Poda Pitha

10:47 PM


"It is your first visit after your marriage. What can I make for you?" Her voice chimed on the phone.

When Mami asked me this just before our first visit to Mamarbari after our marriage I felt elated. Mine was the first wedding on my mother's side. Everyone was excited to see and greet the new son in law but at the same time, everyone was worried about me. They found it too much for me to handle home and work all alone at a faraway from them in Bangalore. So on that trip home, I found myself being pampered by everyone.

But as I was going there in a big group, I did not want to burden her anymore with my requests.
Yet secretly there was something I was craving for. 
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So in a very small voice, I asked if it would be too much for her to make a poda pitha for me?

I could almost hear her chuckle at my request and in my mind's eye, I could almost see her smiling indulgently.

My Mamarbari has always been a safe haven for us kids.

The house was huge with two ponds, plenty of old fruit-bearing trees, and vast open space to play. The grandparents and Mama all doted on us but at the same time were strict about rules and routines. But we never complained because we had Mami to spoil us silly sometimes. I cannot remember a time when she hugged or kissed us but she is the one who will make sure to treat us with our favorite junk food and will always have a few coins ready every time we wanted to visit a fair. She never forgot what we all loved to eat and prepared it every time we visited her.

So I knew she would get that poda pitha ready and she sure did. Which was the last time I had it, some 13 years ago. I never made it at home as my husband was never very enthusiastic about it and am just not used to the idea of cooking just for myself.
This was part of my Odia special thali that I cooked for Ulto Rath this year.

But now with the little young boy of mine trying to taste and appreciate everything under the Sun, I knew I can give in to my craving.
I searched for a recipe but nothing looked similar to what I wanted. So I finally ended up calling a family member and made this.

Now Poda pitha is a sweetmeat or to be more exact a Gluten-free, vegan, Indian cake. Poda literally means burnt and this dessert got its name from the technique used to prepare this. A fermented mixture of sundried rice and white lentil (urad dal) is mixed with jaggery. spices, nuts, and coconut. Which then is wrapped in Shal or Banana leaf and is cooked in the dying embers of the wood fire oven. The heat from top and bottom caramelises the jaggery furthermore resulting in a burnt caramely texture on the surface. The resultant pitha is sweet with a hint of heat from pepper and ginger and a sour aftertaste from the fermentation process.

This dish is a traditional pitha of Orissa and is served to Lord Jagannatha on his return journey of Ratha yatra at the Mausi maa temple. My ancestral home in Midnapore being very close to the Orissa border makes many such items on a regular basis. 

Poda Pitha
(Makes a 7" round pitha)


Ingredients:
Atop/sun dried rice: 1 cup
Urad dal: 1/2 cup
Coconut: 1/2 of a medium one
Jaggery: 3/4 cup or more, please adjust as per your taste
Salt: a fat pinch
Ginger: 1" piece pounded fine
Pepper: 1/2 tsp pounded roughly
Green cardamom: 2, powdered
Ghee: 2 tbsp
Cashew nuts: handful
Raisins: handful

Method:
Pick and wash the rice and lentil separately then soak for at least 4 hours.
Grind them to a smooth paste and mix them together. Make sure not to use too much of water. The consistency would be exactly like Idli batter. Let it ferment for 6-10 hours. Please remember the more you ferment it, the more wold be the sour aftertaste.
After that prepare a cake tin for baking. I used a loose bottom pan hence did not use any paper at the bottom. If you are using a normal pan use a butter paper.

Roughly chop or grate most of the coconut pieces leaving a few to decorate on the top. In a kadhai or heavy bottom pan take the jaggery and coconut and cook till the jaggery melts. Cook for 4-5 more minutes till the jaggery thickens a bit. Let it cool for 10 minutes.

Heat a few drops of ghee and roast the cashew till golden. Take off heat.

Pour the ghee in your baking pan and smear on the sides. Do not skimp on the ghee as this will ensure more caramelisation and this burnt texture.

Mix everything together and pour into the pan.

In the Oven
Preheat oven to 175 c and bake for 45-60 minutes. A skewer inserted at the center must come out clean when it is done.

In a pressure cooker
You can use your pressure cooker as a cake pan or you can place another pan inside it.
Method 1: Pour 3 tbsp ghee in the pressure cooker and tilt it to cover the sides. Pour in the batter and tighten the lid without the weight. Cook on the lowest for 45 minutes.
Cool and carefully take it out of the pan.

Method 2: Take a cake pan that will fit inside your pressure cooker and prepare it similar to the oven method.
Place a wire rack inside the pressure cooker and place the cake tin on it. Cook on low for 30 minutes or till a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Once done. Let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then loosen the sides and invert on a rack.

Enjoy with a cup of masala tea.


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