The Odiya platter

indulgence

The Odiya platter

Scrumptious is the word that came to mind the minute I saw the thaali laid in front of me. It was the first time I was trying out Odiya food.

The large plate was loaded with veggies, rice, kanika (a sweet rice dish), puri, dal, curd-based dishes and dessert. To me, the best part of it was that eggplant – my favourite vegetable –was used quite extensively.

The cuisine of Odisha is said to be one of the oldest in the country. An interesting fact about this cuisine is that every single dish on the plate is put there because it aids wholesome wellness of both the body and the mind.

According to Ashis Rout, executive chef, Intercontinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort, “compared to other regional Indian cuisines, Odiya cuisine uses less oil and is less spicy and yet, it is very flavourful. Rice is the staple food of this region and mustard oil is used extensively as the cooking medium. In temples, ghee is the preferred medium and yoghurt is also used while cooking. The simplicity, usage of the local ingredients, simple cooking methods and medicinal values makes Odiya cuisine distinct.”

Regional flavours

Odiya food is largely vegetarian in places like Puri, which is home to the famed Jagannath temple, and is influenced by the temple culture. Said to be have one of the largest kitchens in India, the temple serves a different set of dishes every day. Rarely will you find the same items being repeated.

“Dalma (lentil and vegetable stew), besara (vegetables cooked with ground mustard), saaga (stir-fried green leafy vegetables), kanika (sweetened rice flavoured with cinnamon and dry fruits) and dahi baingana (eggplant seasoned with curry leaves and tempered with yoghurt) are some trademark dishes of the region,” says Chef Ashis.

In other parts of Odisha, non-vegetarian food is more common. In Sambalpur, the bamboo mutton (lamb marinated and stuffed in bamboo leaves and slow cooked on wood fire), machha besara (fish cooked with raw banana and potato in a mustard gravy), potala chungudi (pointed gourd filled with shrimp and cooked), patra poda (mini shrimp wrapped in green leaf, cooked on wood fire and then mashed with mustard oil, chilly and onion) are some popular dishes.

The differentiator

While the cooking methods are fairly simple, the ingredients matter the most in Odiya cuisine. Even though there is no use of heavy spices, each dish here has a unique aroma and flavour.

“The ingredients most commonly used in Odiya cuisine include plantain, jack fruit, raw papaya, vegetables from the gourd family that grow here abundantly as well as extensive varieties of green, leafy vegetables. The focus is to cook with a lot of locally grown green vegetables and a variation of lentils like toor dal, whole green moong dal and masoor,” says Chef Ashis.

The curries are garnished with dried raw mango powder and tamarind, while coconut is used in several dishes. Panch phutana is a blend of five spices that is widely used in Odiya food and contains mustard, cumin, fenugreek, aniseed and kalonji (onion seeds). Garlic and onion are used in general but avoided in temples. Turmeric and red chillies are a staple too.

Sweet somethings

Desserts are the most important aspect of an Odiya meal. Odisha is known for its large range of sweets that are mainly made from cow milk and fresh chhena (a kind of cheese). In fact, the state has a tradition where its denizens bring sweets when they visit a friend or relative’s place. This apart, it is customary to offer lots of sweets to gods in temples as well.

Kheeri, a milk and rice pudding, and chhena poda – the famous cheese cake made from fresh cheese flavoured with cardamom and baked with charcoal – are well known desserts.

Rasagolla, the well-known dessert, has its origins in Odisha and tastes different here as compared to its Bengali counterpart. Khaja, a puff pastry which is deep fried and soaked in sugar syrup, and kheera, a rich dessert made from reduced milk and fresh cheese and flavoured with cardamom, are some other well-known desserts.

Food from this coastal state is wholesome, healthy and at the same time, sinfully delicious.

  MACHHA BASERA

Ingredients

 Mustard seeds
- half a teaspoon
 Garlic - 4 cloves
 Onion - 60 gms
 Green chillis - 2
 Yoghurt - 40 gms
 Chilli powder
 - 15 gms
 Salt - 10 gms
 Sugar - 20 gms
 Mustard oil - 15 ml
 Rohu fish - 500 gms
 Ginger garlic paste
 - 40 gms
 Turmeric powder
- 15 gms

Method

  Make a fine powder of the
mustard seeds and then add garlic, onion, green chillies and some water to make a fine paste.

 Marinate the fish with the mustard paste, yogurt, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, a pinch of sugar and salt.

 Add 2 teaspoon of mustard oil (preferred) and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes (the longer, the better).

 When ready to cook, pour the marinated mixture into the pan and let it simmer for 4-5 minutes.

 Adjust the water content

depending on the consistency of the gravy needed. For the tempering, heat the oil, add the mustard seeds, curry leaves, finely minced garlic and add the tempering to the fish, once the mustard seeds start to pop. The oil starts to float once the fish is done. Serve hot.

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