Tag Archives: Festival

Poda Pitha : Spiced Rice and Coconut Cake from Orissa

Image

 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

Image

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.