The latest gent to feature in our Men Who Cook series cooked us a meal that one doesn’t find very often – an Oriya feast. Amateur violin player, inveterate traveller and IT strategist, Deepak Mohapatra, volunteered to cook for us one Sunday evening and educate us.
For most of us, food from the east of India is Bengali food. This evening was an education thanks to Deepak’s Oriya Food 101. As he puts it, Oriya food is very distinct and unique and “not like Bengali food”. And since we are huge fans of Bengali food, these could be taken as fighting words. But we kept an open mind and watched Deepak put on a masterpiece.
Deepak is a steady, measured cook and watching him cook, one imagines there is a violin concerto playing in his head and he’s moving to its rhythm. Most ingredients are measured by hand, everything needs to be fried in mustard oil to get the earthy flavor so required – all lessons Deepak learnt watching his grandmother cook in her village.
The Oriya menu for the evening was Rohu in mustard, Dalma and a fantastic Okra dish. The Rohu is a wonderful fish dish, balanced between the bite and sharpness of mustard, and the sweetness of the river fish and the onions. An absolute gem. And Dalma is the quintessential comfort food for most people from Orissa. Wholesome and fresh, Dalma is a medley of lentils and vegetables. The main ingredient for Dalma other than lentils is a leafy vegetable called Poi, which can be substituted with Palak.
For the finicky vegetarian in our midst who had an issue with the pumpkin in the dalma, Deepak very generously consented to create a simple Okra dish with caramelized onions. Super quick, super easy and delicious. Unlike many okra dishes we have seen, where the okra is either crisp fried to death or slow cooked to mush, this was crunchy, delicious and looked amazing.
Rohu (River Carp) in Mustard
For the Marinade:
1kg Rohu ( you could use other river fish such as Hilsa, Bekti)
2 Tbsp Curd
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1/4 tsp Chili powder
1 tsp Garlic paste
1 tsp Ginger paste
For the gravy:
4 tbsp Mustard paste (You can make this at home by wet grinding yellow mustard seeds in a blender)
3 medium Onions, thinly sliced
2 Green Chilies, slit lengthwise
a pinch of Mustard seeds
a pinch of Cumin seeds
a pinch of Fenugreek seeds
Salt to taste
1 tbsp of Mustard oil
Mix the marinade ingredients together and marinate the fish for an hour.
Deepak insists that Indian cooking must be done in traditional Indian utensils and without a non-stick pan, but if you find the non-stick easier, by all means use it. Heat a kadhai and pour enough mustard oil to deep fry the fish. Retain the marinade liquid as it will get added to the gravy later.
When the oil is hot drop the marinated fish pieces into the oil. Lower the flame and cook the fish. Both sides of the fish need to be fried till golden brown. Remove the fish and drain the excess oil on a kitchen towel.
Discard the remaining oil in the pan. Heat 1 tbs of Mustard oil. Turn the heat low and add a pinch of mustard seed, cumin seeds and the fenugreek seeds. When the seeds crackle, add the green chilis. Fry for a minute and then add the onions. Saute till the onions turn translucent. Now add the mustard paste. Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes and then add the fish pieces and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes. Now add the reserved marinade liquid and about 1/4 cup water and bring to a simmer and turn off the heat. Keep the fish covered for half an hour before you serve it.
1/2 cup Chana dal
4 to 5 medium sized Okra
10 to 12 Spinach leaves
2 small Green Brinjals
100 gms Green Pumpkin
A pinch of Turmeric
Salt to taste
For the seasoning
1 tsp Mustard oil
1 Red Chili, whole
3 to 4 Curry Leaves
a large pinch of Mustard seeds
a large pinch of Cumin seeds
a large pinch of Fenugreek seeds
Soak the Chana dal in water for about 45 mins before cooking. Chop the okra and drumsticks into large chunks, quarter the brinjal and chop the pumpkin into large chunks. Roughly tear the clean spinach leaves.
Place the chana dal in a pressure cooker and add water to cover. Add a pinch of turmeric and salt and mix well. Add the vegetables to this. Deepak layers them methodically with the pumpkin going in first, followed by the okra, followed by drumsticks, then the brinjal and finally the spinach. Pressure cook for about 4 whistles.
Once the steam has escaped, stir the dal. Heat the mustard oil in a kadhai. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and the fenugreek seeds. When they start to splutter, add the red chili and follow it up with the curry leaves and tamarind. When you get the aroma of the spices add the dal mix to this. Let it simmer for about 5 mins and the dal is ready to be served. Deepak, says you could add the tamarind while cooking the dal but he prefers to use it as a seasoning.
100 gms of Okra
2 medium onions thinly sliced
Deepak’s favorite spice mix:
a pinch of mustard seeds
a pinch of cumin seeds
a pinch of fenugreek seeds
1 tsp mustard oil
Salt to taste
Chop the okra into medium sized pieces. Heat oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds and when they pop, add the onions. Fry till the onions are light brown and add the okra pieces. Add salt and stir. Cover with a lid and cook on low flame till the okra is done.
Note: The trick to a good, crisp okra dish is that okra need to be well dried after they’re washed.