The signature dish of Tamil Nadu’s New Year celebration is also among the better sweets when it comes to not only satiating cravings but healthwise too, say experts.
By Madhulika Dash; Recipe and pictures courtesy Byg Brewski Brewing Company
When you are a chef, every day can be a festive treat for you, says seasoned Chef Vijaya Bhaskaran as he works the flour into a pliable, clay-like dough, “but even for us, there are a few days that have more reasons to rejoice than others. For me, that is Puthandu, or Tamil Nadu’s New Year. And one dish that personifies the joy is Obbattu or Holige as we call it in Karnataka.”
In appearance and composition too, continues the former executive chef, “it is much like the Maharashtrian Puran Poli. In fact, just like them, Obbattu, which is said to have originated in the coastal towns of Andhra Pradesh and is called Bobbatlu, too is about the foreplay of wheat and dal, which has been sweetened with jaggery and green cardamom powder. And like Puran Poli, the Obbattu is pan-fried with ghee.”
That basic similarities aside, says Chef Sandeep Sadanandan (Head Chef, Byg Brewski), “and the fact that they are both fragrantly sweet, Obbattu has its own unique characteristics to the Maharastrian cousin. One of the main differences is the lentil used to make the poli. While the western version uses channa dal, here in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the popular choice is tuvar dal (split pigeon peas). And the reason for this isn’t just the familiar taste, but also the produce.”
Concurs Chef Bhaskaran, who finds the different versions of Puran Poli found across the western and southern region of India, a “fascinating play not just on the kind of flour in use but most importantly the type of lentil that is harvested around the time and the jaggery.”
It is a wonderment, continues Bhaskaran, “to taste how different dals behave to different types of jaggery, and other addition. In our case for instance, we also use coconut in place of jaggery at times to give the filling (poli) its taste that is further enhanced with a pinch of salt. Of course, what also plays an important role is the dough. In Tamil Nadu, we use the coarsely ground whole wheat flour as it absorbs more water, turns slight chewy yet soft and when made crisp can travel well, unlike other places that have shifted to maida (one prepared by sieving flour twice) to give the sweet flatbread its flakiness.”
In fact, continues Chef Sadanandan, whose first introduction to the flatbread was a kid as a summer treat, “the beauty of Obbattu stems from the fact that it aces not just in creating this healthy combination of carbohydrates and protein but also that sweet, warm aroma that works to bring down the stress level. Think about it, it takes just a single bite of this well toasted flatbread to get you smiling.”
As for becoming a balanced sweet, continue the culinary experts, “the melange of complex carbohydrate that is broken down while it was cooked on the griddle and the protein from the dal – even the water can be used in parts for the dough if it is a whole wheat dough – helps in giving us the feeling of satiation as the dish is digested in two parts: The first, when the carb and broken sugar is consumed for energy and then when the protein in the dal is broken down.”
One of the many reasons that as a sweet Puran Poli or Obbattu, says Chef Bhaskaran, “is always had before a meal, as a snack or preferably during the breakfast time when it has time to digest properly.”
No surprise that Obbattu, which finds mention in Bhavaprakash and Bhaishajya Ratnavali written by Govind Dasa, was also an integral part of Charak Samhita and later Ayurveda treatments where the sweet flatbread was used as an antidote to not only revv up the palate and calm the mind, but also to balance the circadian rhythm of the body.
A fact that nutritional therapists agree with. After all, a lot of the benefit of Obbattu or Puran Poli comes with it being a comfort food as well – which works not just on the health level but also emotional quotient that correlates the sweet to happy occasions. Result, as a celebratory sweet the affect of this high calorie food is that of nourishment, of the body, mind, and soul.
RECIPE OF OBBATTU
For the Dough
1 cup Whole Wheat flour
¼ tsp turmeric / haldi
¼ tsp salt
½ cup water (or as required)
¼ cup oil (to soak)
For the filling
1 cup tuvar dal / bele pappu (washed)
3 cups water
¼ tsp turmeric / hald
1 tsp oil
1 cup jaggery / gud / bella
¼ tsp cardamom powder / elachi powder
¼ cup rice flour (for dusting)
Ghee for serving
• Prepare the dough by first mixing the flour with suji (optional), salt and turmeric and knead it to a soft dough by adding required quantity of water and 2 tbsp of oil. Cover and allow it to rest for 2 to 3 hours.
• Wash tuvar dal 2 to 3 times and add about of 5 cups of water to it and boil on medium flame for 20 to 25 minutes or until the dal is cooked well. Drain and keep the water to be used in making Obbattu Saaru/Rasam.
• In a heavy bottomed pan, melt the jaggery in a little bit of water and remove the impurities that rise to the top. Once clean, add the cooked dal and stir well, add cardamom powder.
• Cook the mixture on medium heat for about 10 minutes or till the dal and jaggery are well incorporated. Let the mixture cool before mashing it into a poli consistency.
• To make Obbattu, divide the dough into equal parts. Take one part, roll it into a small chapati, and place the filling and turn it into a big ball. Roll it to the size of a stuffed chapati. Use rice flour to keep Obbattu dough workable.
• On a hot tawa, first cook both sides till the dough is done. Serve hot basted with ghee.