Traditionally, litti has been an extremely popular and convenient meal for the locals of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Eastern Uttar Pradesh. It was the poor man’s food, a staple for labourers and easily accessible to farmers working on the fields.
Sattu (Bengal Gram), which is available quite easily, is stuffed inside a wheat dough ball along with spices and herbs. It is then roasted over ‘Goitha’ (cow dung) and topped with a lot of desi ghee. A Goitha plays a critical role in distinguishing the taste from littis made in tandoor, OTG or microwave.
The simple and convenient culinary delight could be cooked out on the fields. It was extremely filling and healthy when drizzled with an extra wee of ghee. Today cooking this delicacy in the traditional way is very hard and the accompaniment has changed, as per the requirement be it butter, paneer, korma or meat curry.
Littis dripping with desi ghee with an accompaniment of ‘baingan’ & ‘aloo ka chokha’ takes you to the world of Bihari culinary platter.
Litti Chokha, the traditional delicacy from Bihar (undivided), has been making quite an inroad in Odisha these days. This earthy flavoured dish can be seen in Khao Gali and restaurant menus in the state. Besides, this humble dish from Bihar is getting popular in other parts of India and globally as well.
The importance of Litti Chokha to Bihar (undivided) is similar to the importance of Chakuli, Dhai Bara Aloo-dum and Rasogolla to Odisha.
Litti Chokha originated centuries ago as a staple food in the court of Magadha. With time, it imbibed the best and changed its culinary character with the arrival of mighty Mughals who savoured the dish with ‘shorbas’ and ‘payas’, and the exotic Britishers that liked it with curry.
However, Litti emerged as a ‘brave sepoy’, dough ball when the rebels virtually survived on it during the Mutiny of 1857. Tantia Tope, Rani Lakshmi Bai, and the likes chose it as their ‘food for survival’ as it could be baked without any utensils or much water in the jungles and ravines and had a shelf life of more than 48 hours.
Eventually, Litti came to Bihar and was paired with Chokha. The rustic way of cooking added real flavour to Litti and Chokha; they were cooked with the help of Goitha, which are still used in many villages of Bihar and Jharkhand.
Some, however, take the easier way out by using wood charcoal, which gives a smoky flavour. Both methods dish out a heavenly combination of Litti Chokha. With urbanisation, it is now prepared with a gas tandoor, OTG or micro oven.
Anup along with his brothers, who run Jugaad Jn chain of outlets to serves this Bihari dish in Bhubaneswar, tells us, “Litti is a dough ball stuffed with sattu roasted until cooked and then dipped into pure desi ghee to enhance the taste, while Chokha is a smash of baigan, tomato, potato, chillies onion, garlic and basic spices. The Chokha is a dish made of the roasted vegetables as mentioned. The pungency in the dish is brought in by adding Kachi Ghani mustard oil. But adding mustard oil is optional as per the taste of the customers.”
Litti is made of whole-wheat flour, stuffed with sattu (powder made out of black chana aka Bengal gram), herbs and spices and cooked in a gas tandoor (though baking over coal or cow dung cakes gives a different taste) and then finally drizzled with desi ghee or one can have it dry. Dry versions of Litti are also available.
Chokha is basically a mix of grilled eggplant, potato, tomato with chillies, onion and garlic, with a dash of spices and turmeric powder. The dish is healthy as it is not fried but grilled or roasted.
Though desi ghee adds to its calories, one can choose to avoid it or use a little bit of it. Pure desi ghee has its own set of health benefits unlike refined oils. The sattu has amazing cooling properties and keeps you energized throughout the day. Chokha is a good source of food comprising vitamins, manganese, folate and phytonutrients that act as antioxidants.
For the Road & Kitchen:
Anup and siblings, a bunch of young blood, had limited money to spend on food, and other extravagances. But life was good for them with the ‘Jugaad’ approach. They saved money by self-cooking as affording a cook and eating out was out of their budget. With time, they decided to do something different to fulfil their dream as entrepreneurs.
Thus they went ahead with ‘Jugaad Jn.’, a place which could offer vegetarian homely ‘Jugaadu’ food with the best of hospitality and service at an affordable price. The menu, interiors and the ambience are taken from across the country Chandini Chowk in Delhi to Burrabazar in Kolkata, Deoghar in Jharkhand to small towns & villages of Bihar and Odisha on the Jugaad concept. One of their signature dishes is Litti- Chokha and one can try this at home with the recipe as given:
Litti is wheat flour balls filled with sattu, flour made of roasted Bengal gram. The sattu filling is flavoured with carom seeds, nigella seeds, ginger and one add pickle masala if one needs a change in taste. Any homemade pickle especially red chilli pickle used along with the filling gives the extra bit of pungency with mustard oil.
Chokha is basically a mash of roasted eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, chillies and garlic along with the normal kitchen spices. Though one may skip the eggplant and tomato, potatoes are a must. Mustard oil is an essential and important ingredient to chokha for that authentic taste.
Litti and chokha are eaten together with ghee. If you omit the ghee, it’s a totally vegan dish but ghee is an indispensable part of this dish, thus suggested to have it.
Bon appetit Bihari style!