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Showing posts with label odishaonmyplate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label odishaonmyplate. Show all posts

Monday, February 28, 2022

Jujube Pickle ( Koli Achara)

As grandma's little helper, one of the most coveted tasks was helping her get the jujubes prepped for making the pickle every year. Kilos of Jujubes would be washed, sorted, cracked open to check for infestation, and left in the sun for 2-3 days during which the stock would diminish exponentially.  At the best, only a quarter of it made into the pickle jars. The jars were themselves cleaned out in record time. Only a minuscule quantity would remain hidden by my grandmother and we would wait for it to be miraculously taken out once in a while. While we kids always denied our involvement in the mystery of the disappearing jujubes, all the gluttony left its tell-tale signs in the form of stomach upsets and persistent coughs. 

As a result, we were often suspended from guard duties and the jujubes would be sun-dried only when we were away in school. But the tantalizing smell of ripe jujubes is something that is hard to miss. And we kids would always sniff out the hidden stash and devour them. Over the years, the number of pickles being made at home decreased. And so did the quantities. I myself did not miss them much as I rarely had them.

Then came the lockdown and suddenly pickles were back on the plates. With veggies in short supply, pickles, and papads filled in the gaps. I found out that I quite enjoyed the process of making pickles, especially the quick ones. Sharing one of my favorites - 

Jujube Pickle 

Ingredients -

  • 750 gm of jujube
  • A lemon sized ball of tamarind
  • 200 gm jaggery
  • 1 tbsp of fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp of cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 3-4 dry red chilis
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Pre- Preparation - Wash and dry the jujube in the sun for a day or two. 

Remove the small stem sticking to the berries and crack them open to check for insect infestations. This also allows the seasoning to penetrate properly.

Allow the jujube to dry for another day in the sun.

Preparation - Soak a lemon-sized ball of tamarind in 1/2 cup water for 1 hour. Smash the tamarind and strain the liquid. (Use the discarded solids to shine your brass/copperware.)

Dry roast 1 tbsp of fennel seeds, 1 tsp of cumin seeds, 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds and 3-4 dry red chilis each separately till they turn aromatic. Allow to cool down completely before grinding into a medium-fine powder which is sometimes referred to as the 'khatta masala' or the 'achara masala'. Each household has its own version.

Cooking - Heat a non-reactive saucepan and remember to keep the flame low. Add the tamarind extract. Allow it to come to a boil before adding 200 gms of jaggery and salt as per taste. Once the bubbles start to appear, add 2 heaped cups of the partially dried jujube. 

The mixture will continue to froth and foam for some time before starting to acquire a stringy consistency. At this stage, it needs to be stirred continuously.

Once the strings start getting thicker, add a tsp of the khatta masala. Mix for a minute or two before removing from the flame.

Allow to cool down completely before storing in a glass jar. The shelf life of this pickle is directly proportional to one's willpower but it lasts about 6-8 months when stored in an airtight jar in a cool dry place.

Now, for a zero waste recipe that one will need to use up the bits sticking to the saucepan. I personally find it too flavourful to be wasted.

Once you have transferred the jujube pickle to a jar, add half a cup of hot water to the saucepan to dissolve the jaggery and spices sticking to it. I usually leave in 4-5 pieces of the pickled jujube for extra flavor.

Put another pan on the burner. Add a teaspoon of mustard oil.
Once it gets smoking, add 4 medium-sized tomatoes that have been washed and quartered. Saute on high for 2 mins.

Sprinkle salt and cover for 3-4 mins on low flame. Open the lid and mash the tomatoes with a heavy spatula or spoon. 

Once tomatoes are mushy, transfer them to the other saucepan in which you made the jujube pickle. Turn the flame to medium and cook the mixture till the sauce thickens.

Taste the sauce and adjust the salt/jaggery/seasoning as required. Switch off the flame.

In another wok, add 1-2 teaspoons of mustard oil. Once it gets smoking, add 1/2 tsp pancha-phutana and broken dry red chili. Once the seeds stop spluttering, add a sprig of curry leaves. Pour it over the tomato khatta/chutney. 

Serve it with rice, roti, paratha or any other kind of Indian bread.

Note - This masala is also used to season the various kinds of 'Khatta' like Amba(mango) khatta, Sapuri(pineapple) khatta, Karamanga(starfruit) khatta, etc.


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Chingudi Manja Besara ( Prawns cooked with banana stem)

'Too many mouths to feed'. A refrain I have often heard when documenting Odia recipes or even the processes involved in creating them. Ladies in such households often got creative with their cooking, devising unusual workarounds when a choice ingredient was in short supply. Such clever treatment was often reserved for ingredients that lay on the extreme ends of the desirability scale. For example, prawns or the head of a fish would be highly sought after while the tail or the innards of the fish would be mostly undesirable. Hence the recipes that centred around them evolved in response to the need of catering to each family member without the other one feeling discriminated. 

But as those sizable joint families succumbed to the vagaries of urban migration, they swallowed up an entire genre of recipes that were created to ensure each member got their share of the nutritional pie. It is an entirely different matter that such divisions often lacked equality and often called for the less privileged members of the household to supplement their meals with ingenious recipes that could be whipped up in a jiffy. The 'pagaw' as we collectively term them, comprises an array of dishes that have a distinct 'umami' element to them. And even a small portion of them is enough to elevate the most frugal meal.

I had a chance to cook a few such 'Jugaad' recipes last week at my in-law's place with inputs from my father-in-law. He had been expressing the desire to eat some of the dishes which were a staple during his childhood. While they cannot be classified as lost, they are no longer being cooked regularly in most Odia homes. Freshwater prawns cooked with tender banana stem and a smidgen of mustard paste is one such culinary gem that needs to be brought back into the public consciousness. It is sheer magic when a handful of prawns caught from a local water body meets an ingredient that was found in abundance in most Odia homes and never really sold in the markets. Mostly exchanged with relatives and neighbors as a goodwill gesture, the banana stem was always an important part of the retinue of vegetables that made up a regular meal. 

Chingudi Manja Besara

Freshwater prawns cooked with tender banana stem and a smidgen of mustard paste. The heat of the chili and the mustard balances out the inherent sweetness of the star ingredients. A whiff of mustard oil and a slight whiff of garlic add to the flavor profile. (never make the last two overpowering)

  • 1 cup finely chopped tender banana stem
  • 1/5 cup small prawns (cleaned)
  • 1 small tomato
  • 2 tsp mustard paste ( mustard seeds + garlic + green chili )
  • 2-3 green chili
  • 1-2 garlic clove 
  • 3 tsp mustard oil
  • 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • salt to taste


Marinate cleaned prawns with salt and turmeric. 
Heat 2 tsp oil in a wok. Add the prawns and sauté them for 4-5 mins. Remove and keep aside.
Add the remaining oil to the wok. When hot, add mustard seeds, green chili, and crushed garlic. 

Add the chopped banana stem along with the mustard paste, turmeric, and salt. Cover and cook on low flame till the banana stem is almost done.
Add the prawns and cook for 2-3 mins. Drizzle a little mustard oil on top. Switch off the flame.

Serve after a couple of minutes with hot rice or Pakhala.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Banana flowers: An Inflorescence of Memories

The filtered rays of the winter sun used to light up a small patch in my parent's garden. Right in front of the kitchen backdoor. This sweet spot that received sunlight for a few hours was our go-to area for sunning everything from the pickles to the precious silk sarees that were often taken out as winter also meant wedding season. Anything that required long hours under the sun was deported to the terrace and one of the kids was assigned guard duty. The pigeons were always seeking a snack or two. Maybe they even liked to sit on the cloth drying lines that swayed precariously under their weight. 

I always sought out the former for some warmth. As did everyone else in the family. Winter mornings in Rourkela tend to be quite harsh and the morning sunlight is almost a blessing. Any chore that could be moved outdoors was moved to this spot. As a result, this was one territory teeming with humans of all ages, each one engrossed in his/her own thing. Me and my brother engrossed in our books, my mother doing the lunch prepping, and my grandmother rubbing oil on her arthritic joints. At times, I would join her after finishing my studies. Tasks like peeling the peas, picking the greens, and prepping the banana inflorescence would be delegated to the kids at times to keep them busy or rather to keep them away from mischief. The last one, in particular, would take up a lot of time. Talk about the time and effort to rewards ratio being unfavorably skewed. The only solace was I simply loved all the dishes made with banana inflorescence. 

Cut to the year 2010. I was newly married and picking up the ropes of running a household. Weekend trips to the Ryathu bazaar were in order. As luck would have had it, I spotted banana flowers being sold by some of the ladies. And some of them happened to be huge. Much bigger than the homegrown ones I had always seen. Of course, I had to buy one and devote the entire afternoon prepping it. But the dish turned out to be a disaster. It was just too bitter and had to be thrown out. Luckily my mother knew the way to cook with these bitter ones. However, the fiasco taught me a valuable lesson. One which I still apply when cooking these flowers. The flavor of the banana flower is highly dependent on the variety and they can turn out to be anything from bland to delicious to downright bitter. I always boil and taste a single flower even before I start cleaning the rest. It helps me take a call on the prepping method to be deployed. The cleaned flowers keep well in the fridge for 3-4 days without turning black provided not much damage has been done while pulling out the tepal and the stylus-stigma. While Saturday afternoons or evenings were designated for movie dates, my Sunday afternoons were usually dedicated to meal prepping even during those days. It saved me a lot of hassle during the weeks.

Sometime last year. I was standing in my maternal aunt's kitchen in Rourkela. It is one of those small kitchens with disproportionally big windows. Like all other kitchens in the colony, this one also sports a metal mesh covering the entire window. The grills are spaced far apart making it a breeze for stray cats to enter and exit at will. While the design did serve its purpose in the older days, it is now defunct or rather a perpetual problem. 

I looked outside and marveled at the clump of robust plantain plants with their large shiny leaves. Most of them were sporting bunches of plantains. Though they were still immature, they looked pretty impressive with each one of them sporting more than a dozen hands. My aunt was almost done with the cooking when I casually enquired about the blossoms. Luckily she remembered the banana hearts sitting in the fridge. The rest of the flower had been used up but the inner core sporting the pale yellow bracts had been reserved for the 'Patua', a delicacy like no other. She ended up making the 'kadali bhanda patua' for lunch that day and I ended up asking for a second helping of piping hot rice to go with it.

Recipe for Kadali Bhanda Patua -

Note - I have used the banana heart or the innermost part of the inflorescence in this recipe. It is the point where it becomes quite difficult to peel off the bracts. But one can also use the flowers in the preceding layers to make this dish.


2 banana hearts

1 medium-sized potato

2 tsp mustard seeds (I use the light brown ones)

1 tsp poppy seeds

2 fat garlic clove

1-2 green chili ( preferably hot)

3 tsp mustard oil ( + 1 tsp for drizzling while serving)

1/4 tsp turmeric 

salt to taste ( about 1/3 tsp)

Method - Soak the mustard and poppy seeds for 2-3 hours. 

Transfer to a mixer/chutney jar along with the green chili and garlic pods. Chop the banana heart and add to this jar. Grind into a smooth paste.

Wash and chop the potato into small pieces.

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed wok. Break a green chili and add it to the hot oil.

Add the chopped potatoes and sauté for a minute on high. Tip the contents of the chutney jar into the wok. Add the salt and turmeric. Sauté for another minute before lowering the flame and covering it with a heavy lid.

Open the lid after 5-6 minutes and give it a mix while taking care to scrape the bottom. If it looks too dry, sprinkle a little water over it. Cover once again and leave for 3-4 minutes. Open and check if the raw smell is gone. This means the dish is ready. 

Remove from the stove. Serve hot with a drizzle of mustard oil on top.

Note - One can swap the ratio of mustard to poppy seeds if one is unaccustomed to the heat of mustard.

Click here to refer to an old blog post for cleaning and prepping the flowers.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Curious Case of the Banana Peel and other Slippery Tales

Nigella Lawson discovers banana peels are edible! "Eu tu" lauds the universe when all I want to scream is "Déjà vu"? And I do speak for myself or rather that part of the world which my ancestors inhabited. That little dot on the map that I would still call home even if I lived halfway across the globe. And follow that unwritten code of existing in harmony with nature that they had advocated. For long long ago when GM foods were not even conceived and the green revolution in India had not brought about substantial change in our food habits, my ancestors had exhibited the highest degree of reverence for every scrap of food. The concept of peeling fruits and vegetables was limited and applicable only to those that had been rendered inedible by the presence of a hard and/or hairy exterior or even certain And those habits were honed further by the periods of drought or famine that routinely ravaged the area.

But with the advent of modern methods and technology, there was enough food for everyone. And even more to waste for those who could afford it. Cosmetic or rather aesthetic approaches crept into the Indian kitchens. Those mud-stained layers that betrayed the origins became an eyesore. And peeling those ugly outer layers became the norm. Catalyzed further by those glossies with their borrowed ideas of good food and nutrition that had started invading at least some of the middle-class homes. Never mind in the process we were generating more and more kitchen waste. It would take a couple more decades for people to awaken to the problem of landfills and the leaching Methane punching holes in the Ozone layer. 

Getting back to those slippery and not so slippery peels, they have always enjoyed a lot of respect and adulation in Odia cuisine, often with a separate mention of the properties of the peels in traditional medicine. It won't be an exaggeration to claim that there is a whole genre of recipes centered around the now discarded peels. Interestingly there is one that is even offered to the Gods. Peels have always been minced, ground, crisped, or curried into various delicacies. Especially those of the gourd family and of course those of the banana/plantain.

While I already have a couple of them on the blog, this is one that is the easiest to prepare and needs no cooking. 

Ripe Banana Peel Chutney

This is usually made with the banana varieties having yellow or light green peels. Pick organic bananas that are completely ripe and unblemished. 

Ingredients -

1 Ripe yellow banana 

1 garlic clove

1 green chili ( or 1/4 tsp chili flakes)

1 tsp jaggery 

1/2 tsp Tamarind paste

1 tsp chopped cilantro

a pinch of cumin powder

1/3 tsp salt ( adjust as per taste )

Preparation -

Peel the banana and snip off both ends. Chop the peel into smaller pieces.

Transfer the chopped peel to a chutney jar or small mixer jar. Add all other ingredients except the cilantro. Give it a quick buzz. The texture need not be very smooth. 

Taste and adjust the salt/jaggery/heat. 

Can be served as a side during the meals or as a dip with snacks. 

The plantain peels on the other hand can be prepared using this recipe.

Still curious? Read on to find out a whole range of recipes derived from the different parts of the banana/plantain plants which was a permanent fixture in most Odia homes.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

A Mid-monsoon Afternoon's dream : Tala pitha


As I sniffed the slightly squishy fruit I held in my hands,  I realized my childhood memories are replete with myriad scents. And Sugar palm or Toddy Palm is just one of them. It carries the scent of the monsoons. Not the much romanticized 'Petrichor' kind but one that develops as the rains progress from sudden showers to a steady drizzle that continues for days. The wetness of the lawn grass and the musty odor of clothes that had no chance to dry completely. Accompanied by the dampness of the walls and floors that would send me scurrying to the kitchen for warmth. And the nibbles that came with the turf. 

On one of those rainy days, a huge can would arrive from Jangra. I clearly remember being fascinated by the viscous saffron-hued contents. But it was the smell which has stayed with me till date. The golden-orange pulp of the Sugar Palm would fill the home with an ethereal fragrance. One moment I am here and in the next, I have been transported to a different realm. 

Jangra. The land of my forefathers. The ancestral home built by my grandfather's great grandfather. The numerous rooms,  courtyards, and doorways put together in a complex interconnected maze that often caused an 8-year-old to lose her way. Still, my curiosity got the better of me and I would sneak around exploring the fascinating labyrinth that stood almost at the edge of the river cliff. I am told most of it has been lost to the murky black waters of the mighty Brahmani river.

As the cousins and other ladies clambered down the treacherous slope with practiced ease, I would find myself sitting near the edge and counting the Sugar Palm trees growing near the river. They looked like sentinels, standing tall and formidable. It was much later that I realized they were real sentinels, acting as windbreakers and slowing down the soil erosion. They stood where they did for a good reason. Another reason why they could have been planted a little away from the inhabited village was the propensity of the fruits to fall down in quick succession once they ripened. 

I have often described the taste of the ripe fruit as a mix of mango and Jackfruit, with notes of banana and even Bael(Aegle marmelos) to anyone who asks me about it. But what do I know? No two people can smell things the same way!! All thanks to a complex receptor mechanism hard coded into our DNA. I learned it the hard way when the three of us couldn't agree upon certain foods and I always ended up on the losing team. Finally realized that the boy's receptors are mapped to his Dad's genes.

A few of the Sugar palm/ Talaw' delicacies made in Odisha -

Tala Bara
Tala Chakuli
Tala Kakara
Tala Poda Pitha
Tala Enduri
Tala Muan Pitha
Tala Chittau

Tala Kakara Recipe


1 cup rice flour
1 cup sugar palm juice
1/2 cup jaggery
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp salt 
Oil for deep frying ( cold-pressed mustard oil gives it an authentic taste )
1 tsp of ghee (optional)

Note :

The freshly extracted sugar palm juice needs to be strained, boiled for 10-15 mins and allowed to cool down in order to reduce the bitterness before using it in any kind of recipe. The consistency of this liquid will also vary with the amount of water used during the extraction. I had boiled and stored a big batch of the sugar palm extract which I have used in this recipe. If making it with freshly extracted juice, you will need to add a little more water, boil it for sometime and let it come down to room temperature before proceeding with this recipe. 


Take the sugar palm juice in a thick-bottomed pan or wok. Bring it to boil on a low flame. Add the jaggery, fennel, and salt to the boiling juice. Once the jaggery melts, sift in the rice flour and keep stirring continuously to avoid the formation of lumps. Keep the flame low during all the time.

Remove from fire once the liquid is completely absorbed and the mixture resembles a loose dough. Do not overcook.

Allow to cool down a bit. Add a few drops of ghee. Knead the mixture into a smooth dough. The kneading should be done when the dough is still hot ( should have a tolerable temperature ).

Divide the warm dough into small balls (given quantity makes about 10 of them). Flatten them into small discs but do not make them very thin.

Cooking: Heat a wok. Add sufficient oil for frying. When the oil is sufficiently hot but not smoking, add the flattened balls. Reduce the flame a bit and fry them till they are golden brown in color.

Remove from the hot oil using a slotted spoon and allow them to cool down. Serve at room temperature. Tastes best the next day.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Khesari Dal : A victim of propaganda ?

I first read about Khesari dal in the textbooks in school. It was the villain who seduced the poor into consuming it in large amounts and then promptly turned them into miserable cripples. Sadly, I believed every word of it. Such was my faith in the written word. But then everything comes with an expiry date. Or at least an upgrade patch. Much needed to fill those gaps in the software or in the context of real life, the half-baked textbook knowledge religiously fed to unassuming schoolkids. 

The Khesari dal's notoriety as a 'paralysis inducing' ingredient is only second to its disrepute as a cheap adulterant used to bulk up more expensive pulses. And it has actually been found to have been added to everything from toor dal to 'besan' to even the 'sattu'. But then not every part of the world eyes it with suspicion or explicitly bans its cultivation and sale. Lathyrus Sativus is an important crop in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Ethiopia for reasons that range from meeting the protein requirement of the poorer sections of society to its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil and also its usage as animal fodder. Though it was banned for sale in India in the year 1961, states like Bengal, parts of Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh have continued to use this dal for human consumption. And importantly, Maharashtra has overturned the ban on the cultivation and sale of this dal based on the research findings of a Nagpur-based nutrition scientist Shantilal Kothari. His work makes for an engaging though lengthy read.

While reading up on Khesari dal, I stumbled upon the fact that it had been banned first in 1907 by the Maharaja of Rewa(Madhya Pradesh) after a severe drought drove . While one cannot deny the presence of the neurotoxin ODAP in Khesari dal, it is shown to have an adverse effect only when consumed in excess amounts, almost skewing the normal carb to protein ratio of a regular Indian meal . Medical texts state the 400 g of Lathyrus consumed daily over a period of 3 months or more may increase the risk of Lathyrism. While such instances have occurred during periods of drought or crop failure, the resilient character of this legume makes it an asset during such periods. It can grow in almost any kind of soil and provides a good amount of protein even when consumed in moderation. Soaking the dal in hot water for 40 mins to an hour and washing it thoroughly multiple times is supposed to cuts down most of the neurotoxins. Even soaking in normal water cuts down the neurotoxins by half. (Haileyesus Getahun 1Fernand LambeinMichel VanhoornePatrick Van der Stuyft) . On the other hand, consuming sufficient cereals with the dal to balance the essential sulphur aminoacids can help prevent Lathyrism.(Fernand LambeinYu-Haey Kuo)

As per Ayurveda, 'Khesari dal' is 'cold and heavy' with laxative properties and hence should be consumed accordingly. For example, if one visualizes a proper Indian meal, a decent chunk of it is the carbohydrates that provide the most calories. Then comes a bowl of dal, one or two servings of vegetables which change according to the season, maybe a chutney or a pickle, even papad or badi. All of it together makes the meal complete. There is no concept of 'Ati' or excess. A fact reiterated by some of the families who cultivate this dal in Odisha. All of them use it occasionally and in small amounts. Mostly for making a snack called 'piaji' (not to be confused with the onion extravaganza by the same name) and then very rarely for a regular dal to be eaten with rice. Research literature points to the usage of the green pods as a snack very much like the Bengal gram. 

While there is ongoing research to develop newer cultivars with lower ODAP levels, one can still consume them in smaller amounts as the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and it is also easier on the pocket. It is known to strengthen the bones, balance Pitta-Kapha dosha, reduce inflammation, enhance potency, and also stimulate the appetite. In the coastal parts of Odisha, especially in Cuttack and nearby areas, the 'Piaji' or fried fritters are almost always made with Khesari dal.

A side by side comparison of Tuvar(tur)side-by-side and Khesari dal to help in identifying the latter. While Tuv has a rounded shape, the latter has a rather irregular shape and yellowish-orange color. 

Sharing a quick recipe for the 'Piaji' or 'Dal vada' I made with it -

Khesari Dal Piaji/ Vada

Ingredients -

1/2 cup Khesari dal

1 small onion (finely chopped)

1/2 inch ginger (crushed)

1-2 green chili(crushed)

1/2 cup chopped greens (coriander/tender mustard greens/moringa/radish greens)

salt to taste

200 ml oil for frying 

Preparation - Wash and soak the dal for 1-2 hours. Drain off all water. 

Transfer to a chutney jar and give a quick pulse. Add the rest of the ingredients except oil and give another pulse. The paste should be a little finer than the coarse texture we prefer for Channa dal when making dal vada.

Heat the oil. Don't get it smoking though. Add small dollops of the paste. Do not crowd the frying vessel at any time and keep the oil at a constant temperature. 

Turn it a few times and remove it when it starts to acquire a light brown color.

Serve immediately.

The remaining 'piaji' can be refrigerated and added to a curry. 

Alternatively, one can also make a thin and flavorful dal with it.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Janta Ruti : Just do'ugh' it !!

Sometime back in 2013 when I was experimenting with foods meant for my ever-hungry toddler, I discovered the 'Janta ruti', a kind of bread popular in Odisha. It was tasty, easy enough to chew, and light on the stomach too. Plus it made a perfect pair with the boiled veggies (read 'Santula' minus the 'chunka' or tempering). It became a part of our menu and stayed that way. And incredibly, it's most salient feature remained overlooked. 

But everything changed a few months back when I was reading up on research papers about gluten. Or rather how to minimize the formation of this unavoidable protein that has been haunting quite a few people. Honestly, going the sourdough route or switching to 'Gluten free' flour isn't an option for everyone. Or even switching to 'ghar ke chakki ka atta' or 'home processed flour' if I have to put it in the Indian context.

But why this growing dissent with 'gluten' which has always been present in wheat? Gluten intolerance may also have become fairly common because of changes in the way wheat is processed. Earlier, wheat was harvested, shade dried, washed down, and sun-dried before making it to the local chakki where it was ground and distributed. But increased demand has led to manufacturers bypassing all the steps between threshing and processing. Most of the packaged wheat is not properly shade dried and sun-dried - the two processes that broke down gluten (or rather glutenin as gluten comes into the picture only when after the flour is hydrated ) into smaller particles.

Preferences also play a role here. Demand for white-looking bread or 'roti' has led to the market being flooded with certain varieties like durum which have higher gluten content in comparison to varieties like 'Emmer' or 'Kaphali' which have lower gluten but are much darker in color. In spite of this selective breeding, the gluten content has remained constant over the last 120 years, although the composition of the gluten has changed slightly. While the proportion of Gliadin fell by around 18 percent, the proportion of Glutenin rose by around 25 percent. 

While it is tough to dismiss the external factors, the formation of gluten has a lot to do with how the dough is manipulated. Everything from the amount (and temperature) of water added to the dough, to the kneading technique (damn!! there are so many of them) and duration of kneading to the usage of shortening agents( term used for fats that coat the gluten components and prevent them from forming lengthy chains resulting in a flaky crumbly texture) plays a definite role.  

Somewhere in the middle of processing it all, it struck me. I was seeing the 'Janta ruti' through the lens of my newly acquired understanding. It ticked all the boxes. Temperature, hydration, and fat. The boiling water denatures the wheat proteins, limiting the formation of gluten. This makes the dough soft but not stretchy(read 'hard to tear'). Second, the hot water gelatinizes the starch allowing it to absorb more water. This makes the dough smooth and supple and a lot easier to work with. As a bonus, it stays soft long after it has cooled down. The fat, though in a limited amount, prevents the linkage of gluten strands and ensures that the dough doesn't turn sticky. Hence one ends up with a dough that is easy to work with and the end product (roti/paratha) stays soft and fresh for a longer duration. Best part? It is that it is just so much easier on the digestive system (and the jaws too).

There are two versions made in most Odia homes, a sweeter one with fennel and a little khand/sugar and a savory one with carom(ajwain) seeds. The preparation process and the rest of the ingredients remain the same. A few people also add a little milk while preparing the dough for the sweeter version.

Sometimes the dough is also deep-fried instead of being cooked on a tawa or griddle. These pooris, also called 'khali poori', are extremely delicious but soak up a lot of oil. They are eaten during fasting.

Check the recipe for the Janta Ruti (sweet version) - HERE

Monday, November 15, 2021

Decoding the Habisa Dalma

Panchuka or the five days of abstinence in the Odia calendar. As the holy month of Kartika draws to a closure, the religious fervor goes up by a few notches, and folks who had not given up nonvegetarian food for the entire month turn vegetarian. Even onion and garlic are struck off the menu. It is easy to get into a debate about the actual period of Panchuka with one group advocating that it begins right on the day of 'Anla Nabami' while another one claims that it begins on Ekadashi. But we will not get into the details of it because it is purely a matter of personal belief rather than something which is backed by evidence. And belief mingled with a need for validation can sometimes give rise to urban legends. Like the one which says that even the crane gives up fish during these five days. A story that is likely attributed to another mythological tale that mentions Lord Vishnu awakening from his slumber after four months on the day of Ekadashi and taking the disguise of a fish to reclaim the Vedas stolen by the asura Hayagriva.

But 'Panchuka' or for that matter, the month of Kartika is not just about abstaining from food. While it explicitly calls for giving up non-vegetarian food, certain vegetables, grains, and all greens except Agasti, that is just about the easy part of it. It is marked as a period of abstinence from everything that keeps one from attaining Moksha. Right from consumption of intoxicating substances to restraining one's speech and sexual conduct. A person is expected to immerse himself/herself in the scriptures or chant the name of the Almighty. So, one can say that in some ways it is similar to 'Paryushan Parva' of the Jains. Both are a time to introspect on one's actions and purify oneself from the accumulated sins. However, with the passage of time, Panchuka or even the month of 'Kartika' has been reduced to a period that calls for dietary restraints or if one is more religiously inclined, reading the Kartika Mahatyma. 

Coming back to the food practices followed during the month of Kartika, it is interesting to note how different regions have modified the ingredients used in the Habisa Dalma, an almost iconic dish prepared during this time of the year. Shorn of the golden glow of turmeric, this spartan dish is symbolic of the 'Habisyali' or widows who flock to Puri to perform the most rigorous version of this 'Vrat', subsisting on just a single meal taken before sunset for an entire month. With a little effort, one is able to uncover regional variations of this iconic recipe. I am unwilling to dwell on the topic of authenticity at this point for certain reasons. The variations are perhaps an attempt to assimilate more of the seasonal produce of a particular area. But that does not explain why certain commonly available ingredients have gone missing from it. Making it appeal better to the taste buds? Possibly. Substituting with newer ingredients available to one? Why not?  For example, most of us cannot imagine the ideal Habisa meal without the 'Kandhiya Pagaw', a kind of citrus mashed together with salt and green chilis. But chilis are themselves a 'New World' ingredient and were not available a few hundred years ago. What did our ancestors use instead? A good amount of ginger perhaps to provide the right amount of heat minus the excitement offered by the chilis. 

The most striking departure in this study has been the discovery of a version that I would like to call the Sagaw dalma, another Karthik month specialty in some parts of the state but one that uses 'Kosala saga'. Most interesting because the 'Kartika Mahatmya' explicitly prohibits any kind of green except for the Agasti or Agastya Sagaw (leaves of the Hummingbird tree). Digging a little deeper or rather after asking a dozen of questions, I figured out that most people in that particular region were not aware of the Agasti plant. But that hardly explains the usage of Kosala leaves in the Kartika dalma. Except for pointing to the most primitive practice of offering the first harvest of any crop to the Gods. 

 [ The image represents the Habisa Dalma prepared in most homes in and around Puri. Made with split green moong dal and a few vegetables like elephant apple, taro, yam and plantain, it is sans turmeric and any kind of tempering.]

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Ancient Practice of Cooking In Leaves : GajaPimpali Enduri

What does Chenna Poda, Poda Pitha and Sikar Purga have in common? Apart from being capable of rigging one's salivary gland at a mere mention, these dishes bear the stamp of the ancient practice of cooking in leaves. Each of these is traditionally made by wrapping the ingredients in Shorea Robusta or Sal leaves. Apart from the sal, other leaves that are widely used in Odia cooking are the leaves of the turmeric plant which are used for making the steamed delicacy called 'Enduri pitha'.

But turmeric leaves are not the only ones used to make the Enduri pitha. Take a closer look at the last image in this post and marvel at the thick ovate leaves. And those prominent veins running along the length of the leaves. This Gajapimpali enduri is a beautiful example of Odisha's hitherto underexplored micro cuisines, a testimony of the diversity that exist within the state.

Scindapus Officinalis, commonly known as Gaja Pippali or Hasti Pippali, a comparative reference to the fruit of the Pippali or Long pepper, is a well known medicinal plant. Ayurveda prescribes the fruit as a remedy for a number of ailments like joint pains,  fever,  cough,  intestinal worms and other cold related ailments.  

The thick leathery leaves impart an intense smoky flavor to the food wrapped in it. While the steamed 'Enduri' is the more traditional way of using it , mushrooms or fish steamed in those leathery leaves taste simply out of this  world. Some communities also refer to it as the 'Pitha patra', a vine that once used to grow wild on mango trees and even on the thatched roofs of village homes in Odisha.

It doesn't come as a surprise that a community calls for it's ritual use in the autumn season. Small communities that live in close range of the forests have defined rituals and festivals that call for use of the seasonal produce. They have become a part of the lesser traditions or folk wisdom that has been passed on from one generation to the next one by oral means. A way of life that needs to be respected and preserved. We need to realize that many of such practices cannot be made mainstream as it would  lead to over exploitation of the forests. The family that got these leaves for us has been complaining that the vines are becoming  increasingly rare to spot. Perhaps the result of human intervention and climate change both. 

The Winter Vegetables of Odisha : A Recce of the local Haat

I walked into the crowds. The hiatus had been longer than anticipated. The feeling of venturing into alien territory gripped me at first. I stumbled blindly for the first few meters before I started picking out the shapes. Just as the eyes get accustomed to the darkness when one enters a dark room. I found myself seeking out familiar faces in the crowd. Perhaps it mirrored my own need to be recognized. By the old lady who stocked my favorite greens and tried to offload her entire stash on me. Or the man who was sometimes accompanied by his son who happened to be a little older than my own. I failed to spot either of them. Did she find someone as gullible as me ? How is the boy coping up with the online classes ? Questions flocked to me. The answers were nowhere in sight.

Getting back to the local 'haat' after all these weeks felt nothing to like a homecoming. The crowd was thinner than usual. The shops fewer in number. The only thing that had not changed was the freshness of the vegetables. Mostly sourced from the local farmers, the 'haat' had the most glorious winter produce on display. Greens dominated the scene with generous pools of white. Reds, pinks and purples stood out rather conspicuously . The browns were sadly stashed behind or occupied the fringes reflecting our general apathy of these vegetables that are lumped under the category of 'alu', 'kanda' or 'saru'. These fall into the unenviable category of the 'character actors' who prop up the screenplay but remain unsung. Odia cuisine makes ample use of these 'underground' vegetables but at the same time it is not entirely difficult to conjure up an Odia meal without them. Hence they remain unseen. Just like they have been for the most of their lives. 

There is no Odia equivalent of 'Arbi ki subzi' or 'Yam Kulambu'. Neither a 'shakkarkandi halwa' for that matter. For these vegetables add body, texture and even sweetness to numerous dishes like Ghanta, Santula, Dalma and Besara but lose either own identity in the ensuing medley. A rare Khatta or Bhaja is just not enough to redeem their stature. But isn't this unassuming characteristic the very hallmark of Odia cuisine ? This coming together of elements to assume a collective identity that is more than the sum of its individual components is what sets us apart. Don't you agree ?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dhanu Muan

Margashira gives way to Pausa, kicking off a period of thanksgiving for the hardworking farmer community of Odisha. It's literally the time to reap the benefits of all that hard work put in over the last few months. A feast is in the offing as it is the perfect excuse for spending quality spend time with friends and family. But life is hardly meaningful without pausing for a few moments to express gratitude. Especially to the divinity, the human manifestation of the forces of nature. No celebration in Odisha (or for that matter elsewhere) is complete without invoking the Gods and thanking them for their divine blessings.

The first such celebration observed during this holy month is Dhanu Sankranti which marks the transition of the Sun into Sagittarius (Dhanu rashi as per the Indian Zodiac calendar). On this day, an offering of sweetened popped rice 'khai' called Dhanu Muan(or 'Muaa' in some dialects) is offered to the Lord Jagannath at Puri and to the various other Gods in different parts of the state. Made with 'khai' from newly harvested paddy,  jaggery from the season's sugarcane crop, fried coconut slices, and ghee, it is seasoned with a mix of spices like pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and fennel. The jaggery and spices provide warmth and help build immunity for the farmers and farmhands as they continue toiling in the cold weather. Post-harvest activities like threshing, milling (manual), parboiling, etc. are all labor-intensive and require a lot of energy. All the more reason to appreciate every morsel of rice that graces our plate. 

For making the Muan, freshly popped 'Khai' is tipped into melted jaggery ( or sugar) that has been mixed with the spices. The garnishing bits at added at this stage. The still-warm mixture is either shaped into spheres or set into greased molds to give them a fancier shape. If the mixture is spread loosely instead of being molded, it is called Ukhuda or 'paga khai'. This mixture resembles granola, both in appearance and taste, but is made with locally sourced ingredients. 

While 'paga khai' or 'Ukhuda' is very commonly consumed/used as a 'bhoga' or even as a snack in most Odia households, a few special ingredients go into the making of Dhanu Muan. Not surprising considering that the 'Pusa' or 'Pausa' month is also described as the month of abundance with all the granaries overflowing with grains. The Dhanu Muan is considered a delicacy that is sold in the markets between Dhanu Sankranti and Makara Sankranti. During 'Pausa' masa, Dhanu Muan is also exchanged between families or sent over as a 'Bharaw' to a woman's parents to her in-law's house. In the earlier days, the married women used to go over to their parent's homes during this time of the year.

But this period is also considered as an inauspicious period in the Odia calendar and activities like marriage, thread ceremony, house-warming, or engagements are not usually forbidden. A famous festival called Dhanu Yatra is conducted in Western Odisha (Bargarh) during this month. 

One of the most famous and oldest shops selling this delicacy is Baiya Kora Khai / Baiya Khai Ghara which is situated in Old Town, Bhubaneshwar. The Kora Khai sold here is also offered as a prasad at the Lingaraj Temple.

[ Image taken from Wiki ]

Buy it online Here.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Oriya to English Translations of Popular Ingredients

Popular Spices:

Ada - Ginger
Charu manji- Charoli / Chironji
Aamba Ada - Mango ginger
Anasi phula - Star Anise
Annapurna patra - Pandan leaves  
Sorisha - Mustard
Posto - Poppy seeds
Pana mahuri - Fennel
Jeera - Cumin
Lanka - Chilli
Methi - fenugreek
Kala Jeera - Nigella
Khajuri -Dates
Badam- Almonds
Dhaniya - Coriander
Dhaniya patra - Coriander leaves
Teja Patra - Bay leaf
Dalchini - Cinnamon
Aleicha/Elaichi - Cardamon
Labanga - Cloves
Hingu/Hengu - Asafoetida
Soothi - Dry Ginger
Jai Phala - Nutmeg
Jaeetri/Javitri - Mace
Juani- Carom (Ajwain)
Haladi - Turmeric
Kala Maricha - Peppercorns
Rasi - Sesame
Juani - Carom seeds
Ambula - Dry Mango slices ( prepared by salting and sun-drying raw mangoes )
Nadia Kora - Shredded Coconut
Rasuna - Garlic
Tentuli - Tamarind
Luna - Salt
Bhrusunga Patra - curry leaves
Karpura - Camphor
Chinabadam - Peanuts

Popular Vegetable:

Aau - Elephant apple
Ambada - Indian olive
Bhendi - Ladies Finger
Simba - Flat beans, Lima beans
Guanra  - Cluster beans
Panasa - Jack fruit
Baigana - Brinjal/Aubergine
Lau - Bottle gourd
Dudka - Sponge gourd
Kalara - Bitter gourd
Kankada - Spine gourd
Potolo - Pointed gourd
Bandha Kobi - Cabbage
Phula Kobi - Cauliflower
Ganthi Kobi - knol knol /kohlrabi( Ganth kobi in Hindi )
Amruta Bhanda - Papaya
Kakharu - Pumpkin
Pani Kakharu - Ash gourd
Janhi - Ridge gourd
Saru - Colocasia
Karamanga - Star fruit
Chattu - Mushroom
Bantala Kadali - Plantain
Kadali Bhanda - Banana Flowers
Kadali Manja - Banana Stem
Poee - Malabar spinach
Sapuaa - Striped gourd/ Snake gourd
Khada saaga - Amaranthus
Piaja Sandha - Onion flower
Kaintha - Wood Apple (Limonia Acidissima)
Moola - Radish
Mati Aloo/Khamba Aloo/ Desi Aloo - Greater Yam
Olua - Lesser Yam
Jhudunga (barabatti) - Long beans
Chuein/ Sajana - Drumstick
Sajana Sagaw - Moringa
Bilati Baigana - Tomato
Kakharu Dunka - Pumpkin shoots
Kandamula/Sakara Kanda - Sweet Potato
Kunduree - Ivy Gourd
Karadi - Bamboo shoots
Kakudi - Cucumber
Gaja Muga - Sprouted green gram
Kakharu Phula - Pumpkin flowers
Khada - Stems of a mature Amaranthus plant
Poee - Malabar Spinach
Palua kanda - Arrowroot tubers
Pasaruni Patra - Stink vine
Panasa Manji - Jackfruit seeds 

Non-Vegetarian Items:

Anda - Egg
Maccha - Fish
Maccha munda - Fish head
Maccha lanja - Fish tail
Maccha Bihana ( manjee ) - Fish eggs
Chuna Maccha - Smelt Fish/Anchovies
Chingudi - Prawns
Kankada - Crab
Khasi/Cheli Mansa - Mutton
Kukuda Mansa - Chicken
Sukhua - Smoked or dried Fish/Prawns
Kalija - Liver
Charbi - Mutton Fat

Pulses & Lentils/Grains

Muga Dali - Moong Dal/ Split Green gram
Channa Dali - Split Bengal gram
Kabuli channa - Chick peas
Biri dali - Urad Dal/ Black Lentil
Harada dali - Pigeon Peas
Kandula - Local Pigeon peas
Buta dali - Yellow peas
Rumha/Jhunga Dal - Cowpeas
Kolotha - Horse gram
Masura Dali - Red lentil
Dhana - Paddy
Chaula - Rice
Usuna Chaula - Parboiled rice
Arua Chaula - Raw rice
Khudaw - Broken rice grains with some of the husk 
Chuda - Beaten rice
Mudhi - Puffed rice
Khaee - Popped rice
Huduma/Chaula bhaja - A kind of fried rice grains 
Mandiya- Ragi or Millet
Palua - Arrowroot
Gangei - Pearl millet
Kodaw - Kodo millet

Popular Fruits

Amba - Mango
Aata - Custard Apple
Angur - Grapes
Amrutabhanda - Papaya
Bedana - Pomegranate
Seu - Apple
Kadali - Banana
Karamanga - Starfruit
Naspati - Pear
Panasa - Jackfruit
Pijuli - Guava
Tarabuja - Watermelon
Tala saja - Palm
Licchu - Lychee
Koli - Berries
Sapuri - Pineapple
Kamala - Orange
Chini Alu - Jicama

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Enduri Pitha ( Haldi Patra pitha )

Enduri Pitha is traditionally prepared during Prathamastami or Padhuanstami, a festival during which mothers offer prayers for their firstborn. Enduri pitha is also called 'Haldi patra pitha' in Western parts of orissa, especially in Sundargarh, Sambalpur, Bargarh districts. Prathamastami also marks the day when people first start making 'Badis' . The first batch of 'Badi' is worshipped with 'Doob' grass and vermilion (sindoor). Usually, people lay badi in these winter months (November-January) and store it for usage during the entire year. This is because the low temperature and mild sun ensure that the badi dries up evenly without cracking up at places.

In some parts of Orissa, like Cuttack or the nearby areas, seven pieces of Enduri pitha are offered to the God while other areas offer seven pieces of Chakuli as the prasad. The firstborn child is decked up in new clothes, Chandan/sindoor is applied on his/her forehead and 'Aarti' is done with raw rice, doob grass, flowers and a Deepam (lamp) in our place. However other parts of the state use about five to seven leafy greens to complete this ritual.

Cooking Time Required: 30 mins
Makes 8-10 pithas.

Ingredients: Black gram ( beeri dali, 1 cup ), rice rawa 3 cups or rice 2 cups, coconut ( 1 no. ), sugar ( 5-6 tsp ), ghee ( 1 tsp ), cardamom ( 1-2 nos ), turmeric leaves ( 8-10 nos ), salt, refine oil for greasing the leaves.

Preparation: Soak the black gram for 5-6 hours. Grind into a fine paste.

Soak the rawa for 1 hour. Squeeze out excess water. Add to the gram paste along with 1/2 tsp salt. Keep overnight or 10-11 hours.

Grate the coconut or cut into big pieces and grind into a coarse paste in a grinder.

Cooking: Heat a wok. Add 1 tsp ghee. Add the cardamon powder, grated coconut and sugar. Stir fry for 5-6 mins. Remove from the wok and keep aside to cool.

Heat water in a idli maker/pressure cooker. Bring to a boil.

Wash the turmeric leaves. Add 2-3 drops of oil and smear it all over each leaf. Take a blob of the batter and spread evenly on the leaf.

Spread 2-3 tsp of the coconut over the batter.

Fold the leaf carefully and place on the idli stand.

Repeat the process for the remaining batter/leaves. The leaves can be stacked one over the other for 2-3 layers. Close the lid and steam for 15-20 mins. Remove from the stove.

Remove the turmeric leaves. Serve the pitha with ghee/sugar or dalma. Sada enduri ( without the sweet stuffing ) is very popular with Mutton Jholo or Mutton Kasa.

NOTE: Usually raw rice (aruwa) is used instead of rice rawa but I sometimes use rice rawa as it is cuts down soaking time and the subsequent grinding effort. The rice to black gram proportion is kept 2:1 . Rawa is used to cut down on the overall preparation time and simplify the dish without compromising on the taste.

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