About This Recipe
Come summers, a bowl of pakhala or fermented watery rice replaces the staple rice and dal lunches in the Indian coastal state of Odisha. The dish's name originates in the Sanskrit word ‘prakhyalana,’ which means to wash with water. This tangy, slightly sour dish is refreshing, has cooling effects, and is a delicious way to stay hydrated and beat the heat. Pakhala is often served with sides like sagaw bhaja (sauteed greens), chakata (roasted, mashed veggies), badi chura (fried and crushed sun-dried lentil dumplings) or some fried fish.
Pakhala is hydrating and can help maintain electrolyte balance, especially in hot weather due to its higher potassium content. Fermented rice is also high in resistant starch compared to regular rice, which helps lower cholesterol, improve constipation and serves as a prebiotic. The fermentation process and yogurt also improve the iron content and adds probiotics to promote improved gut health.
Notes: In the hot and humid Odisha summer, the fermentation process needs no starter or the addition of dahi or yogurt, but it is recommended for temperate or cooler climates.
Traditionally, twice-parboiled rice is preferred to make pakhala since it ferments better and holds well. Parboiled ponni or matta rice work just as well and are available in Indian stores globally.
- 1 cup (200 g) parboiled Bhajana or Karanee rice, or any medium-grain parboiled rice , soaked for 30 minutes
- 6-7 cups (1½ liters or qts) of water to cook the rice
- 1-2 tsp sour dahi or yogurt, including whey
- 1 tsp roasted cumin seeds
- 1 green chile, finely chopped
- 1-inch piece of ginger, julienned or grated
- 5-6 sprigs of cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 small (50 g) onion or 4-5 shallots, finely chopped
- ½ a lemon
Step 1In a large thick bottom pot, bring water to a boil. Drain the rice and add to the water in the pot. Cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until the rice is soft. Test by crushing a few grains between your finger and thumb. The rice should be softer than table rice . Drain the water through a strainer. Let the rice cool completely to room temperature.
Step 2Transfer the rice to a clay pot or any large non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic is fine). Add enough water to cover the rice and by 1-2 cm . Gently stir in the curd. Cover with muslin or cheesecloth and leave to ferment for 10-12 hours or till the water is cloudy. When the pakhala is ready, a few stray bubbles also pop up in the water and the rice gives off a sweet-sour smell.
Step 3Add the cumin, chile, ginger, cilantro, and onion. Squeeze the lemon juice in, season with salt, and serve. To save any leftovers, drain the water, replenish with fresh water, and cover and leave in the cool, dark place. Do not refrigerate and consume it the next day. Alternatively, you can save 1 cup of the fermented water and refrigerate in a glass bottle for up to a week to use it as a starter for the next batch of pakhala. The starter also deepens the flavor of the pakhala.
Substitutions: For a vegan version, sub the yogurt with 1-2 slivers of dried green mango (sold in Indian stores as amchur , ambosi, or ambula)
Try It With: Badi chura, sauteed amaranth greens, pan-fried pumpkin blossoms, roasted and mashed tomatoes, mashed potatoes (alu bharta/chokha), sagaw bhaja (sautéed greens), chakata (roasted, mashed veggies), badi chura (fried and crushed sun-dried lentil dumplings) or fried fish