Shorbet Adas: A humble lentil soup from a conflict world

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As many of the ancient civilizations existed along major rivers such as the Nile, Tigris, Indus, Euphrates and Yellow River, commerce was often carried through the ports situated along the rivers. Gradually, as modes of transportation became more advanced, riverine trade was supplemented by sea and land routes and international commerce took a grander shape through the Silk Route. Gold, silver, copper, silk, bronze, gemstones, incense, ivory and wild beasts were heavily traded between countries, often through middlemen who made a good profit by linking the worlds of demand and supply while keeping the source a closely guarded secret.

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The Eastern Mediterranean coastal region which is modern day Palestine-Gaza, Lebanon and Northwest Syria was called Canaan (the Land of Purple) and later, Phoenicia. Before the Western world started producing silk, it was highly expensive and mainly imported from China, Asia Minor, Persia and Syria-Palestine regions. Among all the places producing silk, Phoenicians were known for their luxury goods and specifically for highly refined silk products. The port of Sidon in Phoenicia made a unique fabric by combining silk fibers with the local linen and then dyeing the final product with rare Tyrian purple dye, extracted from the shells of a tiny mollusk. On the other hand, weavers in Alexandria, another port in the same area, embellished their silk with golden embroidery. Apart from silk, Phoenicians were also known for their high quality cedar wood, used for building ships and for beautiful woodcarving structures, glazed earthenware, painted pottery, invaluable glasswork and metalwork. Beyond their highly valuable export goods, their geographical location also made countries in the Eastern Mediterranean pivotal points in the maritime trade. Palestine with two major ports, Alexandria and Antioch was very strategically located in between Syria and Egypt and served as a major connection between the Syria-Palestine coastal regions, Asia Minor and Rome. Palestinians were known as the ‘middlemen of the ancient world’; both for their commercial success, as well as for the cultural beliefs, myths and knowledge they spread to the countries that with whom they traded.

http://biologicalexceptions.blogspot.com/2013/08/life-is-elemental.html

It took 10,000 molluscs to make a gram of dye. The dye was more expensive than gold for its equivalent weight. http://biologicalexceptions.blogspot.com/2013/08/life-is-elemental.html

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What happened to the land of promise? What went so wrong for them, for them to have reached the point that they are at now? Did someone rip them off, or is it part of the natural evolution of nations? Whenever I think about this region, my mind wanders to the thought of caravans unloading valuable merchandise, silk being embroidered with golden threads by skilled hands, stained beautifully purple with Tyrian dye, and the air filled with a mixed aroma of spices and incense. A murmur of people talking in myriad different tongues and in general carrying on with life in a world where there were no ceasefires, no Iron Domes, no Qassam rockets, no bombing of historical monuments and no innocent kids dying. I refuse to see what that land has turned into now, I refuse to see more ruined buildings, roads stained red from blood and corpses lying around because there is no room left in the morgues, and the chaos from losing hope and life like no one cares. I refuse to accept it but who really cares. I guess no one. We are after all pretty disposable among a crowd of 7 billion similar animals.

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Shorabet adas is a common soup eaten in that part of the world. Countries in the region name it differently but it pretty much boils down to the basic lentil soup with some vegetables thrown in. I really hope they find peace and commonality just like this soup. Everything thrown in one pot with a beautiful result shared by everyone.

If you really liked this article, you might also want to read this one.

Recipe:

Ingredients:

Red lentils/masoor daal: 1 cup
Olive oil: 4 tbsp.
Yellow onion: ¾ cup to one cup finely chopped
Garlic: 3-4 fat cloves of garlic finely chopped or mashed with the back of a heavy knife/spoon
Celery stalk: ½ cup-3/4 cup
Carrots: ¾ cup
Butternut squash: ¾ cup cubed/chopped
Chicken stock/vegetable stock: 7-8 cups

Turmeric: 1 tsp.

Cumin: couple tea spoons, lightly roasted and ground to a fine powder

Cilantro/parsley (traditional is parsley): a handful chopped fine

Aleppo pepper/chili flakes: to taste

Few wedges of lemon
Salt to taste

  • Wash the lentils, drain and set aside.
  • Heat up two tablespoon of olive oil and add the garlic. Let the garlic sizzle very gently in the oil to flavor the oil. Do not burn the garlic.
  • Add the onions and sauté them until translucent.
  • Add the chopped carrots, squash and celery. Sauté until fragrant.
  • Add the lentils and then sauté them well while mixing everything.
  • Add the turmeric, salt and the chicken stock (I usually warm up the stock in the microwave). Mix everything well.
  • Bring the whole soup to boil and then reduce the flame to medium.
  • Once the lentils and the vegetables are cooked, turn the heat off.
  • Let the soup cool down a bit and then blend everything to a smooth puree.
  • Bring the whole thing back on the stove top and adjust the consistency. If it’s too thick, add more stock/water. Reduce it if it’s too thin. Adjust seasoning too.
  • Serve in individual bowls, drizzled with olive oil, pepper flakes, parsley/cilantro, cumin powder and lemon wedges.
  • The best way to eat it is with toasted pita or any Arabic bread.

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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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Brishti bheja dine Khichuri/Khichdi /Lentil and rice mishmash on a rainy day

 

In West Bengal, the monsoon is a much anticipated season after a long and scorching summer. Of all the sights and smells of this lovely season, the one that lingers in my mind is the unique smell after the first few drops of rain touched the hot soil. We used to call it “sNoda gandho” (the aroma of fresh rain-soaked soil). We ran to the terrace to drench in the rain and my mother used to scream fearing that we might catch a cold. Sometimes it rained all day, sometimes for an hour and then a complete clear sky. Sometimes it rained incessantly for days on end. I think all Bengalis have only two things on their mind when monsoon arrives….their beloved khichuri and ilish machh bhaja (a wholesome meal of rice and lentil cooked together with a little bit of spice and fried hilsa fish). In days gone by, it used to be hard to shop for groceries when it was pouring outside, so the women would cook whatever possible with dry goods like rice and lentils. Now, rather than convenience or compulsion, it’s more like a tradition. Although it’s still a monsoon tradition, I could eat my mother’s khichuri everyday. Whenever I saw a few drops of rain, I used say “Maa khichuri banabe?” (Maa can you make khichuri?). Maa used to say “roj brishti porle ki roj khicuri khabi?” (Do you have to eat khichuri even if it rains everyday?). We were hit by the hurricane Sandy and it rained for whole three days. It reminded me of monsoon and I couldn’t stop myself from making khichuri.

The history of khichuri goes back a long. It is said that Job Charnock was offered khichuri when he arrived at Sutanati (the previous Calcutta). The pre-Aryan Bengali cooked something similar to the present day khichuri probably in an earthen pot. Like chicken tikka masala, ‘curry’ and many other Indian dishes, British took the khichuri hangover to England after the colonial rule. It’s called ‘kedgeree’ which is eaten during breakfast. It is quite different from the Indian khichdi and probably a modification of the original one.

 

The recipe below is my husband’s didima’s (maternal grandmother). She was the most elegant lady I have ever seen. Like her, the recipe is also very nice and the khichuri turns out to be really good. When my husband was leaving India for the US, at the last moment she wrote him 2-3 recipes on a piece of paper. Every time I cook khichuri, I remember Didima. I never cooked anything in India, and I didn’t even like the thought of cooking. Didima, knowing that her grandson loves to eat, used to ask me “Soma, don’t you ever feel like cooking?” Promptly my answer was “No, didima” and I could see the disappointment on her face. When I started cooking and made the khichuri from her recipe, I called her and said that the khichuri I made from her recipe turned out really good. She was so happy that finally her grandson is getting to eat something good.

Bhaja mug daaler khichuri/ Roasted mug daal khichdi:

Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • Gobindobhog rice/atap rice: 1 ½ cups
  • Mug daal: 1 ½ cups
  • Water: 6 cups
  • Ginger paste: 3 tbsp
  • Cumin powder: 2 tsp
  • Red chili powder: 1 tsp
  • Turmeric powder: 1-2 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar: 1-2 tsp (depending upon your taste)
  • Green peas: ½ cup
  • Potato: 2 medium
  • Tomato: 1 medium, chopped
  • Garam masala powder: 1 tsp
  • Bay leaf: 2-3
  • Whole cumin seeds: 1 ½ tsp
  • Dry red chili: 2-3
  • Green chili: 2-3
  • Ghee (optional): 2 tbsp
  • Mustard oil/vegetable oil: 1 tbsp

Roasted mug daal/bhaja mug daal

 How to cook:

  •   Dry roast the mug daal until they release a nice aroma and they turn to golden brown. Then won’t roast evenly, some of the grains will be a little darker than the others, it’s perfectly alright.
  • Let it cool and wash it with several changes of water. Drain the water and keep it aside.
  • Wash the rice and keep it aside too.
  • Halve the potatoes into two-four pieces (depending upon the size).
  • Mix the ginger paste with the cumin and red chili powder.
  •  Heat up half the ghee and half the oil in a deep, heavy bottom pot.
  • Add the cumin seed. Let them darken a little bit. Add the bay leaves and the whole red chili.
  • Once they change color, add the ginger-cumin-red chili paste. Sauté them for few minutes and add the chopped tomato. Let the tomato get mushy and the paste will start oozing oil a little bit. Add the potatoes and mix them well with the spices. Sauté them for around 5 minutes and then add the rice and the daal.
  • Add turmeric powder. Mix well and keep on sautéing for another 10 minutes or so.
  • Add around four cups of water, salt and the sugar. Cover the pot and put the flame to medium (if you would like to add cauliflower, add it here).
  • Let it cook for another 10 minutes or so and then uncover. If the water is all absorbed and the rice, lentil or the potato is still uncooked, add the remaining water.
  • Add the green chilis and the peas. Mix it well and let it cook covered for few more minutes or until everything is properly cooked.
  • Uncover and check for salt. If it tastes ok, add garam masala powder and the ghee. Give it a good stir. Cover for few more minutes to let the flavors integrate.
  • Uncover right before serving.

 

There are many types of khichuris. This is the version mainly cooked during religious occasions and tastes like the so called “bhoger khichuri” (Bhog= khichuri offered to the God). The addition of ghee is entirely optional but it adds a ton of flavor. My Baba doesn’t like the flavor of ghee, so my Maa doesn’t add it to the khichuri while cooking. We used to add it to our portion before eating.

Khichuri can be eaten either by itself, with fried egg/fish or with vegetable fritters and papor/pappadam. A khichuri can be simply with rice, lentil, potato or green peas and/cauliflower added to it. Most of the times the khichuri is made of the atap rice variety, usually short grained like Gobindobhog. It can be thin, thick, medium consistency or dry (bhuni khichuri). Although it is a simple recipe, a good khichuri takes a little bit of skill to make it perfect. I prefer to see the individual grains of rice and lentil, but my husband doesn’t mind if it becomes completely mushy, so it’s a matter of personal preference.

PS: Do you remember the advertisement of Lijjat Pappad from the old times on Doordarshan? Yesterday when I was taking the papad out of the packet to eat with the khichuri, I suddenly remembered the commercial. I could still remember the puppet saying “Lijjat pappad…hne hne hne…hne hne hne”. For those who would like to indulge nostalgia, here is the link.

Chapor Ghonto/Vegetable mishmash cooked with lentil patties

Chapor/Chapri

Not too long ago eating out in Calcutta was reserved for special occasions or weekends. Bengalis were quite unwilling to pay and eat traditional food, the common saying being “if I can make it at home, why should I pay for it and eat it outside?” So, restaurants served mostly Chinese, Mughlai or a few other cuisines. During my last visit to Calcutta, I was quite surprised to see the change. Now the mentality is more like “if I can pay for it and eat it without any sweat, why should I make it at home?” Seeing the eating-out culture, I thought that not far from now, kids will have no memories about home cooked comfort food cooked by their mothers. I am not saying that everybody does it but the urban population, which is always running after something or the other, is getting more and more inclined to avoiding simple home foods and cooking. Eating Bengali food in a restaurant is very fashionable now. You can find a Bengali restaurant in almost every neighborhood in Calcutta. Some have managed to acquire fame and some are still struggling.

Before I visited Calcutta couple of years ago, I Googled the menu of a very popular Bengali restaurant and my jaws dropped. Two pieces of begun bhaja (fried eggplant) was like Rs.25/-…are you kidding me? A simple bowl of daal (lentil soup) will be Rs. 30/- or something close to it. It looked outrageous to me but still went to the restaurant to see if they can justify the price. The food wasn’t bad but no way am I going to that place again in my life to pay Rs. 25/- for two pieces of begun bhaja. That’s just me, but I don’t see the restaurant going out of business in near or far future.

Chapor Ghonto

In the matter of Bengali restaurants, Minakshie Rakhipurnima Dasgupta was a little ahead of her time. She opened her own a place called Kewpie’s in the memory of her mother Minakshie Dasgupta, when eating traditional Bengali food from an a la carté menu was almost unheard of. Although bhaat-daal-maachh (rice-lentils-fish, the Bengali staple) was very much available in the traditional kebin (communal dining establishment with prix fixe menus and limited table service), these establishments were the haunt of the working-class bachelor or the poor lover, and no bhadralok (upper middle class educated Bengali gentleman) would be seen dead in one. I have a book written by Mrs.  Minakshie Dasgupta called “Calcutta Cookbook”, where I found many recipes which are pretty new to me. Among the more traditional ones, there was chapor ghonto and I had no idea what it was. Naturally, I was very tempted to make it and finally I have managed to do it. Looks like it is among the dying recipes but I don’t see why. It is a little bit time-consuming but less so than a regular mutton curry. I am more like a fishiterian (yeah, I came up with the word) and eat mostly vegetarian and fish at home. Meat is reserved for special occasions. If I see an interesting vegetable recipe, I can’t wait to make it.

Split pea lentil and the fried chapors

The recipe below is almost copied from the cookbook with my variations included. I have no idea what it should originally taste like, because I haven’t had it in my life. I liked the taste of my chapors (fried spiced lentil cakes), so right now, not so worried about the authenticity. When I called my mom, she said she has made it once from a recipe shown on TV. I assume this a recipe from the Bengalis originally from the West Bengal (ghotis) but not sure. If you are ready to put in a little bit of effort to make something rarely found these days, go for it. You won’t be disappointed.

Ingredients:

Potatoes: 100grams

Pumpkin: 100grams

Sweet potato: 2 medium

Jhingey/ridge gourd: 100grams

Begun/baingan/eggplant: 100grams

Chapor (broken into small bits) made from 200grams of split pea lentils (recipe below)

Mustard oil/vegetable oil/ghee: 2tbsp

Tejpata/bay leave: 2 nos.

Red chilies: 2 nos.

Pnach phoron/Bengali five spice: 1tsp

Ginger paste: 1 tbsp.

Green chilies: 4-5 nos.

Coconut: 2 tbsp.

Oil to shaloow fry the chapors

Sugar: 1tsp.

Salt to taste

Bengali five spice/pnachphoron

How to make the chapor:

  • Wash ans soak the split pea lentils overnight.
  • Drain and coarsely grind it with the green chilies.
  • Add salt to the batter and whip it very well.
  • Het oil in a preferably non-stick frying pan. Make 2-3″ round flat ckaes (around 1/4″ thick) and place them on the pan. Cook on medium flame, turn over and cook until the cakes are a little brown on both sides. You shouldn’t be deep frying them. Keep them aside.

How to cook the ghonto:

  • Dice the potatoes (I prefer to keep the skin, but you can peel them), sweet potatoes (you can peel them or leave the skin, it’s your choice), pumpkin (peeled) and the eggplants.
  • Heat the mustard oil/ghee/vegetable oil to smoking hot and then reduce the heat.
  • Add the pnach phoron, bay leaves and dry red chilies and stir fry them until a nice aroma released. The pnach phoron will splatter a little bit.
  • Add the vegetables and stir fry them for 5-10 minutes.
  • Add salt and sugar, mix well and cover the pot.
  • Cook the vegetables on simmer until they are tender or almost done.
  • Break the chapors into smaller pieces and add them to the vegetables.
  • Add the grated coconut and the ginger paste and mix well.
  • Add 2-3 slit green chilies.
  • Let the vegetables get completely cooked in their own juices. Do not add a lot of water. The ridge gourd and eggplants will release water. If they are sticking to the bottom, sprinkle a little bit of water.
  • Finally give it a good stir and take it off the fire.

Variation: In her original recipe, she added 25 grams (around 2 1/2 tbsp.) of soaked chholar daal/Bengal gram with the vegetables. The pumkin and the sweet potato addition is mine, she had wax gourd or potol instead (I don’t get wax gourd very often here in the US). She said you can use the freshly grated coconut as a garnish also. She also didn’t add green chilies to the vegetables. I like a little bit of kick, so I added 2-3 nos. It’s your call, go for the pumpkin and the sweet potatoes if you like a little bit of natural sweetness in the vegetable mishmash or completely omit them or may add one and skip the other one. I’ll try to cook it again with soaked Bengal gram and coconut as a garnish.

I had it with ruti/chapati and it tasted great. I am sure it will taste good with rice also. Have it with a simple masoor daal.