On the auspicious occasion of Ratha Jatra this past month, I could not help but recollect fond memories associated with this grand festival. Ratha Jatra is the annual grand chariot festival that takes place in the coastal city of Puri in Odisha. The three main deities—Lord Jagganath, Lord Balabhadra and Subhadra are decked in their finest ornaments as they travel ceremoniously in their newly built chariots to visit their beloved aunt at Gundicha Mandira about 2 km from their abode at the Sri Mandira. Joy swept over me as I saw the three grand chariots with the deities on their way to their beloved aunt’s home this year using a live streaming website. It brought back such  fond memories. As a child, I did not understand the importance of this grand celebration, and I would secretly regret that the celebration dominated television coverage. Further, the day was a strict Arua day, a day where meals were prepared without onions and garlic. And with underdeveloped taste buds, that simply translated to bland food on my plate. Or, so I thought. Now, I realize that nothing could be further from the truth. How time changes and unknowingly changes us too!

A visit to the Puri Jagannath Mandir was always followed by a mandatory visit to Ananda Bazar. Ananda Bazar is a large open air mart where thousands of devotees thronged daily to taste the Mahaprasad. The ambience of Anand Bazar is electrifying. The memory of the sheer bliss of eating some warm, fresh delicacies out of earthen pots there during the festival urged me to recreate this menu with equal fervor.

Jagruti Vedamati is a post-doctoral student at Stanford University.


Mitha Khechudi
This rice and lentil pilaf, fragrant with nutmeg powder is a sweetened version of the khichdi which is a well-known comfort food in many parts of India. The crunchiness of cashews imparts a nuttiness that elevates this simple dish to a gourmet level.

Ingredients
1 cup rice
¼ cup split yellow moong dal
½ tbsp ghee or oil
1 small stick of cinnamon
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 whole cardamom
2 ½ cups warm water
¾ tablespoon sugar
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp nutmeg powder
A pinch of salt
Handful of cashews and raisins

Method
Wash and soak the rice and lentils together for about 20 minutes. Add ghee to the pan and when it is warm, add in the whole spices. Once the spices turn fragrant, add in the cashews and raisins. Stir till light brown. Strain the rice and lentil mixture thoroughly and mix it with the spices. Stir the rice mixture for 2-3 minutes till it is lightly browned. The rice tends to stick—so keep stirring.
Add in 2½ cups of warm water to the rice. Sprinkle the sugar, salt, turmeric and nutmeg powder and boil for 20 minutes until done.

Mitha Dali
Ingredients
1¼ cups chana dal
½ cup red lentils/ masoor dal
¾ tsp turmeric powder
1½ tsps salt
1 tbsp jaggery/sugar
1 tsp grated ginger
For the paste:
½ cup dessicated/ fresh grated coconut
½ inch cinnamon stick
1 tsp cardamom powder
4 whole cloves
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ cup hot water
For the tempering:
1 tbsp ghee/butter
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
Method
Combine all the ingredients for the paste with ½ cup of very hot water. Let it seep for five minutes and puree until it is a rough paste. Add more water if needed.

Bring to a boil 4 cups of water and add in the turmeric, salt, jaggery, the soaked lentils, and the paste. Add this mixture to the dal, and cook for 15-20 more minutes.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until the chana dal is almost tender. Once the lentils are cooked, heat the ghee/butter over a medium-high flame in a small skillet and toss in the mustard, fennel, fenugreek and cumin seeds. Fry until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Stir them into the dal. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed.

Tip:
I used the pressure cooker for fast and efficient cooking. Put all the above ingredients in the pressure cooker along with the water and wait till one whistle. Let it release the pressure before proceeding to the second step of adding the paste.
Add in the paste and put the pressure cooker back on the stove for another whistle. No more than two whistles (in total) is needed for the dal. If the lentils need further cooking, cook it with the lid open for the remaining time.

This hearty lentil soup with the wonderful aroma of jaggery, coconut and fennel seeds together with the al dente texture of the chana dal works very well with the sweetened rice pilaf or Mitha Khechudi.

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