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Puris in PuriCharmaine O'Brien

Puris In Puri

One of the scientific methods I use to discover and identify local food species is observation. I start by wandering the streets and bazaars of cities and towns. When I spot a food stall or café I hone in and have a look at what is cooking in the pots or on the grill and/or see what people have on their plates. If it is something I have not seen before, or it looks like a good version of an already categorized item, I order some and tuck in: this methodology has rarely let me down.

Yesterday I was wandering the streets of Puri in Orissa when I spotted a roadside café where there were several tables of Oriyas (locals) eating: the first promising identifying feature. As I got closer I could see they were eating from plates made of large leaves: I started to get excited as this was another promising feature. I went in and looked in the cooking pots; the contents were appealing so I pointed at everything I wanted to try and took my seat. The other patrons looked somewhat bemused at the appearance of a foreigner at such a humble stall but I got smiles and nods of approval when I demonstrated my expertise at eating with my hand. As I had anticipated the food was delicious. My meal consisted of a generous ladle of dalma, a stew made of lentils and seasonal vegetables that is eaten everyday in Orissa; a small pile of sweet boonda, which are small balls of fried chickpea flour which had been soaked in sugar syrup and a stack of piping hot puris, deep fried flat breads the size of a drink coaster. I do not like puris (but it’s a lonely stance as most people find them delicious) so they remained in their stack and I later fed them to a passing cow, but I very much enjoyed eating the spicy dalma with the sweet boondi.

Oriyas are people of my own sugary inclination as they do not consider a meal complete without a sweet dish, or two. To finish this meal I had a piece of a type of cheesecake called chennapoda which is a speciality of Puri (whereas puri the bread is found all over India). This sweet is made from solid milk curds (very similar to ricotta cheese) that have been blended with a little semonlina , cardamom and sugar wrapped in banana or sal leaves and baked in charcoal for several hours. The resulting ‘cake’ has a caramelized crust and a moist dense interior that tastes and feels (in the mouth) like a hybrid between a baked cheese cake and crème caramel: let me state the obvious – delicious.

Dalma

Serves 4

Oriyas make this dish all year round changing the vegetables with the season. In winter radishes and pumpkin are in season so these are an essential addition at that time. Other vegetables that are commonly used include green papaya and green banana (which are available all year round), eggplant, potato and bottle gourd ( a small striped vegetable that for which you could substitute cucumber – yes you can cook it). You can use whichever vegetables are available to you but chose ‘firm’ varieties as they need to stand up to a reasonable cooking time so that they meld with the dal but do not lose their shape and individual texture: carrot, cauliflower, beans or tomato are not used to make dalma in Orissa. A classical dalma is made with moong kid dal and tempered with ghee. You will find moong ki dal at your nearest Indian grocery store. Asian grocery stores also stock it.

Ingredients

¾ cup moong ki dal

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp salt

750gms chopped vegetables

2 dried red chillies or to taste

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ghee or mustard/vegetable oil

2 tsp black mustard seeds

Method

Wash the dal and pick it over to remove any stones or other debris. Put it into a saucepan large enough to hold the dal and the vegetables. Add three cups of water and bring to the boil. Skim off any foam/scum that rises. Once the dal has come to the boil reduce the heat to medium high and add the turmeric and salt and leave to cook for five minutes. Add all the chopped vegetables and cover and cook until the dal is tender.

I have eaten several dalmas over the past few days, one was thin the other two were thick. You will need to decide how you want it to be. If you like it thinner then you might need to add more water. If you want it thicker then you might need to remove the lid during the cooking process to allow some of the water to evaporate. There is no right or wrong with this dish so make it how you like it.

While the dal and vegetables are cooking put the chillies and cumin seed into a frypan without any oil and dry roast them until the cumin releases an aroma and/or the chilli starts to slightly change colour (be careful not to burn these). Allow the spices to cool and then grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle or in an electric spice grinder. When the dal is ready add the ground chilli and cumin seeds and stir through the dal. Keep the dish over a low heat to allow the spices to flavour it.

Heat the ghee in a frypan and when it is hot drop in the mustard seeds, when they start to splutter ( this will happen fairly quickly) pour the contents of the frypan into the dal and vegetable mix and then stir it through. Serve hot with rice or bread or just enjoy a big nutritious bowl all by itself.


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