Tag Archives: Oriya

Masala Pohola Maccha Bhaja: Pepper Fish Fry

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Fish cravings V 1.0

Deep fried. Shallow fried. Steamed. Mashed. Minced. Filleted. Whole. Fish heads. And roe.Floating in mustard sauce. In yogurt sauce. In thin gravies. In thick ones. Batter-fried. Rava encrusted. Chutney wrapped. With winter vegetables. And dried mangoes.

This was all I could think of as I packed my bags for my bi-annual trips home. Every single time. And the first meal I had after Rajdhani deposited me, faithfully on time at Bhubaneswar station, had to be fishy. It was the same with Tina, my sister. Even though she made a trip every three months, good daughter that she is. We even counted the number of meat eating days we were lucky to have during our stay (see this to know more), since that translated into the number of times fish would make it to the dinning table, and the possible number of combinations in which it would arrive. Tina had (and she tells me still does) a list of things she just-had-to-eat on every single trip. A sort of bucket list. And that very often included fish for breakfast. Yes, you heard that right. Heart shaped fillets of Rohu marinated in a simple mixture of salt, turmeric and chilli powders, and shallow fried in golden mustard oil. This was the first step to making a fish curry that would form a part of my father’s lunch box that he carried with him to his office. My mother reserved some for the curry, some for a simple stir fry with green chillies and lots of onions, and the few that were left we happily had for breakfast. Just one per person, in case this whole story is forcing you to come up with rather dodgy names to refer to us-the Oriya Fish-ters or such like.

Fish Cravings V.2.0

By now you have probably worked it out that our family is very partial to a particular category of vertebrates. If you haven’t, let me say it loud (in my best Gollum voice) “WE NEEDS IT. WE WANTS IT. ITS OUR PRECIOUS“. Even when we traveled outside Orissa a good fish dish really made our trip. We were always open to trying local food, and more than happy if our beloved fish was a part of the local cuisine. One of my family’s favourite trip had been to Kerala. I opted out of it since a summer internship by some strange logic made more sense to me than vacationing in “God’s own country”. My parents and sister would call me and fill me in with the details of the day, the places the went to, the sights the saw, the food they ate. My father just could not stop praising the KarimeenCan you make it? It was excellent. It was wrapped in banana leaves. And coated with spices. Can you make it? It was very good. It had black pepper. Can you make it?”   

I have imagined standing behind Chinese fishing nets, a packet of banana chips in hand, taking in coral sunsets. I have bit into macaroons in delicate boutiques in Paris. Tasted rhubarb pies in farmers markets in England. Torn tiny pieces of Prata and dunked it into fragrant curries in Singapore. All without traveling. Most through my sister. Some through my parents. And a few via the accounts of my friends. Food enthralls me. It makes me want to travel. Since my family’s trip to Kerala, I was intrigued by the Karimeen. And by my sisters accounts of the spices found there. “You have to see the spices hanging off the creepers. The nutmeg? It looks so healthy! So glossy!” . So what if I couldn’t travel? I had my time-machine-my kitchen. I could cook. Experience what my father had experienced when he had his first bite of Karimeen pollichathu. That counts for something, doesn’t it?

I have made Karimeen pollichathu quite a few times. And I have loved it every single time. I love the pollichathu mix. I love the fact that it uses pepper in three ways-red chilli powder, black pepper powder, and freshly crushed black pepper. All the three add different layers of spice, hit different spots. If you are going to make this dish, I’d suggest add all the three or don’t make the dish. After making this dish a few times I wondered how would the pollichathu mix take to local Oriya fishes. I tried it with one of my father’s favourite fishes-pohala/pohada. Its a small river fish, a little larger than an adult palm in size, and looks very similar to herring. It was excellent.

I have tweaked this specific rceipe by removing a few things from what would otherwise be used in making Karimeen polichathu, like, coconut and curry leaves. This is NOT a recipe for Karimeen polichathu. Its my way of travelling. From my kitchen. I would not want you to call it “fusion” cooking since that term conjures really bad images in my mind. Like overcooked pasta in tomato ketchup. No, forget pasta in tomato ketchup. Its not fusion cooking. Its just bad cooking.

You can serve it as a side with the usual rice-dal-sabzi lunch or serve it as an appetizer.

Ingredients

Pohola or any small fish-4

Turmeric-1 teaspoon

Red chilli powder-1 teaspoon

Pepper powder-1 teaspoon

Pepper, crushed-1 tablespoon

Ginger, minced-1 tablespoon

Garlic, minced-1 tablespoon

Lime- one half, plus more to drizzle, if required.

Salt-to taste.

Mustard oil-half cup

 

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Guguni : Yellow Peas

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Train journeys were an integral part of my growing up years.  Since my father was transferred to a new place every couple of years on account of his job, and both his and my mother’s parents lived in Cuttack, we traveled very frequently to meet them.  One such place was Balasore, situated in the northern part of the state, sharing its borders with West Bengal. We lived there for around three years and both me and my sister started our school there. Balasore was connected to Cuttack by the East Coast Railways and it took approximately three hours to reach Cuttack from there. We usually took a train around noon (I think), and were at Cuttack by late afternoon. Now, if you have traveled around India courtesy the Indian Railways as much as I have, you would definitely have a culinary map of all the routes you have traveled on. My four year old sister already knew the various stations and the food one could expect to find there. If you are travelling  around coastal Orissa, one quick snack that you will definitely encounter on the train is masala mudhi (a spicy puffed rice mixture). This was the first thing our parents bought for us, thanks to my sister. The next thing on her list used to be guguni (mushy yellow peas). These were available only at Bhadrak, where the train halted for no more than five minutes. My father would get down quickly and be back with two servings of guguni. These came in bowls made of dried leaves, stiched together, and were called daana. Each bowl was topped with a thin slice of fresh coconut, and came with a disposable wooden spoon. We even knew the guy who sold the best guguni by name and didn’t buy it from anyone other than him! So on days when we didn’t find him, or when his wares were sold out, my parents promised my crestfallen sister a treat on our way back.

Guguni is used in a number of ways in Orissa. It is used as an accompaniment to most tea time snacks, like Piaji, Bara, and Alu Chop. It is also an integral part of the quintessential Cuttacki snack called Dahi-Bara-Alu-Dam-Guguni (DBADG).  A whole maidan in front of Barbati stadium is filled with carts selling just this! But this is not the best place to go searching for a fill of this massively popular street food, if you ask me. The really good ones have their carts in specific sahis and are known only to locals. DBADG is assembled on the spot for customers. First the dahi baras (urad dal dumplings soaked in buttermilk) are placed at the bottom of the leaf bowl. This is followed by a helping of alu-dam (spicy potatoes in a gravy) and guguni (yellow peas). The vendor then drizzles some yogurt, adds some chopped onions, and finally sprinkles some very fine sev on top before handing you a (by now)  very heavy bowl of DBADG. The dahi baras, that are used for these are unlike the dahi vada that you find else where. They are really small, usually the size of a Piaji (that I had made before). They are first soaked in water and then soaked in a very thin yogurt mixture. Most vendors selling DBADG also add a mitha dahi bara to every bowl.

In Bhubaneswar there aren’t many places that sell DBADG. But what you find is Guguni being sold as a snack in itself. So around 4 pm you’ll find men setting up temporary stalls selling this. The stalls really comprise of two stools, the smaller one balancing a huge vat of Guguni, and the other used by the vendor to sit.  These are sold very cheap, around two rupees a bowl. The vendor spoons some of the mixture in a leaf bowl, sprinkles some black salt, and then drizzles some tamarind water (out of an old bottle of coconut hair oil) on top.

The Guguni that is sold on the street is different from the one that is made at home (which is usually served for breakfast with puris). For one, it tends to be more spicy. Also, it is kept really simple, because it is used more like an accompaniment. The one that is made at home is more of a curry, cooked with tomatoes and onions (and a host of other things). I prefer the street version. Even though the recipe that I have used below is based entirely on what my taste buds thought they could detect, these do taste like the real thing!

Ingredients:

Dried yellow peas

Ginger

Turmeric

Cinnamon 

Dried Red Chilli

Cumin seeds

Black peppercorns 

Salt

Black Salt

Piaji : Dal fritters from Orissa

My sister’s eyes used to light up when my father proposed something takaliya .  She would beam at my father, put on her shoes, and shout back to my mother “Bhai sangere jauchi. Khaiki asibi” (I am going out with bhai. Will eat out). She called my father bhai (big brother) instead of the baapa (oriya for father) like yours truly did. She always had a mind of her own. That kid surely did.  I always pictured them as a part of some secret fraternity, a brotherhood, hanging out together, doing cool things, two buddies walking into the sunset together. I don’t remember what I did while they were away busting gangs, but what I remember is them coming back, my sister more chirpy than she had left, usually with the spoils of the war-a newspaper packet. A hot newspaper packet, speckled with oil.  “Jaldi kholo! Ebe baharila kareiru! Jaldi kholo thanda heijiba” (Quick! Open this! These just came out of the frying pan. Open the packet quickly or these will get cold).  Inside would be all sorts of fried goodness (everything tastes good when fried, remember?), dusted with black salt. I would pick  one up, take a bite, take two bites and reach for more, all the while making stories about two great buddies, one considerably shorter than the other with her hair bunched up in the front, almost resembling a whale spout.

I don’t know how to translate takaliya into English.  I don’t even know if its an Oriya word, even though it was used often in our household (parents are constantly making up things, so one never knows). Savoury is too overarching a category, and sounds particularly insipid when it is used to describe food that is supposed to make your mouth water.

Piaji, Pakudi, Bara, Alu chop are some the favourite tea time snacks in Cuttack, where my father was born and brought up, and where both me and my sister were born. It is known for its street food (or so my father claims. He claims quite a lot of things for this beloved city of his, by the way). Being an old town, unlike Bhubaneswar, it has a rather amorphous urban topography. The city is made of sahis (plural) that are usually made up of a single street with houses on either side.  Sahis are mini localities in themselves and people have very strong social (and emotional) attachments with their own sahis.  Every sahi (neighbourhood) has a shop that specializes in these and you will find a horde of people outside these shops since the moment it opens, usually just in time for tea.  Most of them have walls made of wooden planks and a tin roof, and are very small square structures.  These shops are usually manned by two men, the older one doing the frying and the younger one packing  things for the waiting masses. The frying goes on till the supplies last, which is generally till dinner time. By 8 pm most of these shops close and the men manning them start for their long walk home.

Piaji is a onion and dal fritter. Even though it is usually served as a snack at tea time, it is sometimes served as a part of the lunch as well. A typical Oriya lunch has at least five accompaniments-dal, a side of vegetables, bhaja, bharta, and khata. Bhaja is a vegetable stir fry, seasoned with salt and turmeric, and some cumin at times. These fritters are sometimes served in the place of bhaja or even in addition to it. When guests arrived unannounced at our home during lunch, my mother’s way of “jazzing” up the lunch plate was to quickly slice some brinjals or potola (parwal or pointed gourd, dip them in a mixture of besan (chickpea batter) and deep fry them.  These fritters are also crumbled into a favourite Oriya snack-masala mudhi (a spicy mix of puffed rice, onions, chillies, and a host of other things, brought together by a drizzle of raw mustard oil and a dash of lemon juice).

Ingredients

Channa Dal- 1 cup

Onion (finely chopped)-2, medium

Dry Red Chillies-3

Green Chillies-4-5

Ginger-1 inch piece

Garlic- 1 large clove

Salt- to taste

Oil- for frying

Black salt

Tap on the first picture for a step by step demonstration.

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: