic of making 'chenna' sweets.

More on the sweet stuff another time. Today I am sharing a savoury recipe made out of fresh home-made chenna. Chenna tarkari is the Odia cousin of the Paneer curry but with a unique texture and flavour of its own.

Update - The deep fried chenna balls are easily available in the sweet shops of Bhubaneswar these days.

Preparation time - 40-50 mins

Ingredients - 

  • 1 litre whole milk 
  • 1/2 cup sour curd  
  • 2 heaped tsp maida
  • 1 large tomato pureed
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • salt to taste
  • oil for shallow/deep frying.

  • 1 medium-sized onion(finely chopped) 
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly made ginger garlic paste
  • 2 green cardamon
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 inch long cinnamon stick
  • 1-2 bay leaf 
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder

Preparation -

To prepare chenna - Bring milk to a boil. Add the sour curd and wait for a few minutes till the milk solids separate from whey. The whey should have a clear appearance at this point. If not add more curd and boil for another 5 mins.

Once all the solids separate, strain the chenna using a fine cloth or even a strainer with very fine mesh. Allow to stand for sometime till excess water is drained.

Take the chenna in a vessel/mixing bowl and add the maida. Crumble and knead the chenna to remove lumps and it just comes togather into a soft dough ( takes abt 5-6 mins, do not overdo the kneading ). Pinch small lumps out of the dough and shape into balls. These balls can either be shallow fried or deep fried.

Cooking: Heat sufficient oil in a wok. Put one ball into the wok and test if it holds together. If yes, add the remaining balls into the wok and fry them to a brown color on medium heat. (If it starts to crumble/break, add a little more maida to the chenna dough and knead for another 2-3 mins.)

Once the balls are fried, keep them aside and drain the excess oil from the wok.

Put the whole spices into the remaining oil in the wok and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add the chopped onion and saute on low flame till light brown ( abt 6-7 mins to allow the sugar in the onion to start caramelizing ). At this stage add the sugar and allow it to melt. Once the sugar melts, it gives a deep brown color to the onion. Sprinkle the soy sauce at this point.

Add ginger garlic paste and stir fry for 2-3 minutes till its raw smell goes away. Pour in the tomato puree and cook for another 2 minutes.

Now add turmeric, chilli powder, cumin powder, coriander powder and salt. Roast the masalas for 1-2 mins.

Add about 1 1/2 - 2 cups of water and bring to boil. Allow water to reduce to 2/3rd.

Put in the fried chenna balls and simmer on medium flame for 2 minutes. Cover with lid and switch off the flame. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes.


1. One can also use lemon juice/citric acid to prepare the chenna but using sour curd gives it a better flavour. Also the chenna turns out softer.

2. One can also make a paste out of all the ingredients mentioned under spices and add it at once instead of doing it in steps.

3. There is a no onion - no garlic version of this recipe which uses a different masala paste and some amount of milk for added creaminess. 

4. For making the 'no onion no garlic' masala paste - 

1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp fennel 
1 tbsp melon seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds 
2 green cardamom
1 inch long cinnamon stick
1 inch long ginger
1 dry red chili 

Soak everything in warm water for 2 hours. Grind into a medium fine paste. 


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