Narkol kumri/Pumpkin (butternut squash) with coconut

DSC_0288

Who wants their food to stick to the cooking pot? I guess no one, except me and a few others who have tasted the caramelized flavor that is unique to small amounts of “burn” on “non-non-stick” cookware. The shelves in the supermarket are stacked with ‘non-stick’ cookware of every shape and size. We want to cook with as less oil as possible and take refuge in the nonstick pots and pans. We use them so much that I am sure we even manage to partially Teflon-coat our stomach lining. Dr. Sen, at least, has eaten all the Teflon from the über-flimsy nonstick utensils he bought from Walmart during his grad school days. We all did that, bought cheap nonstick to save money. Once I heard one of my friends say “I have stopped frying fish in the nonstick pan and fry it in an aluminum pan instead. The fish sticks to the nonstick pan.” When I asked her to clarify her sentence thinking she is contradicting her point, she said “oh! the nonstick is not nonstick anymore, the coating is gone long ago”. I laughed.

DSC_0280

Unlike many of you, I find nonstick cookware pretty useless unless I am shallow frying fish or making omelets. Every time I went to India, I brought back one small and one large nonstick kadai (Indian style wok). They were very easy to use but I didn’t like them much. I had to be careful while cooking in them. Couldn’t heat them up really high, had to use wood or plastic spatulas and then my gravies never had that deep reddish-brown color like my Maa. My onions never caramelized the way I wanted and they never, ever became crisp. I blamed my inadequate cooking skills and lack of experience.

One time, my mother-in-law was here and she mentioned that “tor ei nonstick korai te kichhutei ranna-r rong ashena” (your nonstick pot is not giving the gravy the right color). Voilà…..maybe my pale curries were not my fault? After she left, I went to my local Indian grocery store and bought myself an aluminum kadai. The first time I cooked in it, it created magic. I still remember I posted a picture on Facebook saying that I fell in love with it. It brought out the right texture I craved for so many years to so many dishes. It added that extra crispiness, that subtle burnt flavor, that deep caramelized color and that freedom of using any type of spoon I wanted to use. I can scratch its bottom like I am unearthing a stone-age fossil and still be fine with it. I can make the daal pora and finally get the pora taste. The narkol kumri has that caramelized taste and the chhnyachra (a mixed vegetable dish cooked with fish heads) has that perfect texture.

 

DSC_0298

Since then, I have been hooked forever. I hate the nonstick kadais. I am sure you all cook brilliant dishes in your nonstick pots and pans but I failed. I ended up with “close enough but not like my Maa” taste every time. I am still completely not there but in the right direction. You can cook this in any pot you want, it will taste good but to make it perfect, go for a non-nonstick pot, you won’t regret it. You can either grate the pumpkin or chop it up fine. If you grate it before cooking, it will retain a texture and so that’s the best way to cook it. It takes less time to cook and retains some of the texture. I did not have the time to grate and that’s why I ended up with a mashed puree-like end product. If you manage to cut them julienned (maybe with your food processor) , you can avoid grating altogether.

DSC_0292

Recipe:

My husband and I are not big fans of sweet taste in the savory things. We avoid adding sugar if not necessary. This curry has a sweet taste. The sweetness comes from the pumpkin and the coconut. No added sugar. We both love it even if it’s sweet. The occasional biting of the green chilis breaks the sweet monotony as well.

Ingredients:

Butternut squash/Pumpkin: around 1lb/500grms. (without skin)

Mustard oil: 1-11/2 tbsp.

Turmeric: 1/2 tsp.

Whole cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp.

Bay leaves: 2 nos.

Dry Red chilies: 2 nos.

Ghee/clarified butter: 1 tsp.

Coconut: 1/3 cup grated (nothing like freshly grated but frozen will work as well)

Green chilies: 2-3 nos. depending on how hot they are or how hot you want the curry, chopped.

Either take one teaspoon or a little bit more of roasted cumin-coriander and red chili powder or use them separately to make up the volume. Roasting the spices are optional.

Bengali garam masala:

Cloves: 2

Cinnamon: 1/2″ piece

Cardamom: one

Grind the above three ingredients to a fine paste or powder.

Salt to taste

DSC_0284

 

  • Heat the oil in  heavy bottom non-nonstick pan (preferred). Do not let the oil smoke, it will take away all the mustard flavor from it.
  • Reduce the flame and let the oil come to medium temperature.
  • Add the whole cumin, bay leaves and the red chilies. Saute them for a minute ow two until they release a nice aroma. Take the fried chilies out of the oil.
  • Add the chopped/cubed/julienned/grated pumpkin/squash in the oil. add the turmeric and then coat everything in oil and turmeric. Keep sauteing every after half a minute for few more minutes until you see light brown spots on them.
  • Cover it withe tight lid for five minutes (if grated) or more (if chopped). Do not add any water as the pumpkin will release their own juices.
  • Add the cumin-coriander-red chili powder, salt and the grated coconut. Give everything a good mix and let it cook. At this point it will depend on how you cut the pumpkin. It will take longer if the pieces are bigger. use your judgement and cook until it caramelizes a little bit at the bottom or the spices are nicely incorporated with the pumpkin mash.
  • Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly.
  • Add the garam masala and drizzle the ghee. Add the chopped green chilies and mix everything one more time.
  • Cover and let the flavors to incorporate.
  • Serve with plain white rice.

Another version (non-veg):

Skip the garam masala and the ghee and add tiny shrimps instead. We love the non-veg version more. First, coat the de-veined and beheaded shrimps with salt and turmeric and then quickly shallow fry them. Cook the curry in the same oil you cooked the shrimp, it will add an extra layer of shrimp-y flavor. Add the shrimps while adding the coconut.

DSC_0289

Advertisements

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.

DSC_0830

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.

DSC_0851

Split pea lentils

DSC_7022

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.

DSC_0838

Motordaal_kumro

XmasBeansBWLogoFINALsmall

The border we share, the foods we don’t: Kumror khosha diye daal/lentil with pumpkin peels

DSC_0309We are very similar but very different. We speak dialects of the same language, eat foods made from the same ingredients but cooked differently, sing the same folk songs but adapt the lyrics based on whether we are Hindus or Muslims. But where we are still very different is in the way we perceive each other. “They” are Bangladeshis and “we” are Indians and vice-versa. Deep inside our heart, we are all “Bengali” but that is overpowered by the tangible political border and intangible cultural border separating our two countries.

Bangladesh or former East Pakistan was part of undivided India. After India got its independence, it became a part of Pakistan. Finally in 1971 Bangladesh got its own independence after suffering a horrific and largely undocumented genocide at the hands of the Pakistani army that would make the Nazis look like flower children. In those dark and turbulent days, India was flooded with Hindu refugees escaping targeted mass murder at the hands of Razakars, roving bands of killers sponsored by the Pakistani armed forces.

My grandparents and some of my uncles and aunts were among those refugees who crossed the border with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Living as refugees in India, they didn’t have the luxury of eating good food and couldn’t be picky about the ingredients. It was a question of pure survival; they ate whatever was edible. If possible, they even made the inedible edible. Years of struggle and deprivation fostered recipes which bore the indelible stamp of being poor man’s food. Magically, many of these were unbelievably tasty. The refugees of East Bengal made delicious curries with vegetable peels, roots and leaves, fish bones, shrimp heads and even the water hyacinth that abounded in our land of lakes and ponds. Gradually, these survival foods became delicacies in their own right and today we write blog posts about “potoler khosha bata” (stone-ground pointed gourd peels) and “lau er khosha chNechki” (stir-fried bottle gourd peels). Forty years after the horrors of 1971, these foods have finally lost their “refugee” stigma and are bona fide components of Bengali cuisine (although you might still hear an occasional snicker or two from the housewives of old North Calcutta families – “E baba, oi shob abar bhadrolokey khay naki?” or “My goodness, would a gentleman ever eat those things?”).

DSC_0317Among many recipes which were invented by these unfortunate refugees is daal cooked with pumpkin peels. I have adapted my recipe from Simon’s ‘pet pujo and adda. She has a soul touching story with the recipe. Feel free to cook it either way. This is the first time I had daal cooked with pumpkin skin. In fact this is the first time I cooked something with pumpkin skin as an ingredient at all, although this will become a staple in my kitchen from now onwards. A big thanks to Simon for the wonderful recipe.

There is not much to measure. Eye ball the ingredients. I am writing the approximate measurements.

Ingredients:

Red lentils/Masoor daal: around ½ cup

Pumpkin peel: around ½ cup as well. I kept a little bit of flesh with the skin

Kalojeere/Nigella seeds: ½ tsp

Mustard oil/olive oil/vegetable oil: 2 tsp

Green chili: 2 nos.

Dried red chili whole: 2 nos.

Salt to taste

DSC_0265

  • Wash the lentils with several changes of water.
  • Start boiling 1 ½ cups of water. Once the water comes to a full boil, add the lentils.
  • Add ½ tsp of turmeric and keep on boiling for several minutes. Take the foam/scum out while boiling the daal.
  • Add the pumpkin peels when the lentil is half done.
  • Add salt and the green chilies. Let the lentil cook for several more minutes until the peels are cooked. Check for salt and adjust accordingly. If you like your daal to be thin, add more hot water.
  • In a separate pan heat up the oil. Once hot, turn the flame to medium or the spices will burn. Add the Nigella seeds and let them sizzle a bit.
  • Add the dry red chilies and let them darken one shade.
  • Add the Nigella seeds and the red chili-oil mixture to the boiling daal and immediately cover the pot. Turn off the heat. Keep the pot covered for few minutes and then serve with white rice.
  • You can add a pinch of sugar if you want, I didn’t.

DSC_0312

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.

kNakrol kumro diye ilish/Hilsa with pumpkin and teasle gourd

This is my first post and I am so excited. Couldn’t sleep well last night and was thinking about what to write and how to start and all those not-so-important things. It took me some time to decide the topic of my first post. Finally I decided to start with a fish post to match with the name of my blog. I love the aroma of different spices and love eating fish.

In Bengali, there is a proverb saying “machhe bhate Bangali“, which roughly translates to “fish and rice make a Bengali “. This is mostly true. As some of you know, Bengal is situated on the bank of the river Ganges and we have the Bay of Bengal to our south. Rice is the principal food crop in West Bengal. This translates to a humid and riverine geography, and thus to abundances of fish and rice, which explains why Bengalis are so fond of both. Being far away from home, I miss the comfort food and specially the seasonal variety of different vegetables and fishes. I miss ‘kaalboishakhi jhor’ (late summer afternoon tropical thunderstorm…the English name doesn’t do justice to the actual storm though) and the monsoon season in general. I miss the complete darkness before the storm and then pouring rain and thunder. Monsoon means another thing for the fish loving Bengalis, the arrival in the markets of the elusive ilish machh (hilsa fish). I miss crispy fried hilsa fish (and the leftover oil, green chilis and steaming hot govindabhog rice (a delicate and expensive variety of short-grained rice which has a nice aroma)). In Bengal, seasonal fruits, vegetables and fishes are often tightly linked with specific religious festivals and rituals. When I was a kid, plums (kul in Bengali) were not supposed to be eaten until the day of Saraswati puja, which is in early spring. On that day, the goddess was also offered a pair of choice hilsa fish. Long before “sustainable” became a buzzword, the purpose of such associations was to prevent fruits being harvested before they were ripened and to allow the fish to lay eggs throughout their reproductive season. Now things have changed. We have the luxury of eating almost everything throughout the year. That kind of spoils the fun of waiting all year long to get something.

 

Photo source 123rf.com

I never grew up eating this particular preparation of ilish machh. I came to know about it from my mother-in-law, who in turn got this recipe from her mother-in-law who was originally from Bikrampur in Bangladesh. I hate kakrol (teasle gourd), hate the absolute taste of it. On the other hand my husband loves it. The jhol tastes really good. I usually eat the fish and the pumpkin. It is very unusual for me, never thought of adding pumpkin and teasle gourd to a hilsa jhol. I took these pictures a long time ago, so couldn’t document everything. Next time when I’ll make it, I’ll try to add few more pictures.

The recipe:

Ingredients:

Hilsa fish: 6-8 pieces

Pumpkin: 1/4th of a medium sized pumpkin

Teasle gourd: 2-3 medium sized

Mustard oil: 1/2 cup ( you don’t need all of it, so don’t worry)

Kalonji/Kalojeere: 1/2 tsp.

Milk: 2 tbsp

Green chilis: 4-5 nos.

Turmeric: 1/3 tsp.

Salt to taste

How to cook:

  • Coat the descaled fishes with turmeric and salt. Keep them aside for 10-15 minutes.
  • Cut the pumpking into 2″/1″ pieces and the cut the teasle gourds into four. I do not get fresh teasle gourds here, so I use frozen.
  • Heat up 2 tbsp. mustard oil. Let it smoke and then bring down the flame to medium. Add the pumpkin pieces and suate them a little bit. Take them out and drain on a paper towel.
  • Add the teasle gourd and do the same.
  • In the same oil, add the fish pieces and shallow fry them. If you have access to fresh hilsa, the less frying is better. I use frozen and fry them a little more (just in case). Keep them aside.
  • Add the kalonji in the same oil and wait for the nice aroma.
  • Add 2-3 green chilis. Saute them for few seconds and then take them out as weel. Leave the kalonji in the oil.
  • Add 2 cups of water and then add turmeric. Let it boil for few minutes and then add salt.
  • Add the fishes back with the gourds. Let it boil for several minutes.
  • When the fishes are almost cooked, add the pumkin.
  • When the pumpkins are completely cooked, add the sauted green chilis back with 2-3 more fresh slit green chilis.
  • Mis 2 tbsp. of milk with one tbsp. of mustard oil, add this mixture and then boil for 1-2 mniues.
  • Turn the heat off and serve it with hot rice.

PS. I added the pumpkin with the gourd and the fish and they were overcooked. You can see mushy pumpkins in the pictures. My monther-in-law adds red chili powder-turmeric paste in the oil, cooks it for a minute and then adds water. I skip that part as I like the fresh green chili taste better. You can add that step if you want.