We are a little late to the party as Dutiya Osha has come and gone (Oct 2) and we did not feature Ghanta Tarkari at the time. So we decided to go a little beyond the usual and try to find a little in depth knowledge of the dish in question. Literally, ‘ghanta tarkari‘ translates to ‘mixed vegetables‘ which is what it is at its core. However, there is no set recipe for it except for what is available on hand, aside from a few indispensable ingredients.
I assume anyone who follows our recipe knows their way through a kitchen and can handle a few substitutions for the sake of availability. The basic idea here is texture and taste. If you can nail it down then the rest is interchangeable. Here are a few salient points you have to hit to be able to make a good ghanta tarkari.
- Element of crunch: There must be something for you to bite into. Mostly it is achieved by sprouting moong dal and chana(bengal gram), soaking some chana dal and mixing it in near the end to prevent it from softening too much.
- Element of mushiness: There should be something that is soft and filling. This is provided by root vegetables like yam or potatoes and vegetables like pumpkin and papaya. People tend to mix in whatever they can find.
- Use of classic Odia spices: They characterize the distinctive taste that Odia dishes have. It is achieved by using the classic five spice mix of fenugreek, cumin, black mustard, fennel and nigella seeds called panch phutana. (Lit. Five spices). They are also used in Bengali, Assamese and Nepali cooking.
- A little bit of heat: This can be achieved by adding dried whole chili peppers. This is not a hot dish and is usually intended to be distributed among neighbours so we usually do not put too many chilies in it.
- No onions or garlic during Puja: Seriously, this is a big caveat. Any ghanta served during puja is to be prepared without onion or garlic. It is still tasty even without them so there is not a lot to worry.
Together with some form of carbohydrates like rice or roti, ghanta tarkari is considered a complete meal. Still, you can add any number of garnishes on top to enhance the food experience.
I’m not going to give any exact recipe as it is a very personalized dish and taste can vary with the proportions of vegetables used. The ingredients are roughly –
- Arbi (colocasia/taro root)
- Plantain (green bananas)
- Potala parwal/striped pear gourd)
- Pancha phutana (Five spice mix)
- Indian bay leaves
- Whole dried chilies
- Grated coconut for garnish (optional)
- Coriander leaves for garnish (optional)
- Salt to taste
- Onion/garlic etc.
The preparations for the dish start a day before as you need to soak the moong dal, kala chana(black gram) and chana dal to sprout the first two and soften the chana dal. If chana dal is not softened it takes a very long time to cook. Alternatively you can cook it separately in a pressure cooker and add it in.
On the day of the cooking wash the vegetables and cut them into cubes. Set aside the beans and others that can be cooked quickly and boil the slow cooking vegetables and chana dal with some bay leaves in lightly salted water. Get them off the heat when they are almost through and add the fast cooking vegetables like beans and tomatoes and continue. If you have some elephant yam on hand now is the time to add it in. Finally near the end add the sprouted dals.
In a separate vessel, heat up some oil and roast the whole spices till they start sputtering and become fragrant. Now add grated ginger and optional chopped onion and garlic and fry till fragrant. Once that happens get it off the heat and cover it.
Once the vegetables are fully cooked, mix in the spices while still hot and sprinkle any garnishes you want on top. Finally serve it with your carbohydrate of choice.
Ghanta tarkari has become an everyday meal in these days as ingredients are easy to source. However, in the older days, availability of most of the ingredients was very seasonal and spotty so it was only made during festive days. Today we still give a nod to this tradition by preparing a special ghanta tarkari during ‘Dutiya Osha’ in the coastal areas or ‘Dutibahana Osha’ as it is called in Western Odisha. In this festival childless women pray to Lord Dutibahana for a child and consume ghanta as prasad. Women with children also pray, albeit for the protection and welfare of the children. Women also pray for the well-being of their brothers in this festival.
Ghanta tarkari is prepared in large scale during this festival and distributed to everyone in the villages. It is considered to be a special delicacy different from the common way it is served throughout the year. Served together with rice, it can be considered a perfect one time meal.
I’ve not been able to find any historical documentation of the dish itself so I cannot state it with any sense of accuracy: ghanta tarkari as a recipe is hundreds of years old. I can infer it from its association with Dutibahana who has been worshipped for quite some time. The ingredient list has changed with the times; potatoes and tomatoes are recent additions, but the essence of the dish has not changed much. It is still a mixed vegetable dish that can serve as an accompaniment to rice all by itself, just as it was a long time ago.
I hope you find this post informative and interesting. As for me it was a source of frustration as not a lot of documentary evidence exists in easy to read form to make accurate conclusions. Still it was an interesting ride. Hope to see you again soon.Thank you for reading.
- sahapedia.org Our Food Their Food: A Historical Overview of the Bengali Platter. This post mentions ghanta by name in a reference to another book written around the 19th century.