Pujo and paturi

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While the world is busy debating about the ice bucket challenge,whether to pour a bucket of ice cold water on head or to donate money towards the worthy cause,we Bengalis have some more debates to indulge in at the moment-which Durga Pujo will get the first prize for it’s protima or which one will lead the race for it’s pandal(marquee).Yes we are back to that time of the year,when if you are a Bengali , the smell of pujo will feel your mind and  soul  even if you are residing as far  as Brisbane or Bristol.

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Once one of my collegue here in UK asked me about the scale and importance of Durga Puja in my home city Kolkata.The spirit of Christmas in UK,the madness of Tomatina of Spain,the vibrancy of Rio Carnival of Brazil,the joyfulness and urge of sharing and giving on Thanksgiving of USA and Canada could possibly sum up to mean what Durga Puja is to a Bengali.For most of us  our year starts and ends with the count of Durga Puja.

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As I write this post the artisans and workers are busy constructing pandals in every nook and corner of my city,while the artisans in Kumortuli are busy putting finishing touches to the almost done clay figurines.I can well imagine the mad rush of pujo buyers in the streets of Gariahat , Newmarket , and Hatibagan while the small  retail shop owners  are trying to make brisk business by cutting down the bargaining spree of the pujo

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shoppers.A quick break from shopping means indulging in some roadside eggrolls or quenching thirst with the fizzy Thumbsup or sipping in the masala tea from the road side tea stall,before quickly going back to shopping again.After all  waiting for  pujo means preparations for festive days, countdown to festivities,churning out childhood pujo nostalgia and letting happiness come through the windows.

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 For a Bengali out of Bengal,Durga Puja is perhaps the most loved and most missed  of all the festivities.UK is interspersed with Bengali communities and Durga pujas in almost every county, but the crazy fervour of five day long festivity of my homeland is perhaps nowhere to be found.The essence of waiting for the arrival of Durga pujo is hugely missed now a days. As a child my  pujo countdown  would ideally begin, as soon as I would see the Ekdalia Pujo Pandal,nearer to my school being constructed.With each passing day of the pandal nearing it’s completion,my joy  and

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happiness would increase manifold at the thought of  start of the  month long pujo vacation.The pujo special editions of  children’s magazines would start to inundate the market by that time.  As kids we had our share of worries too-which pandals to visit,what dress to wear on each day of  pujo,and offcourse drawing up a list of food we would like to eat on pujo days.Luchi and chhola’r dal was ear marked for Shaptami, while Bhog -er Khichuri and labra for Ashtami ,Nabami was special with menus like pulao, mangsho and maach er paturi and off course shondesh and other sweets on Bijoya Doshomi-the last day of pujo.

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Paturi is the name given to a dish and cooking method very typical and traditional of Bengal. The word paturi comes from the Bengali word ”Pata” meaning leaf.In  this particular form of cooking the ingredients are wrapped in  leaves and cooked in steam or by roasting the parcel on the griddle. The leaves used in paturi plays an important role in the cooking ,as the leaves when steamed enhances the flavour of the dish. Paturi can be both vegetarian and non-vegetarian depending on the choice of key ingredients. The popular paturi dishes are Prawn paturi, Bhetki-maach er paturi among the non vegetarian dishes and chhana ‘r paturi,mocha’r paturi  among the vegetarian options. The leaves used in this preparation can range from banana leaf to ash gourd leaf .

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Use of leaf for wrapping cooking ingredients while cooking is also common among other cultures ,other than Bengali traditional style of cooking. Thai, Parsi and Caribbean style of cooking are abound with recipes using banana leaf to wrap key ingredients being marinated in various spices. Paturi ,very simple yet versatile and rich in flavour  is said to have originated in Dhaka,but now it is considered to be one of the signature Bengali dishes,being cooked on special occasions and during festivities.

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Ingredients

Bhetki or any other white fish(Cod/Haddock /Pollock etc) fillets : 6

Mustard Oil : 3 tablespoon

Turmeric powder: 1teaspoon

Coconut, grated : 4 tablespoon

Salt, to taste

Green Chilli paste : 1 tablespoon

Green Chilli: 6 (split length-wise)

Mustard paste(yellow) : 3-4 tablespoon

Banana leaves ,a few

Gondhoraj lebu zest : 1 teaspoon(optional)

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Method

  • Combine the mustard oil,mustard paste,green chilli paste, grated coconut, turmeric powder,salt.Blend it well and generously coat each fish fillet.
  • Sprinkle some zest of Gondhoraj lebu on top of the fish.This is an additional and optional step, a deviation from the original recipe. It enhances the flavour of mustard just the way chocolate does to coffee.
  • Keep the fish fillets marinated for half an hour.
  • Cut the banana leaves in a 8/8” square shape. Rub mustard oil gently on it’s glossy side. Lightly roast the banana leaf on the heat to make it soft and foldable. Roasting will slightly change the colour of the leaves.
  • Now place one of the marinated fish fillets in a prepared banana leaf,top the fish fillet with a slit green chilli and wrap neatly to form a parcel or envelope.
  • Tie the leaf envelope with a thread or seal them with wooden toothpicks.
  • In the same way make 6 envelopes.
  • Take a large frying pan and grease it with oil.
  • Place  banana leaf parcels in it and cover with an airtight lead so that steam cannot escape.
  • Cook on low heat for 5-7 minutes.
  • After that turn each packet upside down, to allow the other side of the fish to be cooked.
  • Cook the other side of the fish for another 5-7 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and transfer the paturi to a serving dish
  • Serve the closed parcels with steamed rice .
  • Unwrap and let the subtle smell of paturi fill your senses with joy.

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Stars are born not made and Kaju Murgi/Cashew Chicken

chicken cashew

Quite a few summers  back when life was still carefree and all dreamy with Feminist thoughts in my head  I was working on my Masters of Sociology thesis, the topic  being  an in-depth study on women’s empowerment ,the focus being  Kolkata based women performing artists  -their personal and professional life.Let’s admit we all have immense curiosity about the life of celebrities particularly actresses,to know what lies behind the aura of -camera ,light and action!I got to interview a number of actresses of by gone days and current times as well,but  a few interview touched my heart,specially the ones by noted Bengali actresses Gita Dey and Supriya Chowdhury(popularly known as Benu di ).

Gita Dey and Supriya Chowdhury from a scene in Ritwik Ghatak's Meghe Dhaka Tara

Gita Dey and Supriya Chowdhury from a scene in Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara

We have all been mesmerized by the power packed performances of Gita Dey in films like Meghe Dhaka Tara,Komol Gandhar,Teen Kanya,but really what I saw of her when I met her was bit saddening and unexpected.While I walked through the  dingy alleys of North Calcutta to reach her Manicktala house,disappointment set in.The glamorous and powerful character artist’s (as she addressed herself)  cinematic existence was rather sidelined,and roles reduced to mere guest appearances,but the aura was yet to fade.I greeted her with a pranam and a box of sweets,when I saw her.She talked for hours about

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 how she entered the film world and how she struggled through initially,baring it all,almost.Nothing perturbed her unputdownable spirit then and now,when she was struggling to make both ends meet with a schizophrenic son to look after.The interview lasted for a couple of hours.I was about to get up,rolling my interview notes carefully,when she suddenly stopped me from getting up saying

Gita Dey  from a scene in Ritwik Ghatak's Meghe Dhaka Tara

Gita Dey from another scene in Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara

”bosho,mishti anacchee”(seat,I am getting sweets for you).Been there with her for two hours,and a look at the dilapidated state of the house I fathomed her financial condition quite well.”Dida,I will come some other day for the sweets”,I quipped.Probably she read my mind,”Sohini,I am still  not that much poor that I can’t  treat you with few sweets,specially,when you have brought me a box of  sweet”.I felt a lump in my throat,so just nodded in agreement.True ,as they said stars are born ,not made.She was one of them.

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Another actress,who impressed me was Supriya Chowdhury,also known as Supriya Debi.Supriya charmed many,and earned a huge fan following since the 1950s along with the contemporary  actress Suchitra Sen as the Bengali film leading ladies.Supriya Debi

Source: blog.buzzintown.com

Supriya Debi in Lux Soap Advertisement. Photo Source: blog.buzzintown.com

unlike Gita Dey lived a life in the fast lane,she enjoyed the status of being the real life love interest of the legendary Bengali star-actor Uttam Kumar.She was born on the Chinese border of Burma in  a place called Mytchina.She reminisced  her  childhood days-how she along with her family

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walked for a month and 23 days   to Calcutta,during the World War II .She stated  her modest life experiences made her more grounded. In-spite of her star status she enjoyed doing many of her own day to day activities ,including cooking and she enjoyed every bit of it.Much later,I came across this book written by her-”Benu di’r Rannabanna”(Benudi’s Cooking) where she shared

 chicken cashew1

anecdotes of her experiences in the film world along with  some of her much loved recipes.In her book  she tells how Bollywood actor Sanjeev Kumar revisited her all the way from Bombay(now Mumbai) just to enjoy delicacies cooked by her.One of the recipes,which she made to treat Sanjeev Kumar  was ”Kaju Chicken

Of the  recipes I tried from her book,this one is my  personal favorite.This rich and creamy Indian chicken dish  goes  well with rice or naan,and bears the potential to be a  showstopper recipe in a dinner party.

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Ingredients

  • Chicken drumsticks : 8 pieces
  • Whole black cardamom powder: 1 tablespoon
  • 3 Onions(large -medium sized), finely sliced
  • Greek Yogurt/ thick hung yogurt: 1/2 cup
  • Red chili powder: 1 tablespoon( adjust  according to taste)
  • Ginger paste : 1 tablespoon
  • Garlic paste : 1 tablespoon
  • Cashew nut ,dry roasted : 50 gm
  • Cream: 50 ml
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar to taste
  • Kewra essence, a drop(optional)
  • Oil,to cook

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  • Wash,clean,pat dry the chicken drumsticks.Rub them with salt and keep aside.Fry the chicken drumsticks  till golden brown.
  • Fry the onion slices ,till  golden brown,keep aside.
  • In a bowl mix yogurt with red chili powder,ginger-garlic paste,sugar and salt to taste.Whisk and mix properly,keep aside.
  • In the remaining oil in the wok,put 1 tablespoon of big whole cardamom powder.Put the yogurt -spice mix in the oil and stir continuously at low flame.
  • Cook till the oil separates.
  • Put the fried  chicken drumsticks and the fried onions ,ones the oil separates from the yogurt-spice mix.Cover and cook at low sim.
  • Add the roasted cashew nut paste ,once the chicken is well cooked.
  • Add cream and kewra essence(if using),and give it a good stir.
  • Put off the flame ,cover the chicken and give it a standing time of 5 minutes on the hob.
  • Serve hot with rice/naan/rumali roti.

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