a must-to-be-prepared pitha for Raja festival of Odisha using semolina (sooji) and sweetened by jaggery
Odisha, the eastern coastal state of India, is known for its rich heritage and culture. Apart from the world-famous Ratha Yatra, the people of this state also celebrate a unique festival called Raja. This is a three-day-long festival, dedicated to MotherEarth (Bhudevi) and womanhood. The festivities begin a day before Mithuna Sankranti and conclude two days after that.
Raja Festival in details :
The first day of the festival is Pahili Raja. The second is the Sankranti (Mithuna Sankranti) and the last is Bhu daha (Basi Raja). The preparation begins one day before Pahili Raja, as Sajabaja. And my birthday is on Sajabaja, so for me, Raja is a four-day-long celebration, LOL.
It is believed that, during this time the Mother Earth (Bhudevi) undergoes menstruation. So the Odia people suspend all agricultural works such as plowing, sowing for three days as a mark of respect towards the earth during her menstruation days.
Similarly married as well as unmarried girls follow various customs like not walking barefoot; taking bath and combing hair on the first day only; consuming pitha like poda pitha, chakuli pitha, muan pitha, kakera pitha, and lots more varieties; playing a no of outdoor as well as indoor games. Specifically, they play around swings (in Odia, it has a name as Doli) tied on tree branches.
Well, Menstruation is a taboo topic in Indian society. And in Odisha state of the Indian subcontinent, the Raja festival celebrates this integral aspect of womanhood, so it is really a matter of great pride for Odisha.
The fourth day is Vasumati Snana, the day of the ‘purification bath’. The ladies of the house bath the grinding stone (sila or silbatta) as a symbol of Bhumi with turmeric paste and adore with flower, sindoor, etc. All types of seasonal fruits are offered to mother Bhumi.
During this period, each Odia household has filled with so many delicacies . The Poda Pitha is a must-to-be-listed dish.
What is Poda Pitha ?
The Odia word ‘Poda’ means Burnt and ‘Pitha’ means Cake. The traditional way calls for the soaked rice and soaked split urad dal mixture. The mixture has a flavor of jaggery, crushed ginger, cardamom, and pepper. Then that whole mixture wraps in banana leaves, topped with burnt charcoals and cow dung cakes, and finally baked slowly in earthenware on a clay oven overnight. And in the morning, ahaaa !!! smoky-sweet flavor of the Poda Pitha is all around the whole house !!! I still remember this scenarios from my childhood, as this festival is quite special for me as I mentioned above 😉
Do you know, the poda pitha is also offered as prasad to Lord Jagannath in the Jagannath Temple, Puri !!
One can make Poda pitha by following 1 step cooking or 2 step cooking.
- In 1-step cooking, transfer the batter directly to the pan and allow to bake over low heat till done.
- In 2-step cooking, cook the batter first by continuously stirring in a kadhai / broad thick pan till thick consistency, and this step we call Janta and the thick mixture as Jantani in Odia. Then the cooked mixture is allowed to bake over low heat till done.
- The poda pitha following this process is called Janta poda pitha.
- As this process has two steps cooking so it takes time as compared to the above one.
Now-a-days, people are making poda pithas in micro-oven or even on kadhai wrapped in banana leaves.
Here I have come up with a janta Poda Pitha recipe using Semolina (sooji), named as Sooji Podapitha.
Sooji Poda Pitha !!
Well, from the name one can guess that the semolina (sooji) is the major ingredient in this podapitha.
Yes, guessed right !
Here is no need of any rice or even lentil. Plus point is this poda pitha doesn't require any Soaking, Grinding and even Fermenting.
One can make this in oven and in stove top too.
Ingredients of this pitha –
- Semolina (sooji) – I have used the fine variety, is perfect for making a sooji poda pitha. If medium or large variety is available, then just grind to make a powder texture and then use.
- Jaggery – some grated jaggery I have added here as the sweet factor.
- Coconut – Used freshly grated coconut along with some small chunks and coconut slices.
- Flavoring factor – Used some ginger (crushed) along with black pepper powder, cardamom, bay leaf
- Salt – intensify the sweetness of the pitha
- Nuts – Cashew and Raisins I have picked here.
- Water – for cooking the sooji
- Ghee – for flavor as well as for greasing the pan.
What are the steps of sooji poda pitha ?
In a broad pan or kadhai, start boiling 4 & 1/2 cup water along with jaggery over medium heat. When jaggery starts to melt then add crushed ginger, grated coconut, small coconut chunks, cashews, raisins, green cardamoms (press the cardamoms slightly), salt, 2 tbsp ghee and give a nice stir. Allow everything to boil for 4-5 minutes.
Now lower the heat and add sooji slowly at a time, stirring continuously to avoid any lumps formation. Keep stirring till the mixture starts leaving the sides and thickens a bit. The sooji jantani (semolina mixture) for the podapitha is ready now. Turn off heat and cover the pan, keep aside to cool down for 5-10 minutes.
TIPS to get perfect sooji jantani (semolina mixture) for the podapitha : * Always maintain the ratio of Sooji to Water as 1:2 to get perfect texture in the podapitha. * While adding the sooji and after that, stir continuously to avoid any lumps and also no burning from the bottom.
Meanwhile, take a baking pan to bake this sooji poda pitha.
I have used a cast iron pan to make this sooji poda pitha in oven. Just line the cast iron with some banana leaves and then grease the leaves with ghee. Then transfer all the sooji jantani (semolina mixture) onto it. Grease the palm with ghee and start pressing the mixture to get an even layer.
Decorate the top with some coconut slices. Cover the cast iron pan either with aluminum foil or some more banans leaves. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes first. Then take out the aluminum foil/banana leaves from the top and again bake for 10 minutes more at 200 deg C.
Sooji Poda Pitha
- 2 cup Semolina (sooji) (fine variety)
- 1 cup Jaggery (grated)
- ¾ cup Coconut (grated)
- ½ cup Coconut chunk (small)
- Coconut slice (2 inch) few
- 2 tsp Ginger (crushed)
- ½ tsp Black pepper powder
- ½ tsp Salt
- 4-5 no. Cardamom
- 2 no. Bay leaf
- 2 tbsp Cashew
- 2 tbsp Raisin
- 4 cup Water
- Ghee as needed
- In a broad pan or kadhai, start boiling 4 cup water along with jaggery over medium heat.
- When jaggery starts to melt then add crushed ginger, grated coconut, small coconut chunks, cashews, raisins, green cardamoms (press the cardamoms slightly), salt, 2 tbsp ghee and give a nice stir.
- Allow everything to boil for 4-5 minutes.
- Now lower the heat and add sooji slowly at a time, stirring continuously to avoid any lumps formation.
- Keep stirring till the mixture starts leaving the sides and thickens a bit.
- The sooji jantani (semolina mixture) for the podapitha is ready now.
- Turn off heat and cover the pan, keep aside to cool down for 5-10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, take a baking pan and layer with some small banana leaves (optional) and then grease with ghee. Keep aside.
- Now transfer all the sooji jantani (semolina mixture) onto it.
- Grease the palm with ghee and start pressing the mixture to get an evenly layer.
- Decorate the top with some coconut slices and cover the cast iron pan either with aluminium foil or some more banana leaves.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes first.
- Then take out the aluminium foil / banana leaves from the top and again bake at 200 deg C for 10 minutes more.
- Take out from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes at room temperature.
- Then invert the pan onto a plate and allow the pitha to cool down completely.
- Once done, slice and serve as it is or with some curry of choice !
- Always maintain the ratio of Sooji to water as 1:2 to get perfect texture in the podapitha.
- Coconut in both forms adds a nice flavor and texture to the podapitha here. One can vary this as per taste, but don’t skip this addition.
- Putting coconut slices on top of the podapitha is totally optional.
- Fine variety sooji is perfect for making a sooji podapitha. If medium or large variety is available, then just grind to make a powder texture and then use.
- While adding the sooji and after that, stir continuously to avoid any lumps and also no burning from the bottom.
- I have used a cast iron pan to bake the podapitha. Any other baking dish is perfectly fine here.
- Layering the pan with banana leaves is optional though, but helps to take out the podapitha more easily after baking.
- Always check a toothpick test. If the toothpick comes out clean by inserting it in the center of the baked podapitha, then it is done, else bake for few more minutes.