As a kid, I remember waking up on a chilly January morning to the smell of incense, Jagannath Bhajan playing on the TV and the fragrance of fruits. As soon as I realize that it’s a holiday, I jump out of the bed, freshen up and end up in the puja room in no time to get the first spoonful of the delicious prasad served in a wooden bowl. The crunchy, fruity and aromatic prasad is enough to act as an alarm to my body, making it realize that it's that time of the year to behold the sight of the blue winter sky adorned with kites of all hues. Yes, I’m talking about none other than Makar Sankranti. Out of all the 12 Sankrantis in the Hindu calendar in a year, Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of a new year. The festival is enough to let us know that it’s now time to bid adieu to the chilly winter days and allow the warm sunrays to reach us and prepare us for spring.

One thing that still excites me about Makar Sankranti is the classic Odia signature dish for the festival- Makara Chaula. The delicious mixture of freshly harvested rice, sugarcane, ginger, black pepper powder, milk, bananas, fruits, chhena and coconut is enough to tantalize one’s palate, leaving him/her drooling over it. This delicacy is first served to the deities as Naivedya and distributed to the family members for good health and prosperity throughout the year.

If we trace the reason for Makara Chaula being a signature dish on Makar Sankranti, then most people believe that it is a tribute to the farmers marking the beginning of the harvest season. Moreover, the ingredients added to the dish have numerous Ayurvedic and cultural links to them. While the freshly harvested rice is full of nutrients beneficial for our bodies, black pepper and ginger are important for maintaining respiratory health and keeping the body warm during winters.

To make Makara Chaula, freshly harvested rice grains are washed and soaked for 3-4 hours. The soaked grains are then ground to make a coarse powder and transferred to a mixing bowl along with grated coconut, milk, chopped fruits (of your preference), chhena, black pepper powder, pounded ginger and sugarcane pieces and are mixed well to combine. In the end, mashed bananas are incorporated into the mixture to give them a semi-solid texture and relished.

So, this Makar Sankranti, make Makara Chaula at home and let us know how you like it.