Mug-mushurer daal/Mixed lentil soup with butternut squash

DSC_0293In between sessions of intense research, my nerdy husband often takes a break (from the experiments, not from the nerdiness) and Googles random stuff. Some of these things are so random that he comes up with results even more inconclusive than his scientific data. For example, he knew the words Sagina Mahato but had no clue about what they might mean (it’s a Bengali movie made in the 70s). Then he realized that he knows the word khagina but again had no clue about it. Isn’t it random? He will always say “Google is your friend” or sometimes if I ask him something and he is not in a mood to answer, he’ll say “GIYF”, which infuriates me. Anyway, from “sagina” his neurotic brain went to “khagina”, which he Googled and for a change came up with something beautiful, which was a recipe for anda/egg-bhurji aka khagina on Shayma Saadat’s blog spicespoon.com. He liked the recipe (and was blown away by the looks of the blogger) and sent the link to me.

DSC_0299It was love at first sight. I loved her blog and after reading couple of her stories and recipes, I loved it even more. A very funny thing happened when I saw the khagina recipe on her blog. A few months ago I had almost nothing at home to eat, only leftover daal in the fridge. Usually I fry an egg to eat with the daal, but this time I made a bhurji instead, and threw in a few random things to mix with the egg. To my surprise, it was almost the exact same recipe written on her blog. How could it be possible? I didn’t even know the name khagina, never Googled it and nor had I seen the egg-bhurji recipe on the internet. I am very surprised and have no clue how to explain it. Maybe it’s a true coincidence. The day I made the bhurji, my husband liked it very much and found it very unusual. I never made it again and had no plan to make it in near future. It was a makeshift recipe for no-food-in-the-fridge days. I didn’t anticipate that my husband’s random Google searches would link me to back to my haphazardly constructed anda-bhurji in this strange way. Life is full of surprises.

DSC_0311I was browsing around trying to find something easy and quick to try from her blog. Finally I found this daal and decided to try it. I love daal and try to cook it every possible way. I liked the recipe soon after I read it. I liked the story behind it even more. It’s beautiful and I can literally visualize the story. If you read the recipe, please read the story….it will make the daal taste even better.

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Recipe: (adapted from Shayma Saadat of Spicespoon and my mother’s recipe)

I have used both cumin and Bengali five spice as seasoning and both of them taste equally good. So, feel free to use any of them.

Ingredients:

Mushur daal/masoor daal//red lentils: ½ cup

Mug daal/yellow lentils: ½ cup

Onion:  2 tbsp. finely chopped

Turmeric: ½ tsp.

Garlic: 2 cloves

Tomato: One medium, ripe and juicy, finely chopped

Cilantro: a handful, finely chopped

Jeera/whole cumin seeds/panchphoron/Bengali five spice: 11/2 tsp.

Butternut squash/pumpkin: 8-10 nos. cut into ¾-1 inch cubes (optional)

Green chilis: 2-3 nos., slit length wise (optional)

Dried red chilies: 2 nos.

Mustard or any other oil: 1 tbsp.

Salt to taste

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  • Wash the lentils with several changes of water and then drain.
  • Start boiling enough water to cook the lentils in a deep bottom pot.
  • Once the water starts boiling, add the lentils. Let the whole thing come to a boil again.
  • Turn the heat to medium.
  • While boiling the daal, spoon off any scum arising on the top of the lentils.
  • Add turmeric and let the lentils get almost cooked.
  • Mix the lentils with a whisk until they form a uniform consistency.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes. Let the tomatoes get cooked.
  • Add the butternut squash (if using) and boil for several more minutes until the squash is completely cooked and the soup reaches its desired consistency. Add water if the soup looks too thick by now. Add the green chillies too.
  • Add salt and mix well.
  • In a separate pan, heat up the oil. Once hot, turn the heat to low and add the garlic. Let the garlic infuse the oil.
  • Turn the heat to medium and then add the jeera/cumin/Bengali five spice next and let them sizzle a bit.
  • Follow with the dried chilies and let it go one shade darker.
  • Add the chopped onion and sauté it for few minutes. Once you get a nice aroma of all the sautéed spices, add the whole thing to the boiling daal.
  • Quickly cover the pot and turn the heat to low. Let it be like this for 5-10 more minutes.
  • Add lots of chopped cilantro and serve with plain rice.
  • Definitely sprinkle a generous amount of lemon juice while eating.
  • Goes well with a side salad.

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Falafels/Chickpea fritters

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A thought has been bugging me for a while, are we losing the balance? Losing balance to live a healthy yet happy life? Probably yes. As I write about food, I’ll keep it food related. After I came to this country (USA), it took me a while to adjust to the abundance and wastage and also the culture of fried chicken and humongous portions at restaurants. I wasn’t used to it. I have seen my Maa saving every last grain, not because we were poor, but because she thought it’s wrong to waste food. She didn’t pour a gallon of oil in her pot to cook something. She knew how to make food taste good without soaking it in oil. I couldn’t be like her. Rather to put in another way, I am not there yet. We Indians eat a lot of fried food, but when I was growing up, we were taught to live in moderation. It’s called ‘Bengali middle class culture’, rather ‘Indian middle class culture’. People were not super thin like the malnourished fashion models who have unfortunately become the stereotype of female beauty. Bengalis were proud of their ‘bhNuri’/potbellies and didn’t mind at all being a little on the heavier side of the weighing scale. I don’t know if it was right or wrong, may be neither right, nor wrong.

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Now things are rapidly changing. I can see two distinct mentalities, both being far from the reality. One section of society is willing to accept anorexia to achieve the Victoria’s Secret look while another is breaking the weighing scale. Some people freak out even if they hear the sound “deep frying”; others indulging with saturated fat almost in every bite they eat. I suppose both extremes have always existed but the number of people at either end seems to be increasing. I am seeing people going to such an extreme that they see everything unhealthy. They lose the fun of eating good food. Being suspicious of every grain they consume, or do not consume. On the other hand some people seem to have lost all semblance of self-control and are completely comfortable with their extreme obesity.

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Although I am nowhere close to my “ideal weight” (read model like), I do try to maintain a middle path. I don’t want stick thin legs and skinny arms. I also do not want to go XXXL. I believe in moderation. It’s ok to indulge yourself with deep fried food like these super delicious falafels if you crave them occasionally. Eating ice cream and skipping the gym once in a while is not going to kill you. The perfectly flat tummy you are trying to achieve is going to rob half of the happiness from your life. So, people, find the happy medium. Whole grains and bacon, gluten-free and artificially flavored, GMO and organic, fast food lovers and locavores, farm-raised or Wal-Mart bought can all be on the same plate…but just in the right amounts.

Recipe:

As I didn’t grow up eating falafel, I have no secret family recipe. I have adapted (rather followed it religiously) the recipe from here. I am copy-pasting the original recipe only with one or two minor changes. Go to the link if you want to see step by step pictures. It’s a no-fail recipe if you follow it carefully. It’s also a crowd pleaser and very easy to make.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound (about 2 cups) dry chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3-5 cloves garlic (I prefer roasted)
  • 1” piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 green chili peppers
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of ground cardamom
  • Vegetable oil for frying (grapeseed, canola, and peanut oil work well)

Falafel

  • Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl and cover them by about 3 inches of cold water. Let them soak overnight. They will double in size as they soak – you will have between 4 and 5 cups of beans after soaking.
  • Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans well. Pour them into your food processor along with the chopped onion, garlic cloves, ginger, green chilies, parsley, flour, salt, cumin, ground coriander, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cardamom.
  • Pulse all ingredients together until a rough, coarse meal forms. Scrape the sides of the processor periodically and push the mixture down the sides. Process till the mixture is somewhere between the texture of couscous and a paste. You want the mixture to hold together, and a more paste-like consistency will help with that… but don’t overprocess, you don’t want it turning into hummus!
  • Once the mixture reaches the desired consistency, pour it out into a bowl and use a fork to stir; this will make the texture more even throughout. Remove any large chickpea chunks that the processor missed.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
  • Note: Some people like to add baking soda to the mix to lighten up the texture inside of the falafel balls. I don’t usually add it, since the falafel is generally pretty fluffy on its own. If you would like to add it, dissolve 2 tsp of baking soda in 1 tbsp of water and mix it into the falafel mixture after it has been refrigerated.
  • Fill a skillet with vegetable oil to a depth of 1 ½ inches. I prefer to use cooking oil with a high smoke point, like grapeseed. Heat the oil slowly over medium heat. Meanwhile, form falafel mixture into round balls or slider-shaped patties using wet hands or a falafel scoop. I usually use about 2 tbsp of mixture per falafel. You can make them smaller or larger depending on your personal preference. The balls will stick together loosely at first, but will bind nicely once they begin to fry.

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Note: if the balls won’t hold together, place the mixture back in the processor again and continue processing to make it more paste-like. Keep in mind that the balls will be delicate at first; if you can get them into the hot oil, they will bind together and stick. If they still won’t hold together, you can try adding 2-3 tbsp of flour to the mixture. If they still won’t hold, add 1-2 eggs to the mix. This should fix any issues you are having.

  • Before frying my first batch of falafel, I like to fry a test one in the center of the pan. If the oil is at the right temperature, it will take 2-3 minutes per side to brown (5-6 minutes total). If it browns faster than that, your oil is too hot and your falafels will not be fully cooked in the center. Cool the oil down slightly and try again. When the oil is at the right temperature, fry the falafels in batches of 5-6 at a time till golden brown on both sides.
  • Once the falafels are fried, remove them from the oil using a slotted spoon.
  • Let them drain on paper towels. Serve the falafels fresh and hot; they go best with a plate of hummus and topped with creamy tahini sauce. You can also stuff them into a pita.

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Troubleshooting: If your falafel is too hard/too crunchy on the outside, there are two possible reasons– 1) you didn’t process the mixture enough– return the chickpea mixture to the processor to make it more paste-like. 2) the chickpeas you used were old. Try buying a fresher batch of dried chickpeas next time.

Daal gosht/meat and lentil stew, a shining example of an Indo-Muslim dish:

DSC_1613Indian cuisine, from before and after the Muslim invasion, is significantly different. The Islamic rulers came in two successive batches. The first Muslim invaders came during the eleventh century and ruled under the name of Turkish Sultanate/Delhi Sultanate until 1526. They were mainly of Turkish and Afghan origins. The last ruler named Ibrahim Lodi of the Delhi Sultanate was defeated by Babur who came from central Asia in 1526. The central Asian Muslim rulers were known as Mongols which then got converted to the word “Mughals” and subsequently the British made it “Moguls”. Roughly speaking, India saw seven hundred and fifty years of Muslim rule, from the first invasion by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1001 to the Battle of Plassey in 1757 when the British were becoming de facto rulers. During this extended period, there was a huge amount of cultural exchange between the original inhabitants of the subcontinent (both Aryan and Dravidian) and the newcomers from Afghanistan, Turkey and Central Asia. Nothing escaped the Muslim influence – arts, crafts, music, literature and most importantly (to me at least) food. The Mongols, being not far removed from their nomadic roots, were known for quickly fire-grilled meats with very few spices and for adding dried nuts and fruits to their rice (pilaf or pulao). Additionally, reflecting the arid landscapes of their Central Asian homelands, their food was not known for being cooked with lots of water. On the other hand, India was not used to kababs and pilafs but exposed the Mughals to lentils cooked as a soup (daal) rather than the dry lentil salads of their homeland. Further variety came to the Mughal kitchen courtesy the thousand fragrant spices known to Indians since the Vedic era.
The coexistence of two distinct cultures gave birth to a proto-“fusion cuisine”, still popular today as “Mughlai cuisine” in India. Although the Mughal influence is very strong, if you reflect for a second you can see that it’s still a true hybrid of two cuisines. For examples, as I mentioned earlier, daal/lentils were a new thing to the Muslims and they gradually incorporated different types of lentils to their cuisine. Daal gosth is another example of the complex cultural integration that has shaped and continues to shape the magical land that is India.

Although it is assumed that Vedic Indians might have cooked a somewhat similar form of pilaf (which didn’t include dried fruits and nuts) and also animal sacrifice and grilling meat was common among the Hindu Kings, they were not common food eaten by every Indians.

DSC_1602Recipe: (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey)

(See the notes below)

Ingredients:

Yellow mung daal: 11/2 cups

Garlic: 4-6 good sized garlic cloves

Ginger: 3” pieces

Turmeric: 1 tsp.

Red chili powder/Cayenne pepper: 2-4 tsp. (depending on how hot you want)

Vegetable/peanut/mustard oil: 4 tbsp.

Onion: 1 large

Tomato: 1 medium, finely chopped

Sugar: 1 tsp.

Salt to taste

Green chili/Jalapeno: 2-3 nos. (may vary according to your taste)

Garam masala: 1 tsp. (recipe below)

Whole cumin seeds: ½ tsp.

Chicken/lamb/goat meat: 2-3 pounds. (I used goat meat, bone in but the original recipe calls for chicken)

Garam masala:

Cardamom seeds: 1 tbsp.

Black peppercorns: 1 tsp.

Whole cloves: 1 tsp.

Black cumin seeds/shajeera: 1 sp.

Nutmeg: 1/3 nutmeg

Cinnamon stick: 2-3 inches long, broken into smaller pieces.

·         Dry roast all the ingredients.

·         Let them come to room temperature.

·         Grind them to a fine powder.

·         Store in an air tight container.

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Daal gosht:

·         Heat up around four cups of water in a pot and let it come to a boil.

·         Wash the daal with several changes of water and drain.

·         Once the water starts boiling, add the daal and then let it come to a boil again.

·         Turn the heat to medium.

·         Spoon off the scum periodically.

·         Grind the ginger and garlic to somewhat a paste. Add the red chili/cayenne pepper powder and turmeric to it and mix well.

·         Once the daal is cooked completely, mash it with the back of a spoon or lentil stirrer (the traditional one). Keep it aside.

·         When the daal is cooking, slice the onion into very fine rings or chop it fine.

·         Heap up the oil and once the oil is hot, add a tsp. of sugar and let it caramelize.

·         Add the onion slices.

·         Once the onion turns translucent, add the ginger-garlic-turmeric paste mixture. Sauté for the mixture for 5 minutes and then add the tomato.

·         Cook the entire mixture for several minutes until the raw taste is gone and oil starts leaving the spice.

·         Add the meat pieces and cook until the spice coats the meat very well and the entire thing turns into a deep reddish golden color.

·         Add around 1-11/2 cups of HOT water. Add salt. Bring it to a boil and then turn the heat to medium. Cover the pot with a lid and let the meat get almost cooked.

·         Uncover and add the daal, whole cumin seeds and the green chilis/jalapenos.

·         Let it boil on medium high heat until the meat is completely cooked and the sauce reaches the desired consistency.

·         Once done, add around one tea spoon garam masala, stir to mix and then cover until you serve.

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PS: The original recipe calls for chicken but as didn’t have chicken at home, I used goat meat.

 I haven’t roasted the mung daal but I would suggest you to do that. I am sure it will taste better as the daal will get a nice nutty aroma once dry roasted.

Store bought garam masala and freshly/homemade garam masala makes a huge difference. So if you have few minutes in hand, you can make it at home. You’ll thank me later.

I have another recipe of lentil and meat stew but it taste very different due to the difference in the lentil and spices used. Both of them will be/is a crowd pleaser as you can make a large portion and it is quite economical.

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Serving suggestion:

I have used rice to take the pictures because I didn’t have any energy left to make roti right after making the daal gosth. It goes best with any kind of Indian (naan) or flaky bread like the Iranian/Afghan breads. Definitely add a side salad and if possible a simple raita/pickle (Indian).

Optional: Sprinkle a few dashes of lemon juice to add a bit of a tang.

This was the day first photo shoot but I wasn’t happy with it. I am adding this picture to show you the texture and more of the actual daal gosht.

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“Almost a mother”? It’s a myth

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Recently life is tough, pretty tough with many challenges to overcome, many hurdles to jump and many sleepless nights to go through. But I am hopeful that things will change soon and that the bright light at the end of the tunnel will soon come into view.

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It was bhaiphnota/bhai dooj. I called him to shower all my blessings on him and wish him a beautiful, healthy and prosperous life. He sounded sick. I asked him if he was ok? He said he has fever, high fever. I didn’t worry, may be a typical season-change sort of fever, it will go away in a couple of days. Unfortunately it didn’t. On the contrary it went from bad to worse over the next few days. I felt helpless. After all, he is still my little brother and I cannot see him suffering. I frantically looked for someone who could take care of him till I got the situation under control. I didn’t tell Maa because I didn’t want her to worry and spend sleepless nights (in any case, she is visiting me in the US and could not go to Delhi even if she wanted to). It was my struggle: I fought it alone. Everyday when I called him, he asked “Maa ke bolechhis? (Did you tell mother yet?). Helpless, I would reply “No, not yet, maybe tomorrow”. He kept on insisting me and I kept on resisting. After a few days, he said helplessly “Maa pray korlei shob thik hoye jabey” (if Maa prays for me, I’ll be fine) and that brought tears to my eyes. That single word “Maa/mother” brings so much comfort and trust to him in his hout of dire need. I decided not to hide it from Maa anymore. May be if Maa calls him he will get the strength, maybe he will get better faster.

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Many people have told me that I am ‘almost like a mother to my brother’ and I sort of believed it. But, at that very moment I realized that no one can be ‘almost a mother’. Either you are my mother or you are not. Period. No one can replace that relationship, that very special comfort zone. It’s an irreplaceable bridge connecting two human beings.

Anyhow, now that Maa is with us, I am being immensely spoilt and pampered. I have given her my list of favorite things to cook and it will be done. I am trying to learn several things from her as well. One of my favorite things that she makes is Nimki, a tiny diamond-shaped savory fried dough eaten as a snack in Bengal especially during special occasions like Kali Puja or Bijoya Dashami. After many failed attempts of my own, I asked Maa to make them and I closely watched her during the entire time, noting down every tiny step. It’s an addictive snack. The best part is, you can make a large batch and store it for months in an airtight container.

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Recipe:

Ingredients:

Moida/maida/all-purpose flour: 1 cup+1/4 cup for rolling

Kalonji/nigella seeds: ½ tsp.

Baking powder: ½ tsp.

Room temperature/cold water: ½ cup

Salt: ½ tsp.

Oil: 2 tbsp.+ enough to deep fry the nimkis

Rolling pin, board and knife

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  • Add the salt and the kalonji seeds to the flour and mix them well.
  • Add the oil and mix the oil with the dough. Break any clump and keep on mixing. The oil should be uniformly distributed.
  • Gradually add the water and knead the flour to a tight dough. If you decide to use it a little later, then add less water. The dough will get soft and sticky if kept for a while.
  • Pinch balls out of the dough (4-5 nos.). The number of balls will depend on you and the size of the rolling board. Don’t make the dough either very thick or very thin (may be around 1/8”). I didn’t measure the rolled dough so cannot give you the exact measurement.
  • Heat up enough oil in a pan. Don’t make it too hot. Medium high flame should be fine.
  • Slice the dough diagonally and then to diamond shapes (as shown in the picture). I like mine really tiny but the shape will not affect the end result.
  • Once you are done with one set, drop them in the hot oil and constantly move them with a spoon. That way they will get evenly cooked and browned.
  • Cook them until they reach a visible brown color. Do not wait until the deep brown shade as they will become a shade darker once you pull them out of the oil.
  • Once cooked, drain them on an absorbent paper.
  • Fry all of them and let them cool down.
  • Store them in an airtight container.
  • You can sprinkle a little bit of black salt/bit noon/kala namak while eating.

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Kumro ar kNathal dana diye motor daal/Split pea lentil soup with pumpkin and jackfruit seeds and how the food culture is changing

DSC_0844In the Bengali culture, there are foods which we consider as daily staples and others which we eat only on festive occasions. Whereas the culture of daily food is retaining its purity, the ceremonial food is gradually changing its course toward more of a ‘hotchpotch’ cuisine, as likely to be from France as it is from Bengal. Even at my own wedding reception, the menu included items as disconnected as Italian salad and the very traditional East Bengali chitol machher muithya/chitol fish balls in spicy gravy. Being a small-town girl and having no idea whatsoever what to make of the mixed spread, I asked my husband to enlighten me on the menu. Somewhat flippantly, he answered ‘this is what is called a cosmopolitan menu’.

DSC_0850As a kid and even during my growing up years, there were foods which we considered ‘biye baarir khabar’ (wedding ceremony food). Although they were considered ceremonial food, they were often jazzed-up versions of everyday dishes, although on the spicier and richer end of the spectrum. On a ceremonial menu, there was and will never be a simple mushurir daal (red lentil soup), thore (banana blossom curry), beguner bhorta (roasted eggplant) or uchche chachchori (bitter gourd curry). Instead there will be machher matha diye muger daal (lentils cooked with fish head), alu fulkopir daalna (cauliflower and potato curry), machher kalia (spicy fish curry) and shukto (bitter toned mixed vegetable curry) (although most of these are now unfashionable and confined to the lunch menu, which these days is the neglected stepchild of the Bengali wedding feast, although this was not always so). I don’t know how some foods acquired celebrity status and made red-carpet entries to the dinner menu while some others failed to leave the everyday mundane status. I suspect it has little to do with subtlety of taste and relates more to the price of the ingredients (expensive ingredients = successful host, taste be damned). The daal I am sending to My Legume Love Affair (MLLA62) hosted by Siri is among the ones which never made it to the A-list but nevertheless it’s one of my favorites (even my Dear Husband likes it a lot). It’s versatile, very nutritious, tasty and healthy. The vegetables added to the daal depend on the availability and could be whatever you have in your pantry. An added bonus is that can be eaten with both ruti/chapatti/bread or rice.

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Recipe:

Ingredients:

Split pea lentils/motor daal: 1 cup

Water: 3-4 cups

Pumpkin: 8-10 one inch cubes (more or less as you prefer)

Jackfruit seeds (optional): around ten (I partially sun dried the seeds and then removed the outer shell and halved them right before I added them to the daal)

Ginger paste: 1 tbsp. or a little more.

Turmeric: ½ tsp.

Pnach phoron/Bengali five spice mix (equal portion of fenugreek, mustard, fennel, cumin and nijella seeds): 1 tsp.

Dry red chilis: 2 nos.

Mustard oil or ghee: 1 tbsp.

Green chili: 2-3 nos.

Sugar: ½ tsp.

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Split pea lentils

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Jackfruit seeds with the shells on.

  • Wash the lentils with several changes of water and then soak them for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Start boiling the water and once the water starts boiling, add in the lentils and turmeric powder.
  • Once it’s half way cooked, mash the lentils with a spoon, whisk or a daal ghutni/daaler knata.
  • Add the pumpkins and the jackfruit seeds. Add slit green chili, salt and sugar.
  • Let it boil until the daal is completely cooked. It should not be mushy. Add the ginger paste, boil for a minute or so and then turn off the flame. Check for seasoning.
  • In a separate pot/pan/ladle heat up the mustard oil/ghee and let it become hot.
  • Add the pnach phoron and the dry red chilis. Let the spice sizzle and the red chilis get a darker shade (around one minute).
  • Add the seasoning/tadka/phoron to the cooked daal and immediately cover it with a lid.
  • Let the flavor infuse for several minutes and then stir to mix the seasoning and the daal. Serve hot.

PS: I have made this daal with other vegetables too. It tastes great with ridge gourd/jhinge, sweet potato/mishit alu, begun/eggplant, kumro/pumpkin, lau/kumro doga (young shoots of either pumpkin or bottle gourd plant, not the leaves) all together.

The thickness should be of medium consistency, neither too thick nor too watery.

Another motor daal recipe will be found here.

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Vegetable chop-ped, the Bengali way or may be Bhejittebil chop

DSC_0315I almost forgot about the glorious Bengali evening snacking ritual of chop-muri (deep-fried croquettes and puffed rice) until my parents came to the US last month. My evening snack is pretty much limited to the yogurt-fruits-fruits-yogurt routine. In West Bengal, my home state in India, it was a completely different story, at least when I lived there. I would love to believe that this is still true, so the rapid change in snacking style from chop-muri at the local choper dokan (roadside tea stall) to falafel at the latest Western-style coffee shop is very upsetting for me. I know societies change and I should accept it, but it still upsets me. In my heart of hearts, I still hope that for many years to come, as the sun sets on my native Chandernagore, chop-muri finds its way into many home and the saucepan sits on the stove ready for the daily ritual of watching horrendously trashy, ill-produced and overdramatized Bengali serials before dinner.

The chop in West Bengal can come in a hundred different flavors, a few of which will be sold by every roadside choper dokan (chop shop).). There is a specific way of eating chop muri…you take a handful of muri, throw it in upwards into your mouth from a distance, bite into a green chili and then eat a small portion of your chop. Then, with your cheeks swollen with all of these, you start chewing with a vengeance. At first you can barely move your mouth. Then quickly the airy puffed rice vanishes and you are ready for your second portion. It’s not as gross as it sounds, but it’s not a dainty affair either.

The vendor sells the chops in a thonga (packets made out of old newspaper) and by the time they reach home, the packets have a typical oil-soaked look. The oil (actually dalda or vegetable shortening, pure saturated fat in case you were wondering) used to fry the chops is at least a couple of days old and almost black but still the chops came out super tasty. You can try cutting down on the carbs and fats some other time…but not while eating chop muri.

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My favorite chopper dokan food was singara (Bengali samosas) and then a few others tied closely for second. These were machher chop, bhejitebil chop and deemer chop (chop made with fish, vegetables and eggs, respectively). Although samosas have gained a prominent spot in Western culture, other chops didn’t quite make it. I really wish they did. Vegetable chops are best in winter when beets (or beet root, as Bengalis call it), carrots and peas are in season. Peanuts are mixed in to add a little bit of bite to the vegetables. This chop is supposed to be slightly sweet in taste with a crispy shell outside. Below is my mother’s vegetable chop recipe which is pretty close to the one from the roadside shops. Muri and green chillies can be found in your local Indian store.

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Recipe:

Here I am again with my Maa’s recipe and without any measurement. If I ask Maa for proportion, she will say “Oshab janina…chhobi tobi tolar dorkar nei…khaa toh” (I don’t know all these, you don’t need to take a picture, just eat it). So, no table spoon or tea spoon here…just eye ball it. J All she could say is, she used 2 large beet roots, two smallish potato and four small carrots. Peas are optional.

Ingredients:

Vegetables: Beet root, carrots and potato.

Spices: Roasted and ground together: Cumin, coriander, red chili, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.

To make a paste or grated: Ginger

Turmeric powder

Salt

Green chilies

Raw peanuts

Cilantro (optional)

To fry:

Bread crumbs

Cornstarch

Baking powder

Oil for deep frying

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  • Peel and boil the vegetables. Do not over-boil them…they will be super mushy.
  • Drain and let them cool. Mash them together and try to make a smooth dough sort of thing.
  • Add everything above ‘to fry’ list. Mix well. My mother cooks the mixture on the stove top for a while just to make sure there is no extra moisture left (but this is optional).
  • Form balls or any other shape you like.
  • Make a batter with the cornstarch. Add a pinch of baking powder to it.
  • Dip the vegetable balls into it, coat nicely and roll them over the breadcrumbs.
  • Finish making all the balls.
  • Start heating up enough oil to deep fry the balls. You can start the oil while making the balls.
  • Deep fry them. Do not over crowd the pan while frying.
  • Once they are medium-darkish brown color, take them out and drain them on absorbent paper.
  • Enjoy them with puffed rice/mamra or Muri or just itself.DSC_0317

Please let me know if you do not understand anything in the recipe. Again, the whole thing happened on my absence, so no first hand knowledge. If you need any other information, I’ll try to get it from my Mother.

 

Bhaja mug daal/roasted mung daal and the Bengali wedding

DSC_0857Indian weddings in general are overwhelming. Sometimes fun, sometimes extremely frustrating. The thing which bothers me is the wastefulness of it. Many things are done based on blind observance of ritual without any semblance of rationality. Nobody knows why but still they get done. The Brahmin priest pretty much has the final say in determining the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’. Of course the parents on either side can chime in, but who’s going to risk their own daughter’s or son’s marriage? In a Hindu Bengali wedding, you are supposed to offer rice, vegetables and fruit to fourteen generations of your forefathers. When my dad asked our family priest of how much rice he should buy, the priest said “one kilogram” for each forefather. Are you kidding? Isn’t it outright robbing? Who among my ancestors had that appetite? Of course, the priest takes it all home anyway after the wedding, so my forefathers would have gone hungry anyway.

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Floor painting: Fish is considered to be a sign of fertility and hence the design.

Among other nonsensical things in the wedding process, there is something way funnier than the rest and that is the pointy Bengali groom hat or topor. It’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen a human being wearing. No one looks good in it. It’s one size fits all in theory and in reality one size fits none. It’s annoying, period. Thank goodness I wasn’t supposed to wear any such funny thing. That hat should be eliminated from the whole wedding process. I am sure there are people who would love it, but sorry, stay away from me. I severely doubt your fashion sense (I am not a fashion icon but you don’t have to be one to dislike that hat – my husband, the single most unfashionable man I know, hates it even more than me). 

The groom with the funny hat

The groom with the funny hat

BUT, not all things are bad in a Bengali wedding. When it comes to food, we are the best. No argument please. We Bengalis can beat anyone. If you ask me, I love the lunch menu more than the dinner menu…almost always. The dinner kind of gets iffy sometimes. With lachcha paratha (layered flatbread) and Kashmiri dum aloo paired with pathar mangsho and tomato chutney, I get all confused. During lunch it’s all pure Bengali…to be precise it’s delicious. The bhaja muger daal with lomba begun bhaja (moong lentils and fried eggplant), machher jhol (fish curry), chatni, papor (pappadam), mishti doi (sweet yougurt)…pure bliss. I am drooling. The memories are gradually fading but I don’t want them to fade away completely. A staple on the menu of the many biye baari (wedding ceremonies) that I’ve gone to, (believe it or not, including my own), this bhaja moong daal is something which I’ll cherish forever.

Recipe:

Ingredients:

Yellow husked mung daal/mung lentils: ½ cup

Ginger: around 1” piece

Green chilies: 2-3 nos.

Turmeric: ½ tsp.

Sugar: ½ tsp.

Salt to taste

Tadka/phoron/seasoning:

Cumin seeds: ½ tsp.

Bay leaves: 2 small

Whole dry red chilies: 2 nos.

Ghee/oil: ½ tsbp. DSC_0864

  • Roast the lentils in a heavy bottom pan on medium low heat. Stir very frequently. Try not to burn the lentils. It takes a little bit of patience but well worth it. Roast it until the lentils change to a darker shade and release a nice aroma of roasted lentils.
  • Cool and wash with two-three changes of water.
  • Boil 1 ½ cups of water in a pot. Once the water starts boiling, add the washed daal. Bring to a boil and lower the flame to medium. Add turmeric.
  • Take the white foamy stuff off as it starts coming to the top of the boiling daal.
  • You can either chop the ginger fine or grind it to a paste. Add the ginger to the daal when it’s half cooked.
  • Stir the daal either with a wooden lentil stirrer (daaler kNata) or any other spoon. Do not make it a mush. You should be able to see the grain a little bit. I do not like thick mushy daal.
  • Add the green sugar and salt to taste once the daal is completely done.
  • In a separate pan, heat up the ghee (preferred) or any other oil and add the jeera/cumin seeds. Let them sizzle a little bit and then add the bay leaves and red chilies. Let them release the aroma and darken a little bit.
  • Immediately add the seasoning to the boiling daal and cover the pot. Turn off the heat as well.
  • Uncover right before serving and mix the seasoning well with the daal.

DSC_0868Note: You can pressure cook the daal if you want. I don’t because I cannot control the consistency of the lentils. It always ends up being too cooked. It’s my limitation but if you can control it, go ahead and cook it in whichever way is convenient for you.

Adjust the water according to your liking. Some people like it very thick, some light, so it’s up to you. I like it medium thick for mung daal.