Breaking down the Sankranti ‘oota’ with Bengaluru’s chef Dinesh Poojary

ByFathima Ashraf

Published Jan 16, 2024 | 12:00 PMUpdatedJan 16, 2024 | 12:00 PM

Chef Dinesh Poojary's rendition of the Sankranti oota comprised 8 specially-curated dishes, 2 staples and 3 desserts. (Supplied)

Makar Sankranti, as we all know, marks the arrival of spring and the end of winter, honouring the sun’s movement. In Karnataka, it is celebrated as Suggi habba, an occasion marking the conclusion of the harvesting season. With various culinary delights and customary practices, the day celebrates the harvest of seasonal crops including rice, sugarcane, beans, gourds, apple ber, and more. 

Paying homage to this auspicious day, Bengaluru’s chef Dinesh Poojary has curated his rendition of the traditional Sankranti Oota — an exquisite vegetarian meal at Oota Bangalore. Available from 15-31, January, the festive lunch offering is an opportunity for those looking to experience some of the authentic Karnataka flavours. 

“Festivals help us revive tradition and keep it alive. They are the glue that bring people together. It also makes us introspect, look at our rich culture and immense culinary wealth with a sense of pride,” says chef Poojary, who hails from Karnataka’s culinary hotspot of Kundapura.

Also Read: Pongal 2024: Celebrations spin a tale of nostalgia and tradition in TN

Going seasonal 

Typically, the Sankranti oota begins with the traditional Ellu Birodhu ritual. It is where platters laden with ellu (white sesame seeds), bella (jaggery), kopra (dry coconut), fried groundnuts, sakkare acchu (sugar candy moulds), and sugarcane stalks are shared among friends and family.

Makara Sankranti thaali (Supplied)

The entire menu has been curated to give people the feel of the season. (Supplied)

Chef Poojary’s finds inspiration in this custom. His menu comprises 8 specially-selected dishes, two staples and three desserts.

The oota begins with Ellu-Bella, a mixture of sesame, jaggery, roasted peanuts, and chana dal. It is accompanied by Ellu Neeru, a refreshing sesame-jaggery cooler infused with cardamom.

The starters on offer include Madikekalu Kosambari (sprouted moth dal salad), Have Vada (steamed gram dal vada), and Stuffed Capsicum Bajji (fritters). As for the mains, there are Berke Roti (multi-grain flatbread), Badnekayi Palya (aubergine curry), Hesarukali Pundi Palya (green gram with sorrel leaves), steamed rice with Udupi rasam, Avarekalu (hyacinth bean) Pulao, and raita.

The feast concludes with a trio of special desserts. It includes Godhi Huggi (broken wheat payasa), Sihi Huggi (rice and moong dal payasa), and Maadli (powdered roti with jaggery, sesame, and poppy seeds).

Breaking his offerings down, he adds, “The entire menu has been curated to give people the feel of the season. The Yellu Neeru, Habe Vada, Berake Roti, Maadli and Godi Huggi are unique dishes. They are not common in most menus.”

About curating this oota menu, Poojary says, he didn’t stick to the Sankranti tradition from one particular region alone.

“We have looked at Sankranti offerings from across Karnataka. For example, the Maadli, Palyas and Berke Roti are from North Karnataka. Meanwhile the Yellu Neeru, Avarekalu Pullao, Rasam and Godhi Huggi are from the southern regions,” he shares.

Also Read: Flavours & fervour of Makar Sankranti in Andhra, Telangana, and Karnataka

Tapping into memories

Poojary gets nostalgic about Sihi Huggi (Sweet Pongal) from his childhood days. “It was a staple during my growing up years. We also ate a lot of Ellu Bella, boiled peanuts and sugarcane,” he recalls.

Chef Dinesh Poojary (Supplied)

Chef Dinesh Poojary (Supplied)

While it’s hard for him to pick a favourite from the dishes that he has curated this time, he does have a soft corner for Yellu Neeru, Poojary confesses.

“It has a lovely nutty profile and the mild creaminess which makes it stand out. The drink also brings back lovely childhood memories. Even now, when I visit  my hometown, I love to have the one made at home,” he shares.

But there is no doubt about which one is the most challenging to prepare.

“The Madikekalu Kosambari poses a slight challenge. The traditional dish made with sprouted moong dal takes two days of carefully monitored sprouting. Besides, one needs to ensure an optimum ambient temperature as it tends to spoil at the slightest sign of heat and extra humidity,” he points out.

Also Read: Cockfighting venues in Andhra ready to roll ahead of Sankranti, despite bans

Rooted in tradition

At a time when most traditional dishes are refashioned to suit the modern palate, Poojary doesn’t feel the need to make the traditional Sankranti food contemporary.

“I feel Sankranti and its offerings are deeply rooted in tradition. I always advocate a deep dive into our culture and tradition to bring out hidden gems and keep the traditions alive as it is,” he shares.

For all the non-Kannadigas who are gearing up for their first-ever Sankrati oota experience, Poojary has some pointers.

“Experience the nutty flavours of sesame, poppy, coconut and lentils. There will be the sweetness of jaggery and spices like cardamom and sourness of sorrel leaves, tamarind and lemon. Also expect the herby notes of dill, coriander and mint and the spicy notes of fresh green chilli and crushed black pepper,” he shares.

He further adds, “Festivals play a major role in retaining the tradition of home-cooked traditional delicacies. This Sankranti, what I expect to harvest through my food is for all my guests to enjoy the seasonal flavours and get a feel of the Karnataka traditions.”

Also Read: Hyderabad textile specialist revisits Makar Sankranthi in Amalapuram

Sankranti oota priced at: ₹950

Location: 7th Floor, 331, Road, 5B Rd, Shivaji Nagar, EPIP Zone, Whitefield