What could two different dishes originating from two different directions of India have in common?
Plenty – and we are not just talking vegetables this time.
By Madhulika Dash
On the surface, the two dishes are as different as chalk and cheese. One is a speciality from Gujarat, the other comes from Odisha. And yet, when you take a deeper look into these classic winter dishes, you find how the differences fuse, in spite the fact that while the former is barbecued, upside down inside a pit, the latter is a subtly flavoured stew much like Ratatouille cooked upright. In fact, Ghanta (pronounced Ghan-taw) is the Indianised version of the French favourite, which works on the age-old principle of using the vegetable as flavorant to create a bowl of comfort deliciousness. A theme that all forms of Undhiyu share too – be it the stuffed vegetables, cooked upside-down speciality from Surat, the slightly spicy Kathiavadi one or the barbequed version called Umbadiyu.”
Fascinatingly, while both versions of the dishes were developed as an ode to the traditionally grown, local seasonal best, they were also meant to be masterpieces of nutritive conservation culinary technique, and of course the art of layered cooking.
Take for instance, the Umbadiyu or Matla Undhiyu, says Purvi Vyas, founder, Plate Politics (a forum that looks into sustainable farming and food habits), a barbequed version of the famous Surat cousin, it is made of three basic ingredients (of course, with the liberty to add more) of papadi, sweet potatoes and potatoes cooked in an old pot is first stuffed with weeds which smell like Ajmo. Once the weed becomes aromatic, vegetables are placed into the pot that has been removed from the fire, covered with leaves and placed back on the hearth to cook for the next 45 minutes.”
Likewise, is the case with Ghanta, says recipe curator Alka Jena (of CulinaryXpress), which although isn’t dry coked – it uses a little water given that lentil is one of the components of the dish – but uses a similar kind of composition that includes broad beans, yams, drumsticks, pumpkin and such, which are cooked on slow fire in an earthen pot and once done is tempered with panch phutan or even cumin for that ‘nostalgic aroma’ that revvs up the appetite. The Malta version, says Vyas, although doesn’t use much of tempering – in fact, it gets its additional flavour from the pit cooking that uses vegetables, tel quel – and are deskinned and chopped once they are cooked and then served with wood apple sweet chutney and a slightly pungent relish made with garlic and coriander on the an optional sev garnish for those who love crunch.
The similarity, interestingly, in both the cases, while the pairing of vegetable ensures that the chart of nutrition is complete for one meal with the required fibre, sugar and complex antioxidants and vitamins, the slow cooking ensures that much of the nutritive value is preserved. In case of Umbadiyu, the casing of leaf provides the extra moisture needed, while Ghanta, it is the lentil water that preserves the nutrients. The fact that either dishes is cooked in earthen pots lends the dish not only its aroma but also lends it that rich mineral content required by the body for better digestion and gut building.
Little wonder each is called the Winters’ Superbowl. After all, it has taste, health and winter season’s best.