Poda pitha have a savoury as well as sweet version. Photo: Sharmila Dwivedi
Spending time in Dadu's house in Odisha that had a couple of Oriya cooks, introduced me to the cuisine very early in life. Oriya and Bengali cuisines are not very different from each other, and use the same tempering as well as ingredients.
One similarity that both Bengali and Oriya cuisines share is the pithe or pitha. However, unlike Bengali pithes, Oriya pithas are not limited to a season or an occasion.
Some pithas like the kakra, chitau, arisa and the enduri (the pithas are wrapped in turmeric leaves) are made on fasting days, pujas or birthdays. However, the Podapitha/Podo pithaand the Chakuli pithaare made regularly usually for breakfasts in our homes. Both are eaten with dalma or santula - while the former is made with vegetables and lentils, the latter is a very light vegetable curry.
Podapithahas two versions - a slightly sweet that has jaggery as an addition, and a savoury one. Podameans burnt, or when it comes to food, roasted. Traditionally, the rice batter is wrapped in freshly-cut banana leaves that are smeared with ghee, and roasted in a chulha.
Our cook would put it into the still smouldering chulha after the day's cooking has been done. The pitharoasts slowly in the low heat, the flavours of the ashes and the burnt banana leaves seeping in for the rest of the afternoon. It is removed when the fire has finally gone out by late afternoon just in time for tea.
Modern days have seen this pithabeing made on the stove top or in an electric oven too. That lightly burnt outer layer with the aroma of searing hot ghee, and the soft texture inside that come together in one slice, is one of the tastiest bites that one can have. Pair the savoury pitha with dalma, and you have a filling, nutritious breakfast that will last you for more than half the day.
Recipe for PodaPitha (savoury)
To make the batter
1. Soak 1 cup of urad dal + 2 cups of rice for 2 hours
2. Grind to a paste.
3. Add little salt, cover and keep overnight to ferment
To make the pitha
¼ tsp cumin seeds
1" ginger, chopped
2 green chillies, chopped
5 tbsp chopped coconut
1 tbsp fresh curry leaves, chopped
Salt to taste
Ghee, just enough to smear the kadhai
1. Take a heavy bottomed, cast iron kadhai.
2. Mix all the above ingredients except the ghee.
3. Smear the ghee well on the kadhai. Do not heat the kadhai first.
4. Pour the mixture and set the kadhai on low heat.
5. Put on a tight cover.
6. Check after 10 minutes. Flip it over, cover and cook for another 10 minutes.
7. Remove and let it cool.
This is the stove top method for making Poda pitha. Using a cast iron kadhai or pan ensures that perfect charring of the outer layer.
Sharmila is a software professional, who blogs at Kitchen-e-Kichu Khonn, which is a log to all her recipes of simple, home-cooked meals. She has also started a small venture to cater to executive lunches for professionals.