Sunday, July 6, 2008
Summer afternoon in a Oriya household with Pakhala...(Precautionary warning - Long post :))
As a kid, summer meant early closing of school, lassi in the evening and lots and lots of festivals (some specifically directed for particular section of people such as unmarried girls, married women). And the most important change in food, you can have lots of mangoes "amba" to eat and the soothing "Pakhala" for lunch. Read on if you would like to get a glimpse at some of my most coveted close-to-heart memories of summer in India and my attempt at trying to keep some of that going on in this far-far-away land of America!
Summer meant half-day school..which kid would not love that ;) Schools start early so that they can close early and everyone can get home early and avoid the heat. Not sure how much the "avoid the heat" objective of this idea worked...coz this meant for me and my friends more play-time in the evening, starting a little early in the afternoon :) This was in addition to a long summer vacation which usually commenced late April and ended late June. Note though that my teachers would load us with more homework than one can handle (ofcourse!). Actually, this year, the heat was so much that schools were closed early for summer vacation. Do you know that in the past few years, Orissa has recorded some of the highest temperatures in India? Sad!
Of course, how can I forget to add the hours of power outage that provided plenty of opportunity for family time ..talk about finding the silver lining in the cloud :) Early on, these outages were random and strewn throughout the day. This became a lot more organized where the electricity board would make postings in the daily newspaper (and eventually announcements on local TV channels) about the time in various areas where power outage "load-shedding" would occur!! Being in the capital of Orissa provided us some relief at times. Should check with Maa-Baba if the situation is still the same! >:(
One best thing about Bhubaneswar is that you get plenty of cool breeze in the evening, such a pleasant respite from the humid heat. In the summer breeze, sitting with family and friends and enjoying a cool glass of mango lassi is heavenly. With some spicy accompaniments such as Aloo chop, samosa (called "singada" in Orissa) for company, the world is so right! Miss those evenings :(
Now the heat does not deter the festivities from engulfing everyone. There are two special festivals during this time - Savitri Amabasya for married women to pray for their husbands (quite similar to the Karva Chauth of North India with different rituals based on the Savitri-Satyaban mythology) and a 3-day Rojo/Rajah for young girls to celebrate and enjoy the swings (actually this festival falls quite close to the onset of monsoon). During Savitri Amabasya, ladies fast for their husband's long life. They can eat any fruit though on that day, no rice nor any cooked foods.
Talking of fruits, mango is aplenty in this season and there are a number of varieties of the same in the market. Raw mangoes are pickled into a sweet pickle (yes, it is sweet which used to be a major surprise for my non-Oriya friends who were only used to the hot mango pickle!). We used to have mangoes after lunch cut into slices. Just could not wait to finish up lunch..
Coming to lunch, Pakhala is the one we would have most often during summer. I believe this is one of the most authentic Odiya food. If I am not mistaken, the rest of the eastern part of India also have some variant of this. Pakhala is rice soaked in water which is served with various other accompaniments. The rice can be tempered with different types of tempering based on taste.
In my in-laws place, they even have this for breakfast followed by a late lunch. Last time when I was in India, R's aunt had made some real delicacies - Ladyfinger in Mustard sauce and green beans in onion gravy. Though I tried to watch and learn, I just cannot mimic it here. Next time I am in India, I am going to make sure to learn it first! I crave for them every time we have Pakhala here!
The above pic shows pakhala with ladiesfinger fry ("bhendi bhaja"), mashed shrimp ("chingudi checha"), crushed badi ("badi chura") and mashed potato ("aloo chakata"). You could possibly have it with it with any curry, as long as it is not gravy-based.
Pakhala - serves 4
Raw rice - 1.5 cup
Yogurt - as per taste
Canola oil - 1 tsp
Mustard seed - 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves - 6-10
Crushed garlic - 1 tsp
Soak the cooked rice with water for a few hours. The longer you soak the rice, the ore it ferments and the more lethargic you will feel after eating it :) I usually for an hour or two. Some like it soaked overnight!
Before serving, garnish the soaked rice with some sour yogurt.
Additionally, you can "chaunk" it. Heat canola oil. Add mustard seed. Once it crackles, add 6-10 curry leaves and crushed garlic.
Ladiesfinger fry / "Bhendi bhaja" - serves 4
Ladyfinger - 20-30
Canola oil - 1 tbsp
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Salt - 1/2 tsp or as per taste
Chilli powder - as per taste
Clean the ladyfinger with water. Soak it dry with a paper towel and cut it into 1 inch pieces. You definitely don't want to cut and clean them - they end up very gooey and messy!
Heat canola oil. Add the cut ladyfinger. Stir in high heat till it stops sizzling and all the gooey stuff has vanished. Add turmeric powder, salt and chilli powder. Note - You can add a tbsp of onion-ginger-garlic paste after the ladyfinger is half-cooked, for additional taste. Cook in Medium heat for some time to complete the cooking.
Mashed shrimp / "Chingudi Checha" - serves 4
Small or medium-sized shrimp with head - 30-40 small or 15-25 medium
Green Chilli - 2
Garlic - 2-3 large cloves (Pod is the grouping of Cloves)
Red onion - 1/2 thinly chopped
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp - 1 tsp, as per taste
Salt - as per taste
Chilli powder - as per taste
Marinade the shrimp (after de-veining it, I leave the shell on for the extra crunch) with salt, chilli powder and turmeric powder for 15-20 mins.
Heat some canola oil and fry the marinated shrimp till well-cooked.
Using the food processor, lightly crush (not finely grind) the shrimp with garlic and green chilli.
Mix the above mixture with chopped onion and you are good to go! Yummy!
Crushed Badi / "Badi Chura" - serves 4
Badi - 20
Onion - 1/2 thinly chopped
Garlic - 1-2 pods
Green Chilli - 1
Lightly roast the badi with a little canola oil till it slightly browns.
Crush the badi either using a food processor or using a crusher with hand.
Add crushed garlic, thinly chopped green chilli and chopped onion.
You can add a few drops of mustard oil for added flavour.
Mashed Potato / "Aloo Chakata" - serves 4
Potato - 3-4 large
Onion - 1/2 large, thinly chopped
Ginger - 1/2 tsp
Cumin - Chilli Powder - 1 tsp (add more for added heat)
Salt - as per taste
Mustard oil - 1 tsp
Green chilli - 1-2
Boil potatoes to cook them. You can also use the pressure cooker to boil the potatoes. Mash the potatoes after peeling them with the rest of the ingredients.