Take it from a diehard foodie; Odia Ghanta is a celebratory dish that you should be raiding an Odia kitchen for at least once. And today is one such occasion – Garbhana Sankranti or Tula Sankranti.
The other two occasions when most Odia households cook a Ghanta dish are Dutia/Dwitiya Ghanta (on Mula Ashtami)and Ghadaghadia Ghanta (on Samba Dashami)
In Odisha, people like to eat a mixed vegetable dish on a regular basis. We Odias hardly cook single vegetable dishes, unless it’s stir fries or Alu Dum. We use vegetables in our Ghanta, Ambila, Dalma, Santula, Besara and even in Saag. Odias let the vegetables shine in their own glory; with minimal interference of spices.
Garbhana Sankranti falls on the Hindu month of Ashwina (October), when the paddy fields are in their glorious best. Smelling beautifully and swinging slowly in the autumn breeze with a full ‘womb’ or Garbha. This is the time, when the farmers want to pay their gratitude to Goddess Lakshmi, the deity of happiness and prosperity.
At least 7 vegetables or multiples of it are used to make this dish. Right from pumpkin, ash gourd, green papaya, pointed gourd, snake gourds, ridge gourds, drumsticks, plantain, brinjal, mature cucumber, tubers like elephant foot, sweet potatoes, leafy greens like pumpkin leaves, amaranth stalks, etc. are cut into chunky pieces.
They are boiled in a big pot (preferably, an earthen haandi) with dashes of turmeric, salt, bay leaf and a piece of crushed ginger. Sprouted legumes such as moong, black chana, fresh grated coconut and some bits of it are very essential to bring out the flavor of the dish. One can also use soaked Kabuli Chana, peanuts, Chana Daal in the dish.
Everything is slow cooked to a tender perfection. One can add a few strips of Elephant Apple aka Ou in Odia, as it adds tanginess as well as a typical flavor to the dish. The tanginess is balanced with a little sugar. Freshly made roasted cumin and red chili is added and then there is a final tempering with ghee and whole cumin or pancha phutana (a simple mix of five whole spices like mustard, Nigella seeds, fenugreek seeds, aniseeds and cumin. It releases a beautiful aroma when put in hot oil). Some people add a few curry leaves to the tempering. Freshly ground black pepper aka golmaricha powder should ideally be used in place of red chili powder in this dish.
While people prefer to eat this with rice, chakuli or parata, it can easily be that one pot dish you want to scoop into while couching. It is full of goodness and balanced with all the nutrients like carbohydrates, plant proteins, fibres and micro nutrients. As Ghanta is an essentially a celebratory dish, people happily share a bowl of piping hot Ghanta with their neighbours. Hail such a dish that binds a community together, almost like the dish itself.
(The writer is a former journalist and food enthusiast & curator)