India is a melting pot of varied flavours and tastes. From Kashmir and West Bengal to Kerala and Rajasthan, each state and its sub-regions have distinct ingredients and dishes that change seasonally. Among the many regional cuisines, those from Odisha are slowly gaining a wider recognition thanks to food creators on Instagram. There’s the Bhubaneswar-based culinary chronicler and data analyst Sweta Biswal (@swetabiswal) and Hyderabad-based Odia recipe creator and software engineer Sohani Nanda (@sohani_eats). They share a list of trademark summer foods and drinks from their home state:
Pakhala Bhaat: This is fermented rice which is left to steeped in cold water overnight. Its taste is enhanced with a bit of mustard oil, lemon juice, salt and green chillies that are added the following day before it is served. Although it’s consumed throughout the year, pakhala bhaat is most popular in summer and accompanied with local greens, crunchy fried small fish sourced from local ponds, badi churra (fried and broken dried lentil dumplings), bharta or roasted veggies, dried fish, crushed fried prawns, among others. The variety of the local rice that is used and the fermenting process give pakhala a signature flavour. There are many versions of pakhala and few of them are offered to Lord Jagannath too. The variations include saja pakhala made with freshly cooked rice; basi pakhala which is left overnight to ferment; dahi pakhala which is mixed with curd; and chunka pakhala has a tempering of spices.
Podaw Pitha: Towards the fag end of summer, a deluge of ripe fruits paves the way for some delicious podaw pitha. These are flavoured with the fruit pulp. Made with rice and black lentil, or sometimes only rice, the pitha is slow-baked and makes use of jackfruit, mango or ripe sugar palm pulp. Additionally, coconut, ginger, black pepper, bay leaves, cardamom, and other spices, may be added to enhance the taste.
Mandiya Pej: A gem from the tribal belt of Odisha, it is a gruel containing fermenting ragi and rice water, seasoned with green chilli, onions and salt. Very filling and nutritious to boot, it is sold in earthen pots in street shops.
Limba phula bhaja: In Odisha, summer seeps in by mid-April, a month marked by delicate neem flowers. They are consumed in multiple ways. The most common one is a stir-fried side dish. These work as traditional medicines to treat ailments like anorexia, nausea, belching and intestinal worms, and believed to cleanse the body. It is said, the more bitter it tastes the more health benefits it has. Another popular way of consuming neem flowers in Odisha is to mix it with rice flour batter and make vadas or fried dumplings.
Pumpkin flower fritters: During mid-summer, large numbers of pumpkin flowers bloom. Pumpkin flowers are considered to have multiple health benefits. They are a rich source of vitamin B9 and increases immunity, helps in treating common cold, improves eyesight and make bones stronger. In Odisha, shallow-fried fritters are made by dipping the pumpkin flowers in a rice flour batter spiced with cumin, garlic, green chilli, salt and turmeric. It is the most loved side dish with pakhala.
Potala Kurma: Most Odias love potala (pointed gourd). Celebrations, such as weddings, must have potala kurma in the menu. It has a thick and creamy gravy which is blend of cashew, poppy seeds and melon seeds paste. Coconut milk is used instead of water to add more flavour. Deep-fried potala is then stirred in and stewed.
Amba Kanji: Kanji is a soupy side dish made throughout the year with ingredients that change according to seasons. The summer version is usually sparse. The use of the small flavoursome wild mangoes and a tempering of dried neem flowers give it a robust touch.
Jhara panaa or jhilri panaa: Made from palua or tikhur, known as east Indian arrowroot, it is a most refreshing drink. The traditional version is basic and uses palua noodles, curd and sugar.
Tanka torani: Sold on the premises of the Jagannath temple in Puri, it is a flavoursome and refreshing drink made with fermented rice water, curd, curry leaves, lemons, green chillies, lime leaves and a smidgen of crushed ginger. It is believed that this thirst quencher keeps the body cool and gut healthy.
Bela panaa: This is a refreshing drink made from wood apple, curd or milk, sugar, crushed black pepper and chenna (cottage cheese). Even a rasagola or two may be added to elevate it. Odisha has a great number of Bael trees, thanks to the overwhelming number of Shaivite devotees. Wood apple sharbat is one of the most famous summer drinks. On Pana Sankranti—also known as Maha Bishuba Sankranti or Odia new year, celebrated in April—a mixture of wood apple pulp, water and sugar is made and offered to the deity.
Recipe: Pumpkin flower fritters
30 pumpkin flowers
150 gm raw rice
2-3 dry red chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds, soaked for an hour
1 inch ginger
8-10 cloves of garlic
Half tsp turmeric
Mustard or refined oil to shallow fry
Salt as per taste
5 tbsp water
Wash and clean rice. Soak it overnight or for two hours atleast.
Blend garlic, chillies, cumin seeds, ginger and rice with a little water to make a smooth paste.
Mix in turmeric powder and salt.
Cut out the lower part of the flower and clean the flowers under slow running water.
Heat oil in a flat pan. Stuff one flower into another till you get 15 pairs in the end. Dip each in the rice batter and wait till the extra runny batter drips off.
Place a pan on medium flame and pour oil to shallow fry. Once the oil is medium hot, place the batter-dipped flowers.
Cook till both sides are crisp and turn golden brown. Serve hot.
Also read | Recipes from Lucknowi homes enter a cookbook