Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Nabakalebara: The Almighty's Soul (Part 2)

Continuing from where I left in my last post Nabakalebara: A simpler interpretation of the divine (Part 1), let us now try to take some time off and travel a couple of thousand years back into the history. Let the imagination run wild and transfer you to the Kalinga of the old. I can imagine a verdant, picturesque Kalinga. I can also see in my mind's eye that majority of its people are tribal.
By the way, have you ever thought of Jagannath and wondered about his features and his make? Doesn't an aboriginal tribal aura resonate in his features, his limbs, his eyes, his construction? You must think about it. In fact there is a school of thought that opines that religion was once used to bring all the various tribes of Odisha together and a new God was manufactured who came to be known as Jagannath. Especially when the Aryans invaded the east, they thought of this solution for unification. May be that is why the tribal features! In fact it is also said that Indradyumna was an Aryan (who came from the north) and Vidyapati, his minister was a Dravidian (who came from the south).

In the pic. (from left-to-right): Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannnath
Come on now, if it were that easy to put a finger on the exact origin of Jagannath and his siblings who have been worshiped since a long time in the haloed portals of the majestic Jagannath temple at Puri, would it not be a really dry proposition? There are many theories regarding his origins and that has obviously given rise to a good deal of myth and folklore. 

As mentioned in my last post once the wood has been sourced post the Banajaga Jatra, the brahma daaru (holy wood) is loaded onto bullock carts and brought to the Koili Baikuntha. Koili Baikuntha is that place where the new idols are carved and the old idols are buried. All the previous idols old Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra have been laid to rest there, one atop the other. Koili Baikuntha is a combination of two words, Koili which means burial ground and Baikuntha which means heaven. Also the remaining wood that is left over after the construction of Daaru Brahma (wooden deity/God) is preserved here for replacing any wear and tear that happens to the Gods over the year of worship i.e. till the next Ratha Yatra. On an auspicious day, 9 Maharanas (main carpenters) begin sculpting the idols and are assisted by a fleet of about 150 assistant carpenters . Again, they cannot make the idols as per their wish. They have to follow the instructions laid down in the almanac called "Madalaa Paanji".They have to complete the project within a stipulated time period of 21 days. Austerity is maintained during these 21 days when they cannot leave the premises of the Jagannath Temple and once inside the Koili Baikuntha, they cannot consume (eat/drink/smoke) anything. Also, in the night they have to sleep in the courtyard and partake the Lord's Mahaprasad.

And now comes the interesting part. I mean if it were just facts then you could refer to the Nabakalebara article on Wikipedia. But I believe there is more to Jagannath than what meets the eye. Once the idols have been made, the soul of the old deities is to be transferred into the new idols. But have you ever wondered what the soul looks like? I have been dying to know about it ever since I got to know that such a ritual existed. This ritual is an extremely covert operation, one that takes place in the wee hours of the night, a time when the entire region of Puri is devoid of any form of light. If you were to talk about the location of the moon and stars, then this ritual happens on the midnight of the Adhika Ashadha Krishna Chaturdashi. Refer to my previous blog to know what Adhika Ashadha means. Interestingly no one knows what the Tattwa Padartha/Brahma looks like. When the new idols are carried inside by the Daitapatis, only the three eldest Daitapatis stay for the process of Brahma transfer. They are blind folded and have Jagannath's cloth wound around their arm. There's no way they can touch or see the Brahma. When asked, they said they have felt a very eerie feeling when the Tattwa seems alive and seems to be throbbing in their palms. Beyond that no one can put a finger as to what the Brahma is exactly. 

Some people say Brahmas are the three stones, the ones that Vidyapati stole from the savara (aboriginal forest dweller) Viswabasu. (Read the entire story at the end of this blog). There's yet another school of thought that says the Brahmas are actually three teeth of the Lord Buddha, the ones that Emperor Ashoka had plundered during his invasion of Kalinga. In fact, there is a lot of contention between the 9th avatar of Vishnu's Dasavatar (10 incarnations). There's a group that says Buddha was the 9th Avatar and there's another that says Jagannath was the 9th Avatar. Maybe there is a link and they could be these relics (teeth) that Emperor Ashoka took back home to Magadha. But if they (Brahmas) were teeth then they would have been burnt along with the idols when the vengeful Kalapahad attacked. It is said that he massacred the servitors, pillaged the temples and in an elaborate and sacrilegious fashion burnt the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra. (Don't worry, I will definitely blog about the Kalapahad pillage soon). Legend has it that Bisi Mohanty, thrust his hand into the embers and retrieved three stones and escaped via a secret route to Chillika. By the way, next time you visit the Jagannath Mandir at Puri, make sure you inquire about the Amuha Deula (temple with NO entrance). Perhaps that was the secret rout to the tunnel under the sea and to Chillika. The Jagannath Temple has been plundered 18 times and it is said that whenever there was an attack, the Daitapatis would carry away the Deities and the riches via a secret tunnel under the sea and reach Chillika in record time. Phew.... Man, this could form the perfect setting of an Indi-Harlequin-Romance book.

In the pic. Pattachitra depicting the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu

Therefore, I would concur with that group of people who believe that the Brahmas are stones. But, they are not ordinary stones. They are Saligrams or Shalagramas which are lesser known manifestations of Vishnu. Hindus and especially the brahmins worship the Shalagrams. They also consider it to be living. Maybe that's what the Brahma is. Maybe, may be not. To each his own.

And now the story of how Jagannath came to Puri.

Folklore has it that several centuries ago an aboriginal forest dweller named Viswabasu used to worship the Nilamadhaba in one of the several caves of the Nilagiri mountain. The Nilamadhaba were three shalagramas. Indradyumna, who was then the King of Kalinga, claimed to see a dream where the Nilamadhaba himself expressed a desire to leave the recesses of the mountain cave somewhere near Koraput and be worshipped in a wider area. Indradyumna ordered his minister, Vidyapati to bring the Neela Madhaba to Puri. However, Nilamadhaba was very skillfully hid by Viswabasu and the knowledge of their whereabout was known only to him and his beautiful daughter Lalita. Vidyapati, naturally, tried to entice her and she fell in love with him, rather she walked into the trap. Love as we all know is blind and she led him to the three stones. 
In the pic. Auspicious Vishnu Shalagram

Vidyapati successfully smuggled the three stones and fled to Puri. It was rather coincidental that one that very same day a massive log of wood which was red in color was found on the seashore. Indradyumna saw it as a divine indication and ordered the carpenters to carve three deities out of that log of wood and establish the three stones in them. The deities undeniably were Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra.

After a few days of this incident, Viswabasu reached Puri with his entire family. He requested Indradyumna to let him stay and worship the Nilamadhaba as he was incomplete without him. He also threatened to end his life if Indradyumna took away his right to worship his God. Indradyumna relented and gave conferred upon him the right to stay and worship the Nilamadhaba and change the Brahma. And it is his descendants who came to be known as the Daitapatis and since then, only they have the right to change the Brahma. The Daitapatis also take care of the Lord Jagannath and his siblings when they are kept in the recovery chamber called Anasara graha when is sick after bathing with 108 pots of water under the blazing hot sun. This sickness happens for a fortnight and during this time they take care of the deities, paint them, make-up for any wear and tear that has happened over a year of worship and then take them out in the grand procession called Ratha Jatra.

Vidyapati and his descendants in the meanwhile got the right to worship the deities all the year round except the Anasara fortnight and were given the title of Pujaka.

And here comes to an end an interesting story. 

P.S. You will know more about Ratha Yatra and the essence of Jagannath culture in my final blog on this topic. I am keeping my fingers crossed as to whether I can publish it on time coz Ratha Yatra is just round the corner! Do let me know your thoughts on this one.

Jai Jagannath!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Nabakalebara: A simpler interpretation of the divine (Part I)

There is a feverish anticipation (despite all the scandals) brewing up in my home state of Odisha for the much awaited event of the last two decades, "the Nabakalebara". This is the second "Nabakalebara" in my lifetime. The first time it happened, I wasn't even aware of the word. And perhaps so were you, maybe some of you don't even know about it yet. 
In the pic. Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra depicted on a Pattachitra, a traditional painting form of Odisha

Well, I have already posted three recipes, and I think now is a good time to know about Jagannath, an avatar of Vishnu and the raison d'ĂȘtre of Odiya Tourism. I' m not joking. I hate to say it but this is the truth. If your acquaintance asks you about the state you hail from, you must not just say, "I am from Odisha" for you will be rewarded a questioning look. You must follow it by, "You know, Jagannath Dham, Puri". And then see some recognition set in. However, with mixed feelings I can proclaim that many people (read foreigners) know more about Jagannath than the people of Odisha (and India).

Ok enough of dramatic lamentations. So what if you did not know about Lord Jagannath and the famous Nabakalebara (New Embodiment). You will get to know most of it by the end of this 3-part blog. By the way, I dedicate this blog to my 2 year son and my 65 year old father. This is more like Granpa's gift to sonny boy. I am sure he will love to read it when he grows up. The way his face lights up when he sees the picture of Jagannath, my folks become sure about the process of rebirth. For what child could at the age of 14 months sing the flawlessly the lines:
"Jagannatha Swamy, Nayana Patha Gaami, Bhava Tume" 

By the way, it would not be fair if I did not dedicate this blog to all the expats (enthusiastic Odiyas living elsewhere and within Odisha) and the non-Odiya (but interested) public in general. After all this blog is about Odiya culture and Jagannath is the supreme deity for Odiyas.

Let us then understand how Jagannath, based on whose name the word "Juggernaut" was coined, evolve. Frankly, I don't understand why the English contorted the name of my Lord in this manner. We adore Jagannath as if he is a beloved member of our family. The first invitation card of a forthcoming marriage/any auspicious occasion is first sent to Lord Jagannath. Even before the nubile Odissi danseuse begins to showcase her art, she invokes the blessings of the lord Jagannath by doing a "Mangalacharan".  And on Ratha Yatra day, lakhs of devotees assemble on the Bada Daanda (big road) in front of the centuries old Jagannath Temple, to pull the chariots of Jagannath and his siblings Balabhadra and Subhadra. The mammoth chariots move at a very slow pace as the location gets charged with the cries of "Jai Jagannath". Owing to the massiveness of the chariots and inertia of motion, sometimes they run over people. But common belief has it that "being run-over" is attaining Moksha and therefore out of the cycle of rebirth. Just like those pilgrims who go to Amarnath or to Mecca/Medina! Let us then begin from the beginnings:

The Chaar Dhams (4 holy abodes):

There are four supremely holy places which most Hindu pilgrims must visit at least once in their lifetime. They are the famous Char Dham of Badrinath, Dwaraka, Puri and Rameshwaram. These were established by Adi Guru Shankaracharya. Lord Vishnu is the aradhya devata (primarily worshiped deity) in these four pilgrim sites. In Badrinath (North), he is worshipped as Badrinarayana and in Dwaraka (West) he is known as Rannachhod (another name of Lord Krishna. In Rameswaram (South), people offer their prayers to Sri Rama and in Puri (East) he is known as Jagannath. Look closely and you will understand that by doing this, Shankaracharya wanted to integrate the Indian Peninsula. And what better medium than Religion!
In the Pic. The Jagannath Temple at Puri in the night

Adi Guru Shankaracharya was born in troubled times. Those were the darkest days of Hinduism, when the religion that had been misrepresented and had become too orthodox and in a way brutal for the common masses, was fragmenting into several other religions (Buddhism, Jainism, etc.). Shankaracharya waged a crusade against the Buddhist and Jain monks and breathed a new lease of life into the dying religion and encouraged those who had converted to return to the fold. He is the father of the Hindu Vedanta philosophy. In fact, most temples in Odisha have lions pouncing upon elephants near the entrance to the temples. This is symbolic of Hindu dharma's victory ( represented by lion, Goddess Shakti's mount) over Buddhism (symbolized by the elephant as a reference to Lord Buddha).

What differentiates Jagannath from the other three deities is that they are made of stone while Jagannath is made of wood. Any question of wear and tear is ruled out in case of the other three deities. However, in case of Jagannath and his siblings the wood has to be changed once in every 8, 12 or 19 years. This year the Nabakalebara is being held after a span of 19 years. The wood of the Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) is specifically used for making the idols because wood from the other trees is prone to pests. However, that is not the case with the Neem Tree. The virtues of the Neem tree are extolled in Ayurvedic literature with each part of the tree being used for its medicinal properties. Just do a wiki search and you will know for yourself how it helps retard the growth of over 500 varieties of insects, mites, ticks and nematodes. 

Banajaaga Jatra: The Search "Party"

When you are dealing with a deity, there has to be some folklore. Nabakalebara usually happens in the month of Ashadha (corresponding to June/July in the Gregorian calendar). In the years when Nabakalebara happens the month of Ashadha stretches to almost the beginning of August. The Banajaaga Jatra (Expedition in search for the holy tree) starts right after Maha Vishubha Sankranti (also the Odiya New Year). It is common knowledge that about 40-50 Daitapatis embark on the expedition. According to protocol, on the first day they halt at the Deuli Matha and leave at the first light of the dawn. Then they proceed to Mangala Mandir where they perform several incantations, lie down in the temple premises and observe a fast till the Goddess shows one of their chiefs, the direction of the holy trees.

It could be a myth or it could be a primitive way of market research. I will tell you why...
Thanks to the media, a best kept secret is now out of the bag. What was usually a covert operation has been publicized to the hilt. The general public never got an inkling of which tree would be "The One. The Daitapatis would secretly go on this mission, procure the trees and then let the world know. Many believe that the entire process is pre-planned because historically the trees have been sourced either from Undivided Cuttack district or Undivided Puri district. But never, ever beyond that.

Two important reasons come to my mind:
1. Proximity of these two locations to easily transport the wood to the temple premises
2. Cuttack and Puri were the business powerhouses during the golden days of Kalinga. 

Here's an explanation for the second point. Puri, owing to its location suited maritime activities. And Cuttack which was originally the capital of erstwhile Kalinga also hosted the centuries old famous maritime trade festival of Boita Bandana (also known as Bali Jatra). Odisha strategic location helped it trade with the various South East Asian countries viz. Bali, Java, Sumatra etc.)

Specifications of the Holy Trees:

All Neem Trees cannot be Holy trees. The have to pass through certain stringent tests to qualify. Some of the conditions are as follows:
1. No bird should have built its nest on the tree
2. There should be a ant hill/termite mound nearby
3. A cobra should be residing in that termite mound
4. People should not have cut the tree at any point of time
Interestingly, these seem quite logical and self explanatory. If there is an ant hill/termite mound nearby, it forms a perfect place for a snakes residence. Usually cobras reside in anthills. Now, people are generally afraid of snakes, so they won't venture to cut the tree for fear of the snake. Usually, birds do not build their nests on trees where there are snakes nearby, for the fear of the snake eating the eggs/chicks. I told you all this was explanatory. By the way, I am not referring to those signs part of shankha, chakra, gada, padma because I find it akin to modern art and hence open to interpretations. 

(P.S. I will continue on the topic of Origin of Jagannath, Brahma Parivartana, Assigning of Roles and Responsibilities to Sevayats in my next post. Keep watching this space for more! In case you have any queries, just put it in the comments below.)  

Jai Jagannath!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Aamba(Mango) Khatta: Hot, Sweet And a bit Sour. Just like Life!

First of all, this one is dedicated to all my vegetarian friends and my Father.

And now about the dish... It is strangely, not a curry and not a pickle. It's different. Try it. Taste it and eat it for days. And, kick yourself in the ... (ahem, ok wherever you like) when it gets over... ;)

But seriously, all you need is a refrigerator. And this special recipe right from my granny's hearth stays perfect for at least 10 days. I firmly believe my mum makes the best Aamba Khatta in the whole wide world. For the love of her and for the great pride I have in her craft, I don't touch it if someone else makes it, and it doesn't look right, and audaciously calls it Aamba Khatta. However, I deviate from this promise if they say they have made Mango Jelly (which is almost always on the menu in Odiya weddings). Because, in case of this recipe (followed by a pregnant silence and almost mute coughs), there is everything in a name. LOL, I should have been in a drama school.

Doesn't that look drool worthy, creating desires in your heart that seemed to have spent a lot of time sleeping. Huh... enough of hysterics now. By the way this dish is a Father's day special for me. It was for the first time I made it all by myself (of course under the expert supervision of my super mum). But really, I was doing something other than cooking on Father's day as well. That will be revealed in my next post(s) for it will NOT be about food.

Remember, this one thing. And trust me it is very important. If you venture to make this amazing recipe, try your hands at it if you get ONLY this particular variety of mangoes (see pic alongside). Anything other than this variety in particular, and your dish will be a let down! This variety of raw mangoes is called Kalami in Odiya. The advantage of using this variety is that unlike others it doesn't get all squishy squashy and pulpy.The flesh of the mangoes remain intact and yet get to bit into that oh-so-delicious sweet something. And it is not just sweet... There is a hint of sourness because of the rawness of the mango and there is a bit of hotness because of the chilli powder. 

Try your hand at it and revel in a tsunami of flavors. But most importantly, try your hand at it before the season of mangoes ends. 

Let's get down to brass tacks then. Here's what you will need:
  • 1 kg of Kalami mangoes
  • 1/2 kg of Palm Jaggery (Khajuri Guda)( This one gives a great taste and much better than the sugarcane version)
  • 20 dates (you can add more if you like, doesn't matter whether they are seeded or seedless)
  • A fistful of Raisins (Kismis)
  • 1.5 tbsp Asafoetida (Hing)
  • 1.5 tbsp Fennel Seeds (Saunf)
  • 1 tbsp Onion seeds (Kalonji)
  • 1 tsp Turmeric Powder
  • 1 tbsp Red Chilli Powder
  • Ginger 2 inch (grated)
  • Cardamom 5-6 (coarsely ground)
  • 1 tbsp Salt
  • 2 tbsps of refined oil
  • 1 tbsp of atta (flour)
  • A bunch of Curry Leaves
  • Water
And the process. Here's how it goes:

Cut the mangoes into big chunks. Do not peel the mangoes. As you can see in the collage (top right) the endocarp remains but you must make sure that you remove the kernel. Put them in a colander and thoroughly wash. Do not cut the mangoes into bit size pieces because they will melt away when cooked.

Heat the wok. Add the oil. When the oil heats up add the Asafoetida. Do not let it burn. Immediately add the Fennel Seeds followed by Onion Seeds. The moment it starts spluttering add the grated ginger followed by curry leaves. Saute the mixture. You will start floating in an aromatic environment.

Get your feet on the ground. Add the cut and washed mangoes. Mix everything well. Add the Jaggery. On a medium flame keep mixing the entire stuff. Add the turmeric, salt, chilli powder, dates and raisins. The salt will cause the mangoes to release water.  Keep stirring on a slow flame. The jaggery will melt away to form a very thick gravy. Add about 2 cups of water. Keep cooking and continue checking the consistency. Add the ground cardamoms and let the Khatta simmer. 

The trick: If it is too watery and you want that jelly like gravy without mushing up the mango pieces, just add 1 tbsp of atta (flour) to 2 tbsps of water. Mix it well and add it to the simmering Khatta.

Check the mangoes. They should be perfect neither overcooked nor uncooked. Just perfect, radiant, golden, succulent pieces beckoning you pick them up and savor the hot-sweet-sour fleshy delight. Remove from heat and cool it.

Eat it on a meatless Monday/Thursday or with your meat. Seriously, who cares! That heavenly awesome side dish belongs to you. It's yours!

Let me know how it was... Having your granny's kitchen come to your's.


Friday, 19 June 2015

Machha Dopiaza or Fish Dopiaza: The easiest fish dish ever!

Consuming onions could lower the risk of several types of cancer, improve mood and maintain the health of skin and hair. Using onions as the chief ingredient with fish creates a lip-smacking delicacy. Don't tell me you never knew about about it. And even if you did not... well now you do! Cheers!!!

The goodness of onion and the greatness of fish. Presenting to you Machha Dopiaza, a simple and scrumptious affair. My mum prefers to call it Machha Dobhaji because the fish is fried twice. But then what's in a name? The fish cooked this way would taste just as great!

Just a little insight before you proceed. How would you know whether the fish that you purchased is actually the freshwater (read river) variety? It is simple... You would know for yourself when you fry it. It wont give out the regular fishy odor but a sweeter fragrance would waft up to your nostrils and fill your entire house. 

Here's the list that you need. 

  • 500 gms of Rohu / Catla fish
  • 1 tbsp Turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp Ginger Garlic paste 
  • 1 tsp Chilli Powder
  • 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
  • 2 large onions 
  • 3-4 green Chillies 
  • 1/2 cup coarse grated carrot
  • 1/4 cup green peas (frozen/fresh)
  • 1 large boiled potato cubed
  • 1 small capsicum 
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt
  • Cooking Oil (Mustard/Refined)
  • Chopped coriander for garnishing

And now that you have all the ingredients ready, let's do first things first. And that is marinade the fish. Clean and marinade the fish with 1/2 tbsp turmeric powder, 1/2 tbsp salt, 1 tsp chilli powder and 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste and keep it aside for half an hour.

In the meanwhile, chop the onions. Boy, you need 2 large onions... After all this is Dopiaza. Onions are what you would eating when you dont have your mouth full with that heavenly fish. So cry all you can but onions you must chop! 

A little tip becomes handy here. If you cut the onions lengthwise in thin strips or cube it, you must follow the similar cuts for the capsicum and tomato. Why? Because it looks good that way. :)

Fine Fine.... So the veggies are all ready. Time to light the stove.

Take a kadhai and add some oil. Let it heat. First of all fry the fish, all of it. I would suggest you not to use too much oil.  We are using large sized fish and it has a tendency to release its oil while frying. Better to use little amounts and supplement whenever necessary. Do not deep fry the fish and do not fry it lightly too. The key here is to fry the fish right. Remove the fish when you see the outer side becoming reddish brown.

Once the fish is fried use that same left-over oil. Add the cumin seeds, followed by green chillies slit length wise. Saute and then add the bay leaf and onions. When the onions start turning transparent, add the capsicum. Again saute and add the carrot. When the carrot gets a bit cooked add the tomatoes. Saute for some more time and then add the cubed boiled potatoes. Mix it all well and add the green peas and some salt. Cover it and let it cook on a slow flame for some time. Now add the fish and 1/2 cup of water. Mix everything well and cook it on a slow - medium flame for some time. Switch off the stove when all the water has evaporated leaving behind a slight gravy. Garnish with coriander, raw onion cut into rings and serve.

Since this is an almost dry item, you would need some dal with your rice. Happy cooking and eating folks. Try this extremely easy dish and let me know how it came out. Put in your comments before. I would be more than happy to help!



Thursday, 11 June 2015

Dahi Machha: A tale of curd and the fish

It does not matter who originally owned this recipe, Odiyas or Bengalis. If you made it and it tastes great, its yours. Period. And I know it would taste great because

"Great ingredients make great food"

As promised in my last post on Odia's and their love for fish, here's the recipe for the much awaited Dahi Machha.

Fish that melts in your mouth leaving the tangy after taste of curd, a hint of lime and mustard. The goodness of whole spices and those whole flakes of garlic that open the windows to heaven. And while you savor the dish with some Usuna Bhaata (Double boiled rice) make sure you smash those almost whole green chillies for that fiery effect. Oh I can write an ode to the tantalizing Dahi Maacha...

So what are the ingredients for this master craft. Since many of you reading this blog will be trying the dish for the first time, I will suggest smaller portions... I am sure it will be a hit... but isn't it great to be left wanting for more!

Soak 1.5 tsp of mustard seeds (the bigger sized ones) and 1.5 tsp of cumin seeds in water for about half an hour. This will ensure that they get ground to a smooth paste. And then you grind it.

We will obviously need 500 gms of fish (make sure that they are cut into bigger sizes so that they do not disintegrate during the initial shallow frying). I used Rohi for my boys love its taste. you can use Bhakura (Catla) if you wish to. Wash and marinade the fish in some 1 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp of turmeric powder and 1.5 tbsp of lemon juice.

N.B: Make sure you do not overshoot the marination time of 15-20 mins.

**There is a tip that you can use for the best taste. When you buy the fish ask the vendor to give you a portion from a fish that weighed 2-2.5 kgs when it was a whole one. Years of fish eating has made me realize that fish of this weight category are sweeter in taste and have lesser bones. 

Add a pinch of sugar and whisk 2 cups of curd/yogurt (regular cups and not the larger sized ones). you may omit the sugar if you want to... However adding it normalizes the sour taste of the curd. Absolutely your wish. I did not add because I love it when my teeth sing.

Chop 2 medium sized onions lengthwise (they look good that way). Just peel the skin of 10 flakes of garlic and keep them whole. Make tiny incisions on few green chillies (5-6) so that they do not splutter on your face when you offer them to the oil. You will also need 1 tsp of the smaller variety of mustard seeds, 5-6 peppercorns and 3-4 cloves. A sprig of curry leaves and 2 tbsps of chopped coriander will make the dish look verdant and add to the aroma.

Odiyas and Bengalis love their fish cooked in mustard oil, however if you are allergic to the smell then use the regular refined oil. Do not worry this dish does not use too much oil. you will hardly need 4 tbsps of oil (Mustard/Refined).

And now let the rendezvous begin.

Heat a kadhai. Add 3 tbsps of mustard oil. Shallow fry the fish so that they just look a shade of light brown colour on both the sides and keep them aside.

** While frying fish, make sure the oil is really hot (some fumes should appear). Immediately after you leave the fish in the oil, flip it over. This ensures that the fish does not stick to the pan)

Normally when you fry the fish, the fish releases some oil... So you will have plenty of oil for the curry. Now add the mustard seeds, watch it splutter. Add the green chillies. Saute it a couple of times. The peppercorns and cloves go in next. Add the curry leaves followed by the onions and the whole garlic flakes. Saute them for some time till the onion start turning transparent. And please follow the sequence. All these activities are to be done on a slow to medium flame.

Remember the paste that we had made in the beginning? The one that had mustard seeds and cumin seeds? Well, its time has come. Add this to the pan. This paste is like the soul of the dish. And it has to be cooked for a minute to let any raw taste go away.

Our semi-fried fish comes in next. Add the fish and gently saute the entire mixture in the pan for half a minute. The last one to go in is the curd. Add the curd and add 2 cups of water. Mix everything well, add some more salt (according to your taste) and keep it on a low flame. This will prevent the curd from boiling over and will gradually increase the thickness of the gravy. You may have to wait on it for about 20 mins till the gravy becomes thick and creamy. When you switch off the flame add 1 tsp mustard oil and garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

You must have it with rice as that only will make the meal complete. Oh you must not forget your afternoon siesta after this. That is a must, for you need to lust after the dish in your dreams as well.

Happy cooking folks.... And drop in your comments below and let me know how it was!

My dear friend Padmaja inspired me to finally get serious about food blogging after I sent her the above pic on Whatsapp... Cooking has always been my passion and I experiment a lot, but getting myself to write was a very tough task.. Finally I nailed it on my blog site. Thanks to you and all my friends on Facebook who wanted it, this recipe saw the light of the day!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

We Odiyas love a "fishy" affair!

Seriously we do!

The reason why fish forms a predominant part of the Odiya culinary culture is not hard to fathom. This coastal state of India has the sea on one side and several rivers and tributaries crisscrossing their paths across the body of the state. There are also man made and natural lakes and ponds. Needless to say these waterbodies abound in fishes of myriad varieties.

A newly wed bride has to be accompanied by a parcel of fresh fish, curd and saaga (green leafy vegetables). We offer fish as an offering to Goddess Durga on the ninth day of the Durga Puja (just like our neighbors from the state of Bengal do). There is also a folklore attached to the presence of fish in the Mahaprasad offered to the state deity Lord Jagannath. Once upon a time an ascetic residing at the Emara Matha near Jagannath Temple. It was a ritual that Mahaprasad would be served to the ascetics residing there. This particular ascetic while partaking his food found a small fish in his Mahaprasad. He did not throw away his food. Instead he took a bite of the fish and said... "well, well now that this little fish was found in the Mahaprasad, this becomes a Mahaprasad too".

There is also a historical account about Odiya's and fish as well. Mahatma Gandhi had once come to Odisha on a "padayatra". One day when he sat down to eat his lunch he found his host Pandit Nilakantha Das sitting across and relishing his Rice and Fish Curry. The Mahatma criticized him and said, "You follow the path of Ahimsa and yet you eat fish. That is disgraceful". Pandit Nilakantha Das promptly replied, "Mahatma, you come from a state where there is abundance of Milk, Butter, Ghee, Curd etc. Ours is a poor state and fish is the only source of animal protein. Besides, here the price of milk is far too much higher that the price of fish." And that made Gandhiji realize his mistake. He is even quoted to have said that the poor can eat fish for their nutrition. I guess that is enough of history!

Based on their origin, the taste of the fishes differ starkly. If the fish came from the river it would have a very sweet taste obviously because of the flowing fresh water; if it is from a pond, it will have a distinct earthy taste, if it is from the sea, you will know it because of its slightly saline taste and if it is from Andhra (which happens to be the case mostly) it will be insipid (you need to add extra flavors) and even the texture of the flesh reminds you of its brief stay in the cold storage.

Well I am from Cuttack and thank God I can get my hands on some really fresh fish straight from the rivers Mahanadi and Kathajodi. And of course I must thank my father for it. He is one one who wakes up early in the morning and is almost always the first customer of our trusted fish seller. We call it Nai Maachha (River Fish). It could be Rohi (Rohu, Rui, Rahu) or Bhakura (Catla) or Mirikali (Mrigal), Kala Bainsi (Calbasu), Pohala and the the famous Ilisi (Hilsa) just to name a few. Odiya's swear by its sweet taste and can eat it fried or curried or steamed.

You will have to wait just a little bit more for the rendezvous to begin.

Coming up soon the famous Dahi Maachha recipe....