Category Archives: Sweet

Poda Pitha : Spiced Rice and Coconut Cake from Orissa

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 According to a lot of women in my mother’s generation, most of whom did not own an electric oven, the poda pitha was the “risky-est of them all” . Yes, the haladi patra pitha (steamed rice cakes in turmeric leaves) is aromatic, owing to the fact that it is steamed in fresh turmeric leaves, but the poda pitha has more layers. The arisa pitha (fried rice cakes) needs skill, but this one needs skills, patience and prayers. (I actually remember my mother praying that there would be no power cut so that the pitha could bake peacefully in the oven). It needs prepping the night before. Has a long ingredient list.  Takes forever to cook. And, had you been a house wife half a century ago in a traditional house in Orissa, you would perhaps have spent the whole first half of a rainy day alternating between raising prayers to Lord Jaganath, muttering incantations, and looking anxiously over the burning coals in the clay oven, within which lay the talking point of the next 3 days–the poda pitha. Yes. It is the Godfather of pithas in Orissa.  You ruin this, and for the next one year everyone who has had a bite of this –your maid, your great-grandfather, your long removed second cousin, everyone who knows you is going to report you to everyone they know, and so everyone is going to keep reminding you how you failed on that one day when it mattered. How badly you failed. In one word-completelossofface. In two words-public humiliation.You will get a chance to redeem yourself. After one full year. But if you are successful, and the pitha turns out as it is supposed to be-a sexy burnt sienna top, with notes of spice mingled with caramelized jaggery and coconut, and studded with cashewnut and raisins, you will make a lot of women jealous.  That’s good enough of a reason to take this risk, if you ask me. Plus, it tastes good. Very good. The slightly burnt bits of raisins? The accidentally charred edges of coconut? Yes, them too.

Poda pitha is almost exclusive to the the Raja festival, which marks the onset of the rainy season, and is celebrated over three days in Orissa. And, since this festival is symbolic of a menstruating earth, the food that is prepared is not offered to the Gods, like it is in all the other festivals. (Correct me if I am wrong). The first day, called the “paheli rajo” ( pa-hey-lee rah-jaw),  is when girls scrub themselves with turmeric paste before taking a bath, change into a new set of clothes to mark the beginning of the festival, apply alata (red dye) to their feet, and spend the day taking turns at the swing made out of thick long ropes on the grandest tree around. Or in urban homes like mine, made out of nylon ropes and a wooden slab, hung somewhere in the courtyard or in the balcony.Not that it took away anything from the festival for us kids. The preparation for the festival in coastal Orissa starts almost a week before the actual festival, with all the shopping for new clothes, shoes, nail varnishes, bangles, anklets, hair bands with bunnies, and everything else that parents of little (and big) girls give their nod to. Some lucky ones get three sets of new clothes for the three-day festival. And some annoyingly stubborn ones, like yours truly who make their parents go from shop to shop in search of that perfect skirt that hits the knee get threatened with puffy dresses in garish blue.

The poda pitha recipe that I have used is from my father’s family. There are other versions which use pumpkin puree (Kakharu Poda Pitha) , or cook the batter before baking it (Janta Poda Pitha).  The simplest recipe would probably consist of the rice batter, jaggery, grated coconut, and maybe be a hint of cardamom. But who does plain Jane on a festival? I don’t. And I am assuming, you wouldn’t want to too.

Ingredients:

 Rice-1.5 parts

Black lentil (dehusked)- 1 part

Coconut

Jaggery

Sugar

Raisins-a handful

Cashewnuts-a handful

Green cardamom-3-4

Black cardamon-1-2

Peppercorns-3-4

Bay leaf-1-2

Ginger (grated)-1 1/2 tablespoon

Ghee-5-6 tablespoons

Salt

Baking powder

Notes:

I have kept the quantities unspecified since it would depend on the amount of batter that you have. Two important things to note, however.

1) The proportion of rice:lentil is 1.5 : 1

2) You can use only jaggery instead of a combination of sugar and jaggery to sweeten the mixture. But jaggery tends to stick to the bottom and sides and burn easily, so I have used a mixture of jaggery and sugar in the ratio 2 : 1.

Chuda Ghassa : Flattened Rice Crumble from Orissa

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Ok. I need to let it all out.

Adaptation is not one of the qualities I would list out in my CV. Adapting to the ways of fellow Homo sapiens less so. And in the last few months that I was away from this space I had a hell lot of adapting to do. Bad food. Bad academic life. Bad weight management. The three things that matter most to me. I have had to endure dull plate after dull plate of burnt rotis and goo looking dal. The worst was perhaps the sambhar with potatoes. Oh wait, what about kaddu three days a week, and dry, stringy chicken. So, yes I am royally pissed. It would have been endurable if the academics here didn’t suck as badly as it does. Damn. I need a bar of chocolate. And food. And I need to run.

 (RC, take me back please! I promise I’ll study for 18 hours a day. Adichie write me a book please! An eye candy would help too, methinks. Put that on your list, Santa! )

I need a sweet fix. And steamed muffins just won’t do today. I want something from the “good ol” days. I need a happy memory. I need to “engage”. And I need to stop chasing pirates.

The “ghassa” in Chuda Ghassa refers to the act of vigorous rubbing that is integral to this dish. Chuda is flattened rice. I am probably not going to say this again in this blog, but “mommy makes it the best!” (There you go Tina). My younger-older sister, Tina loves it. She loves every thing my mother makes. I was of course the quintessential hard-to-please nitpicking Virgo child. The vegetables were too mushy. The custard was too thin. And the biryani needed another 7 mins on the stove.

I am sorry Momma.

Chuda Ghassa is an integral part of the offering that is made on Saraswati Puja and Ganesh Puja in Orissa. While growing up in the little hill town that my father was posted, these were the only days that we went out to watch movies. So we if we didn’t make a trip to the shehr (city) 500 kilometers away we probably ended up watching two films that year. Not that the town didn’t have a theater or anything, but it wasn’t something our parents thought was necessary. Sports, yes. Musical instruments, yes. Movies, no. And since Saraswati and Ganesh are worshiped as goddess/god of learning, we were given a day off from books, fed a huge lunch, handed down a hundred rupee note each, and sent off to the cinema. It was fun.

The reason I like my mother’s Chuda Ghassa is that it is not sickly sweet. It is sweet, but it has notes of spice and that really takes it to the next level. And yes, the shudh ghee. Now, you can’t have festival without ghee, can you? But don’t go overboard with it. Moderation is good. (PMS doesn’t count. Nope.)

This goes well with dalma as well as with mutton curry. You can serve it with a side of fresh fruits too.

Ingredients : 

Flattened Rice : 1 1/2 cups

Sugar : 2-3 tablespoons

Coconut : 1/2 (freshly grated)

Green cardamom :3-4

Black cardamom : 1

Peppercorns :4-5

Ghee : 2 tablespoons

Coconut water : 2 tablespoons

Notes:

1.The quantity of ghee in the pic might seem quite overwhelming. I didn’t use the whole of it for this particular recipe. You shouldn’t too.

2. Please don’t substitute butter/oil in place of ghee for this one. Please. Please. Please.

3. You can make laddos out of this mixture. Shape small amounts of the mixture into rounds balls and roll it in some sesame and/or coconut flakes.

Payesh : Rice pudding from Eastern India

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It is 1 am. You are listening to this. You are flipping through his web album, staring at his pictures. So many He-s. You cannot decide which one is your favourite. The one where he is at the TT table, his eye on the ball, the one where you can see the filigree of veins on his arm. Or the one where he is looking out at the sea, his body framed by a fossilised tree.

And then…

R is engaged to R

176 people like this.

So you sigh and sigh and sigh and sigh.  You wish you had said something. Something other than “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps

And then you get up. You walk to the refrigerator. You open it and you say something that rhymes with luck. You curse yourself for having been greedy. For having munched down your last bar of Lindt 85% Cocoa. Curse yourself even harder because you are on a diet.

So you make this. You make this because you know it will take an hour. And you want something to comfort you. You break some rules.  You want to be a good girl no more. You don’t want to soak the rice. You don’t want to boil the milk. You put the water on boil and you add the rice. You add the milk. And you stir and stir and stir and stir. You think about your first memory of this. Of you and your sister. Of that big house with big people. Their big laughter. Your father’s people.

You remember your little sister and her big frown. You remember how she screwed up her face when people called you twins. You remember sitting cross-legged on the terrace with her. With your other cousins. Waiting for the bhojji to start. Waiting for someone to place a leaf plate in front of you. You are hungry. You have been running up and down the house all day. Up and down and up and down and up and down. It is May. Your cousin is getting married. You have lost your first tooth.

You think all this and you stir and stir and stir and stir. You add the cashew-nuts and raisins. And you sigh. You remember the array of dishes in front of you. How the dali almost scalded your tongue. How your sister lifted the khajuri from her tamata-khajuri khata (date and tomato chutney) and placed it on your plate. How you wondered why that leaf bowl beside your plate was still empty. How you saw a steel balti swinging by you. You remember the balti stopping before you and  this being dropped into your bowl. “Paaess“, he had said. You lick the dali-bhata off your fingers and dip your fingers inside the bowl. It is hot. You do what your mother does before she plunks those tiny spheres of dalma-bhata into your sister’s mouth everyday. You blow on it. Phu-Phu-Phu. You love this stuff. You love its velvety texture. You love the fact that your sister picks out all the kaju in her bowl and places it in yours. You ask for a second helping.

You turn off the heat and add the jaggery. And you stir and stir and stir and stir. You sigh. You decide to taste a spoonful of the payesh. And you smile.

Ingredients:

Rice : 3-4 tablespoons

Milk (full fat) : One litre

Sugar : According to taste, plus some more for making the caramel

Date jaggery : A small piece

Cashew nuts : 8-10

Raisins : 8-10

Cardamom : One pod, crushed

Ghee : One tablespoon

Notes:

-You can make this even if you don’t have date jaggery available. Add some date syrup at the end. Or do what my mother does. Increase the amount of caramel. You will end up with a payesh that looks and tastes almost like the real thing.

-You can use normal basmati rice in place of gobind bhog. Just make sure you cook it till it breaks down.

-You can boil and reduce the milk to a  half, cook the rice till it breaks down, and then combine and cook them together. This would be quicker, I think.

-Some professional cooks in Orissa add creme as a shortcut. I wouldn’t recommend that.

Tap on the first picture to see a step-by-step demonstration. There are typos in some of the pictures. I have not been able to edit those. Do overlook them.

Manda Pitha : Steamed Rice Cakes from Orissa

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The dishes that were put out on our dinner table were determined by three things. One, what caught my father’s fancy during his daily morning trip to the haat (the local market). Two, by the Panji (the Oriya almanac, see this ) , which was kept with my mother’s puja samagri ,  and was consulted every so often. And three, by the day of the week. Since we were practicing Hindus, this meant we could have non-vegetarian food only on “meat days” of the week. If you like me were brought up in a Hindu household, you will know what I am talking about. How Monday was dedicated to Lord Shiva (and therefore was a ” no-meat” day), and Saturdays to Shani (also a “no-meat” day). So in our household there were only three days in a week that were earmarked “meat-days”. On all other days we would eat vegetarian meals. But the Panji always had the last word. So, if a small batch of prawns caught my father’s eyes at the haat one morning, and he promptly brought them home hoping to find a hot prawn curry in his lunch dabba, and the Panji had ear marked that day for a specific fast, my mother would glare at him and say “I have a fast to keep today. How could you forget? How could you bring these home today ?” Ofcourse, the prawns would be thrown inside the freezer compartment of our Godrej refrigirator. Ofcourse by my father. My mother wouldn’t touch them. Not when she was fasting.

It was on the days that she was fasting that she would usually make pithas. Pithas are a broad category of fried or steamed (and sometimes baked) cakes (for the want of a better word) made with a variety of flours usually with a sweet filling inside. Though these are sweet, they are not considered desserts and you will not find them at the mitha dokan (sweet shop).  They are made exclusively at home, usually during festivals or certain fasts. And with most things cooked during the day of the fast, these would first be anointed with tulsi leaves (holy basil) and offered to the Gods, and only then would we be allowed to have our share. Manda pitha is a steamed pitha made with rice flour (or paste, as I have done here) with a sweet coconut filling inside. The recipe for the filling  that I have used is the most basic one. Every home has its own signature take and sort of builds up on this, embellishing it with a variety of things. So in some homes they add a handful of channa dal, cooked al dente to the coconut mixture, while in some others they add some crumbled chhenna (paneer/cottage cheese). Some even spice it up with some crushed pepper which, if you ask me really adds some kick to the mixture.  These pithas can be had just by themselves, or as a part of a whole meal.  They go well with the quintessential Oriya dish called Dalma. You could even serve them with some kheer, or even team it up with a hot curry.

{Notes:

-I have used jaggery here. You can replace it with sugar by all means. But make sure you caramelize the sugar.

-You can use just water instead of a mixture of water and milk while making the dough.

-Let the pithas rest for a while before you remove them from the steamer. They will break if you remove them immediately. Slide a spatula and lift the pithas gently.

-The amount of time the rice will need to cook will depend on the type of rice, and the time it has been left to soak. It will help if you keep a cup or two of boiling water ready, in case you need more.

-While making the dough, start whisking the mixture first with a whisk, and then fold with a spatula. This will prevent lumps. If you have made upma before, this wont be a terribly difficult step to master.}

Ingredients:

Rice : 1 1/2 cups

Milk: 1 1/2 cups

Water: 1 cup

Jaggery

Coconut (grated)

Salt : a pinch or two

Cardamom : 2-3 pods

Cashewnuts : 5-6

Raisins : a small handful

Ghee: 2-3 teaspoons

For a step-by-step instruction click on the first picture. You can also see the slide show here: