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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An ode to the British summer with Petite Strawberry Cheese-cake

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The Great British Summer is here and how! We have been (so far! touch wood!!)blessed with a wonderful summer  this year and we are making most of it,as long as it lasts.British countryside has so much to offer that we are practically hopping around almost every weekend .Fortunately we live in the neck of the wood of one of the most scenic places in UK,called Peak District,so all we need to do is to pack our picnic hampers,and zoom off for some 45 minutes to land up in some lush and  scenic green.And how green and beautiful it is?..well check it out yourself!

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Talking about summer and summer day outs,how can I not mention about my favorite summer fruit.You guessed it right.I love strawberries,and I love desserts too(as if it’s still not evident from the number of my desserts post!).With not much time to spend in the kitchen (why should I ,when the sun is out?)I decided to make these quick  make-ahead petite strawberry cheesecake desserts to treat myself and my family.

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Easy- check

Wow presentation- check

Mouthwatering -check

Do you still need reasons to make these beauties?

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Ingredients:

  • Digestive biscuit or your choice of biscuit base -75 gm
  • Butter – 25 gm,melted
  • 250 gm cream cheese,soften
  • 50 gm granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon strawberry essence
  • 140 gm plain natural yogurt
  • Strawberries, to decorate

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Method:

  • Melt butter in a pan over low heat.Crush the biscuits in a blender until they resemble bread crumbs.Mix the crumbs and the butter until the mixture is soft and moistened enough.Spoon equal portion of the mixture in 6 shot glasses.Lightly press down and leave to chill in the fridge.
  • While pressing down your biscuit base,apply moderate pressure as excessive pressure can make the base extremely hard to spoon out.
  • Beat the cream cheese, yogurt,strawberry essence and sugar together with a fork till the mixture becomes smooth and creamy.
  • Spoon the cream cheese mixture into the prepared shot glasses.Leave to chill in the fridge for 3-4 hours or until set.
  • Top with a strawberry before serving.

 

Note : You can replace strawberry with other berries of your choice for this dessert.

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Shutki maach er bhorta /Mashed Spicy Dry fish : Is dry fish still a symbol of social identity?

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dry fish_shutki 5

Being Bengali  and being proud of that is not enough for us .When we crave for more  clear cut identities we call ourselves Ghoti or Bangal  and hence identify(along with many other things) our food and food-habits likewise.It is said-the bangals are all for hot and spicy food.They love Hilsha .Where as the Ghoti loves to add an extra spoon of sugar to his food and prefer the food more mellow.They love prawn.We will happily discriminate among food ,add tags to our food preferences ,cooking methods and be proud of  that.Of the many foods that discriminate a bangal from a ghoti and vice versa one that ranks in  the top list is probably Shutki Maach (Dry Fish).

And just when I was going to tag shutki as a bangal food/fish,I thought of myself-a born Ghoti married to a Bangal. Yes, I love being an exception to the rule(I am sure there are many more to join me).The sight and smell of cooked shutki maach makes me as happy as the sight of long awaited ordered food in a restaurant.Pardon my analogy ,but don’t  ignore  the sentiments behind.The world from my perspective is clearly divided into-those who loves shutki and those who do  not.There’s no middle path when it comes to shutki.If any let  me know.

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Shutki or dry fish when uncooked has a got a typical characteristic pungent smell,pungent enough to evoke nausea.It has got a stinky smell ,very similar to that of  dry shrimp powder Belachan used in Malaysian and Indonesian cooking.Drying fresh fish is a  method of preservation  by removing water from  the fish.Other than drying ,methods which act as catalyst to fish preservation  are smoking  and salting.The popular variety of dry fish consumed globally are bombay duck, shrimp,mackerel,anchovy,tuna,sardine,etc.Dry fish processing and selling in  markets is common worldwide.

Fellow blogger Ushnish Ghosh   tells me the difference between dry fish and fermented fish : ”dry fish is dried in sun or in oven to get rid off the moisture so that the bacteria cant survive , and salt also strilize it ..wet sutkis ( are not dried) ..like Shidol,puti mach is stuffed into bamboo, sealed from out side for air to get in,and the enzymes in the fish ferment the fish ..( just like in yogurt, bacteria ferment the milk) ..also nona Ilish …Ilish is put in lot of salt , sealed and kept out for months to get a typical aroma …but the famous Odisha Ilish sutki , is stuffed with salt and dried in sun” .Dry fish is much less smelly than the fermented fish ,because of the preservation method.

In Bangladesh about 7.3 million people live in coastal fishing villages and earn their livelihood by fishing.Most of them dry  fish by following the method of sun drying.Interestingly,a large share of Bangladesh’s economy can be contributed from the dry fish markets in Dhaka,Chittagong,Tangail etc who export a major portion of their produce worldwide.

Bangladesh which has a great number of water bodies,produce dry fish in the coastal areas,near the rivers and harbors.The processing takes place mainly under the sun during the month of October to April.The winter months remain the preferred time for the fishing activities as the rivers,water channels and depressions remain relatively calm  and quite.The necessity to cultivate dry fish is triggered  more by the fact often the fresh water fishes remain unsold  because of lack of customers or lack of  sufficient transport facility to send the fresh fish to the town or metropolis.

Dry fish collection: Photo courtesy-www.demotix.com/Zakir Hossain  Chowdhury

Dry fish collection: Photo courtesy-www.demotix.com/Zakir Hossain Chowdhury

Dry fish processing :Photo courtesy - www.demotix.com/Zakir Hossain  Chowdhury

Dry fish processing :Photo courtesy – http://www.demotix.com/Zakir Hossain Chowdhury

Hong Kong dry fish market  Photo courtesy :Purabi/www.zomppa.com

Hong Kong dry fish market
Photo courtesy :Purabi/www.zomppa.com

Where as in China, Hong Kong boasts of a Dried Seafood Street.Half a century back  the area had salted fish stores,where workers would dry their fish on the rooftops,sell them in the ground floor and live somewhere in between the two floors.It is said ,for ages Chinese have believed that food should not be wasted,fish when in excess,were preserved thereby using salt , other minerals  and sun dried.This was a common practice when there was no refrigerator to preserve  fresh fish.The Chinese belief is dried oysters and mussels when consumed on the Chinese New Year brings luck  and fortune.

Over time the Chinese practice of conservation of fresh fish by sun-drying has been  adapted by many cultures .It is now staple of Maldivian ,Srilankan and Burmese cuisine.In India Kerala,Orissa,West Bengal,Tamil Nadu,Andhra Pradesh,Assam,Tripura etc boasts of their collection of dry fish recipes.Dry fish grew in popularity also from the fact that some version of dry fish are cheap and are regarded as source of high protein for a poor man.

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Much social stigma has been attached to shutki(dry fish).It has generally been  culturally perceived as the food of the lower income  group,because  the economically cheap version of dry fish is the  main source of protein for many economically lower income group people,who cannot afford rather expensive fresh fish.Is it not time enough to de-stigmatize some food?We would consider sea food like mussels as highly coveted and exotic but still underplay the essence of fish preservation?Will it be ever elevated to the status of restaurant food in the socio- cultural  city  hubs  ?

 It is amazing to note how different culture and region eat dry fish  in their unique manner and how versatile dry fish are to adapt to the local cuisines. Some region prefer to have steamed dry fish with rice,while some others make a curry out of their choice of dry fish,whereas some enjoy cooking dry fish along with vegetables.

The version that I enjoy eating and cooking most uses very few ingredients.It  is a  rather  spicy mishmash of dry fish, rich in taste and is marked  by profusion of onion, garlic and  dry red chilies,all used to cut down the pungent odor of the dry fish.This is generally known as  Shutki bhorta /bata /bhuna(mishmash) in Bangladeshi cuisine,and as Shutki Chutney(dry fish pickle) in Assamese cuisine.

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Recipe

Dry version of – Bombay duck/loitya/bombil ( or your choice of dry fish) : 300 gm

Onion :100 gm,finely chopped

Garlic: 2-3 whole pod ,finely chopped

Dry red  chili powder:  4-5 heaped tbsp(adjust according to taste)

Turmeric: 1 tsp

Mustard oil for cooking

Salt to taste

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Method

  • Since the fish will be extremely dry ,cutting and chopping the fish will be bit difficult.Hence boil some water in a pot , take it off the stove,  dunk the fish into the warm water and cover with a lid.
  • Let the fish seat in the warm water for 20 minutes to half an hour.While soaking,you can change the warm water few times,this will  reduce  the pungent smell of the fish and help in getting rid of the sand particles gathered while drying the fish on the sea shore.
  • After the fish has softened enough to cut and chop ,take it off the water and discard the water.
  • Pat dry the fish.
  • Remove the head , tail  and central bone of the fish and cut it in 1” piece.The remaining small bones ,will disintegrate into tiny pieces while cooking.
  • Put the fish pieces in the mixer grinder or pestle and mortar and mash it nicely, retaining the coarse texture.Do not add any water during this process.
  • Heat  the mustard oil (2 tbsp  to start with)  in the wok.
  • Once the oil is  hot enough,add the chopped garlic and let them splutter,and turn light brown.Avoid burning them.
  • Add the chopped onions ,once the garlic turns light golden brown.Reduce  heat  and keep frying the onions till translucent.
  • Add the dry spices (turmeric and red chili powder) at this stage and stir for a minute or two.
  • Add the mashed dry fish,coat the spice mix well with the fish.
  • Reduce the flame  and stir continuously  to avoid burning.
  • Add little more oil  at this stage,if the mix tends to dry up.Dry fish soaks a lot of oil  because of it’s texture and preservation method.
  • Keep mixing thoroughly  the fish and the spices .
  • Add little salt,be careful while adding salt( 1 tsp or depending on the taste). Dry fish are preserved with salt  ,so they are already high in salt content.
  • While cooking,do not add water,as the fish will release some water, and get cooked it’s own moisture.
  • Keep stirring,till the fish mixture takes the   form of a coarse paste,and releases oil  or when most of the water dries out.
  • Once done ,serve it with hot steaming rice and let the compliments flow in .

 

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Egg-less Gondhoraj Lebu Mousse

Gondhorajlebu mousse

Gondhoraj lebu,the literal translation of this bengali name for a particular variety of  lime means ”king of aroma”.Indeed this   lime stands true to it’s name.It is one of the best variety of lime in terms of smell, that I have ever come across.The mere mention of this lime when bengalis are in conversation can send paroxysmal of  joy that only someone who have smelled this lime will know.Hot and humid West Bengal summers would provide the perfect setting to indulge in the pure joy of having rice,patla mushoor dal (watery lentil soup)with  a bout of gondhoraj lebu squeezed in.Some time my dimma (grandmother) would  make daal with the leaf of gondhoraj lebu immersed in it ,to make it  aromatic and refreshing.This lime is generally bright  dark green,with a tough and hard outer surface  and much larger in  size than the ordinary key limes.The pale inner segment of the lime yields scanty juice but is always marked by overpowering smell that will compellingly bring one to the dinner table once it’s served with the food. But this fragrant lemon kind of disappeared(until recently) from  my life once I stepped out of Bengal.Gondhoraj lebu  is pretty much region specific and find it’s firm footing  in Bangladesh and West Bengal in India.

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The scientific name of this lime is  said to be Citrus Limonia .This Rangpur  lime variety  got it’s name from a place called Rangpur in Bangladesh,where it is grown profusely.It is a cross between mandarin and lime,not very juicy in nature,but orgasmic in fragrance for sure.

bong appetite_limes

The distant cousins of our very own Gondhoraj  lebu can be found in South China as Canton Lemon , in Japan as  Hime  Lemon,as Limao Cravo in Brazil  or Mandarin Lime in the United States.These are all different variety of the  same family of Rangpur limes.

mousse_gondhoraj

My search for the ever elusive Gondhoraj lebu ,however,finally ended when I came across it in a Bangladeshi grocery shop in Birmingham,England.My joy knew no bound the moment I saw them.I grabbed a few and headed straight to the counter.We had our Gondhoraj happiness with lime wedges cut,squeezed  and smell inhaled with the regular  mushoor daal and bhaat(rice) .That  pacified our gondhoraj craving souls to a great extent.But some of them were still sitting pretty in the fridge side-cabinet.I decided to do some fusion dessert with my favorite lime variety. Inspirations were in plenty.The other popular aromatic limes like the Kaffir  lime or the thai lime  often used to make desserts like ice cream,white cake or the Carribean Key lime   known  to make refreshing cheesecakes were my point of reference.I decided to make some egg-less mousse with the signature fragrance of  Gondhoraj lebu.Mousse is a French food that incorporates air bubbles to give it a smooth and light texture.Contrary to popular belief it can be consumed as dessert as well as in its savory form depending on the choice of ingredients.From the colder spring we are gradually progressing to warmer summer here in UK ,while the whole of Bengal is all ready under the spell of summer sun.Just the perfect time to make and lap up this yummy cool dessert.

gondhoraj lebu

Ingredients :

  • Double cream : 600 ml
  • Condensed milk : 395 gm
  • Paneer or home made chhena : 250 -275 gm
  • Gondhoraj Lebu juice : 1-2 tablespoon
  • Gondhoraj lebu zest : 1 teaspoon

Recipe  :

Pour the double cream and condensed milk in a clear and chilled container. Whip the double cream and condensed milk together with a hand blender or an electric beater till it forms  firm peaks .Keep aside.Mash the paneer or chhena well to paste consistency ideally with the mixer grinder.Make sure the paste is smooth  enough without any hint of lump(mine was not smooth enough to my expectation ,hence the warning!),otherwise the mousse will be little grainy in texture.Fold in the whipped double cream and condensed milk into the paneer or chhena paste.

Firm peaks of the whipped cream  and folding in the condensed milk-cream mix with the paneer

Firm peaks of the whipped cream and folding in the condensed milk-cream mix with the paneer

Add the gondhoraj lebu juice at this stage.Give a gentle mix.Spoon the mousse mixture into the chilled serving dishes and top it with gondhoraj  lebu  zest.Scrap the lemon zest with a grater or a zester.Make sure you remove only the bright green zest and not the white pith ,which is bitter in taste.Seal the serving dishes with cling fling and refrigerate for at least 4-5 hours or overnight.Serve the Gondhoraj Lebu Mousse chilled.

before after_gondhoraj  lebu  mousse

Note For this recipe you can use the store bought paneer  or make your own chhena at home,what ever suits you.Only make sure to drain as much moisture as possible of which ever option you are opting.

A simple fish curry with mustard greens : maach-er jhol shorshey shaak diye

maacher jhol  shorshey shaak  diye1

Machh -er jhol (fish curry),patha’r mangsho(goat’s meat curry)mishti doi (sweet yogurt),shondesh/sandesh(bengali dessert delicacy),luchi (puffed flour bread) are few thing among many others that hits the top of  the list when we are thinking of a bong’s culinary diary.And how can I be an exception! My tryst with mach-er jhol started since the time I can’t even recollect .Mach er jhol can  be very hot,fiery, rich gravy of fish with  profusion of spices like garam masala or can be a mild yet flavoursome curry with or without vegetables.That is how I have known my mach-er jhol since childhood.There is no one recipe for a machh -er jhol.Each Bong household has it’s own way through maach,jhol and it’s accompaniments.But this cant deny the fact that there are traditional recipes  like maacher kalia,doi maach or shorshey maach which have their position of prime in the heart of Bengalis no matter what.Interesting thing to note is, that a bong can use the same spice or tempering to make different sorts of fish preparations depending on the recipe.With the rich mustard paste they make paturi,while the same mustard paste can be used  with additional greens or any  vegetable of your choice to culminate into a mach er jhol,which is more like a runny fish curry.

Mustard greens (Shoshey Shaak)

Mustard greens (Shoshey Shaak)

I was back home after a year or so,was missing my Maa er haath er ranna (mom’s cooking) immensely- I did make a mention of that to her once over phone and mom was ready with home cooked buffet of food on almost all the days of my stay.Saying ‘no’ to her was not an option, so I happily gave in to mom’s culinary expression of love.This one dish that stayed with me – simple,unpretentious and easy to make ,this is a fish curry to be served with steaming hot rice.

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How Maa made  Shorshey shaak diye maach er jhol

Ingredients  

4-6 pieces of Rohu( Salmon/Tilapia can also be very good alternative)

A bunch of Mustard greens(Shorshe Shaak)

1 teasoon-Nigella seeds/Kalo jeera/black onion seeds

1 teaspoon-Turmeric powder

1 teaspoon – Red chilli powder

5-6 tablespoon-Yellow mustard seed paste

Salt to taste

Few green chillies

Mustard oil

fish and greens

Recipe

Wash and clean the scales of the fish pieces.

Wash and pat dry the mustard green leaves,separating them from the stem.

Prepare a yellow mustard paste with water(just enough to make a thick to runny mix), 2-3 green chillies and 1 teaspoon of salt thrown in.

Dry marinate the fish pieces with turmeric and salt,shallow fry them  in mustard oil till they change their colour to golden brown.

Temper the mustard oil left in the wok (after frying the fish) with kalo jeera(nigella seeds/black onion seeds) and a few  longitudinally slitted green chillies,sauté them slightly.Then add the yellow mustard paste mix and the mustard green leaves.Add the turmeric powder, red chilli powder and a cup or two of  boiling water , give a good stir and let it simmer till the greens get well cooked.Check the seasoning.Add the fried fish pieces.Cook for another 2-3 minutes in low to medium heat.Put off the flame,cover the wok with a lid to give it a standing time of 2 more minutes. You can drizzle a table spoon of raw mustard oil on top of this fish curry, if you like the smell of mustard oil.

fish with mustard greens

Serve hot with steamed rice.

Doi Begun /Eggplant in yogurt gravy …. to beat the summer heat

Memories in May ..

doi begun_bong appetite

 

A squirrel quenching it's thirst (Photo courtesy : Bhashkar Dasgupta)

A squirrel quenching it’s thirst
(Photo courtesy : Bhashkar Dasgupta)

Summer reminds me of this song by Rabindranath Tagore.It perfectly describes the ruthlessness of summer heat and the agony  of  sun fatigued days,while eagerly waiting for the thundershowers to sooth tired souls.

 

Darun  agni-ban e re hriday trishay han-e re .

Rajani nidrahin,dirgho dogdho din..

Aram nahi je jaan-e re.

Shushko kanon shakhey  klanto kapot daake..

Karun kator gaan-e re..

Bhoy nahi,bhoy nahi,gagone rohechey  chahi.

Jani jhanjhar beshe  dibe dekha  tumi eshe..

Ekoda tapito praan-e re.

In this scorching heat of summer

My heart is so thirsty

The nights are sleepless..the days are burnt too long

Doesn’t get little respite

The tired pigeon moans sadly on  a dry brunch of a tree

But,fear not..worry not

Our eyes are roving in the sky

We know,you would show up in the guise of  tempest

And bless our restless souls with the downpour of your kindness..

(Translation courtesy: Abhijit Mazumdar)

 

 

While I write this post  summer has clearly touched base,and  temperature is  rising to a soaring high in most parts of India and many parts of the world ,with  mercury touching 40 degree Celsius with a humidity of 45%   in Kolkata,my home city.There you will  not consider it to be  a very cool idea to stay outdoor during the summer day unless your work  forces you to be,or you decide to get drenched in your own  sweat.  With no rain  to bail you out of the discomforting temperature,the only respite could be sort after in the ice creams,kulfis,daab-er jol(coconut water)shorbot ( Bengali cold drink concoction) etc.A few summers back, on my way to my work place,a college where I used to teach in Baghbazar(in North Kolkata) a common  sight  in the summer days that I vividly remember : the hand drawn rickshaws  plying hurriedly through  the city lanes and by-lanes.While the melting pitch of the streets took better of the poor rickshawallas,the passengers remain seated somewhat comfortably under the narrow perch of the rickshaw,and when that’s not comforting enough they would open  up their umbrellas to shield the raging  sun.

Rickshaw  ride  in the summer afternoon (Source:The Namesake)

Rickshaw ride in the summer afternoon
(Source:The Namesake)

Another visual that would make me secretly jealous,thinking how fortunate some people are, was on the days when I would have my classes in the second half of the day. I would notice the shutters of some of the small shops in the locality half down or a makeshift curtain arranged to cut down the entry of  heat to the shop,while the shopkeeper doze off to  afternoon siesta after his daily quota of maach-bhaat  morsel.Not a good business proposition to do  in the middle of the day,but I don’t  blame them,specially when you have minimum  customer  traffic  during  the times of sweltering heat.Summer  afternoon,however,did not always spell bad business for all .The ones who sold ice lollies called pepsi(the name that was given by the sellers themselves..remember the pipe shaped flavored and colored ice lollies?that probably you as a kid would buy with a 50

 Colourful Ice-lollies (Photo courtesy: Jishnu Nandy)

Colourful Ice-lollies
(Photo courtesy: Jishnu Nandy)

paisa ,tear the edge of the plastic pack  with your canines and gulp at  a go)dunked in their  ice  thermocol boxes,as they hop on and off the mini bus and private buses stopped in the middle of a traffic jam  being caught up at a traffic signal.While watching the street children kind of jumping,dancing and racing against each other under the public tap,which probably they would consider their private fountain showers, I would be immediately transmitted to my childhood days.Summer in spite of all it’s ghastliness  would bring the  unadulterated joy of summer vacations.The summer vacations were largely spent in my grandparent’s house  in central Kolkata,  with all my cousins united to spend the holidays together.

A bird's eye view of a busy road in Central Kolkata

Bird’s eye view of a busy road in Central Kolkata

A boy having ice candy to beat the heat  (Source:Reuters)

A boy having ice candy to beat the heat
(Source:Reuters)

The joy of watching the  para cricket(oh!if you have not known we have a Sourav Ganguly in every locality,if not a Sachin Tendulkar)round the corner of the street and wait impatiently towards  the end  of the afternoon for the ice cream-wallah(ice cream seller)to come  in  the locality with their ice-cream  carts.Our (me and my cousins’s)balcony  would be  the parapet of the roof terrace,We would cautiously stand on the tip of our toes with  the upper half of the body leaning little dangerously towards the roof  parapet,as we were not tall enough to  see the lane below just by standing on our feet.While the ice cream vendors would make sounds of sort  to signal their grand arrival , I along with my cousins would rush hurriedly to our grandparents to ask for khuchro(small currency change) to buy ourselves our favorite vanilla,choco-bar,orange flavored ice cream cups and sticks.Every season comes with a reason-true! whoever said so .

Summer have it’s  fair share of contribution to the Bengali appetite.Few vegetables which are only available during summer like mocha(banana blossom),potol(pointed gourd),enchor(jackfruit) etc are catapulted to a position of great respect and delicacies would be made out of them.While in summer  there are few vegetarian option available as such,the humble brinjal aka aubergine aka eggplant would come to the rescue of the households as it is one of the most precious summer vegetables( though it ‘s widely grown even in warm tropical winter  as well)we get.The patla maach er jhol shobji diye(light fish curry with vegetables)will inevitably have large chunks of  brinjals or eggplants immersed in the flavorful broth  to sooth the summer heat fatigued souls and if you give it a thought you can carve out a star dish out of the eggplant in the form of Doi Begun or eggplant in yogurt based gravy.Doi begun is one of the easiest mouth watering ‘make ahead dish’  that you can make with the fried eggplants  tipped in a lightly spiced yogurt based gravy,generally served mildly chilled or at room temperature with steaming hot rice to have a cooling effect.

begun

Doi begun to me does not look like something very authentic to Bengali tradition.I believe,this dish mostly  grew in popularity in Bengal  by being influenced by various Muslim invasion and influences from milk and cream based cuisine of Afghanistan.The dish which has huge similarity to our own doi begun is quite popular in Afganistan and is known as Baigan ki Boorani.Similar dishes can be traced to Tripoli in Lebabnon with a meat topping of choice(optional) as Batenjane be-laban or Fattet-al-Makdoos as  eggplant in yogurt based sauce in Beirut.Brinjal or eggplant with yogurt is also a  delicacy representative of the Turkish meze.Thick yogurt is a common ingredient in the  Turkish cuisine ,and is often served  flavored with herbs and spices with grilled vegetables like eggplant.

How I make Doi Begun..

 

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Ingredients

 

  • Aubergine/Eggplant/Brinjal : 1 cut into thick round slices
  • Hung curd /Greek yogurt/thick yogurt : 500 gm
  • Red chilli powder :1 tsp
  • Turmeric: 1tsp
  • Dry roasted cumin powder: 1 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar  to taste
  • Ginger: 1 tbsp(finely chopped)
  • Curry leaves: a handful
  • Dry red chilli :1-2
  • Asfoetida/Hing : a pinch
  • Mustard seeds : 1 tsp
  • White oil  to fry

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Recipe

  • Cut the eggplant into thick slices,and dry marinate them with salt,turmeric ,red chilli powder and cumin powder.
  • Let the eggplant sit in the dry marination for half and hour
  • Fry the eggplant slices in batches,making sure they are not over fried . Place them in the serving bowl.
  • Beat the chilled yogurt with sugar and salt.The yogurt mix should ideally have a sweet-salty-tangy taste to it.
  • Spread the yogurt mix on top of the eggplant making sure the eggplant slices soak well into the yogurt sauce.
  • In the wok heat 2 tablespoon white oil.When the oil is smoking hot ,lower the gas and add the dry red chillies (broken into halves) and the mustard seeds.Let them splutter.At this point add the chopped ginger pieces and fry them till they change their color to golden brown but not burnt.Add the curry leaves and give the mix a good stir.As soon as the curry leaves change their color add a pinch of asfoetida and take the wok off  the flame.
  • Pour the oil-spice mix on the yogurt dressing .
  • Serve it chilled or at room temperature,but do not reheat the dish as the yogurt might curdle.
  • You  can prepare the dish 4-5 hours before serving,but don’t keep it  overnight  in the fridge.

Note: Cut the eggplant slices little thick to avoid them getting soggy in the yogurt mixture.

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P.S. Can you think of any other Bengali  vegetarian dish which is influenced by Muslim invasions in India?

Khoya /Mawa making made easy

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If you are an Indian and fortunate enough to be spared by the curse of dairy or lactose allergy  it’s most likely that you have grown up  tasting mawa/khoya in one form or the other.Be it your favourite hot  gulab jamun  or gajar ka  halwa from Delhi or Shaktigar-er lyangcha and  kheer -er shondesh from West Bengal  or Benaras ka pedha they all contain khoya or mawa.This dairy product which is an essential part of many Indian sweet and savory dishes is actually the residue milk solid made from dry whole milk or whole milk thickened in a deep open vessel over slow heat.

 

Facts about Khoya/Mawa…did you know?

 

  • Khoya are of 3 types : Hard  Khoya or Batti Khoya is the toughest variety of milk solids used in making pedha or ladoo.Smooth Khoya or Chikna Khoya is soft,smooth and sticky variety used in shondesh  and rabri making.There is also a granulated variety known as Danedaar Khoya and is used to make kalakand,milkcake etc.In this the milk is curdled before evaporation leading to a grainy texture of khoya.
  • Khoya is used in making many Indian dessert,but the sweetened variety is a dessert in itself and is known as Pal Khoya .
Khoya ''cakes'' wrapped in sarees and dupatta(s) in old Delhi's Khoya Market (Photo Courtesy : eatanddust)

Khoya ”cakes” wrapped in sarees and dupatta(s) in old Delhi’s Khoya Market
(Photo Courtesy : eatanddust)

  • Around Diwali about 2000 people flock in old Delhi’s whole sale khoya market at Mori gate bus terminal and huge quantity of khoya and mawa comes from U.P,Punjab,Haryana  and Rajasthan.
  • You can find numerous shops in old Delhi selling mawa or khoya for a living.Om Shiv Mawa Bhandar,Jamnadas Khoyawale,Vishal Mawa Bhandar,Pawan Dairy Products are few Khoya dealers from Patel nagar,ChandniChowk,Khari Baoli markets of  Delhi.
Khoya trader in old Delhi's wholesale khoya market (Photo courtesy : eatanddust)

Khoya trader in old Delhi’s wholesale khoya market (Photo courtesy : eatanddust)

  • Old Delhi’s khoya market handles 50 tonnes of Khoya on any given day.Apparently tons of milk solids are auctioned everyday at Khoya Mandir at Mori Gate on a wholesale basis.
  • Khoya or Mawa are widely used in Indian,Pakistani,Bangladeshi and Nepalese cuisine in making dessert and exotic savory dishes.
  • It is similar to  Ricotta Cheese but the moisture content is much less in Khoya than in Ricotta Cheese.
  • Khoya/Mawa are great source of Vitamin D and calcium.
  • The usage of khoya or mawa largely increased and spread over the whole of North India with the Mughal rule and the previous muslim invasions.The Arab traders  brought with them exotic spices,  Khoya or mawa  and the royal rasoi(kitchen) hugely patronized the usage of such food ingredients leading to spread of this culinary culture along with the Mughal rule.

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Khoya

Being brought up in Kolkata,the epicentre of the art of ‘mishti’ or ‘shondesh’ making along with the Kolkata style mughlai food I got introduced to khoya or mawa quite early in childhood.Mom’s Shahi Paneer or home made ledikini would contain proportion of milk solids.We got our supply of milk solids or khoya readily available in the para’r mishti’r dokan (local sweet shops).The khoya could have been bought from the shop and used at one’s disposal,and even sometime stored in air tight containers in the fridge for over 1-2 days atleast.

The grainy textured Khoya/Mawa

The grainy textured Khoya/Mawa

 

After coming to UK I realized the blessings of the local  sweet shops ,because the khoya making process is indeed time and energy consuming.Being the foodie that I am I was ,however,unperturbed by the unavailability of khoya from the local shops.I decided to make it on my own  without being bogged down by the strenuous and time consuming procedure. I came up with a shortcut.Yes ‘short cut to success’ do exist..at least in case of khoya or mawa making 🙂

The Khoya ''Cake''

The Khoya ”Cake”

Ingredients

Dry whole/full fat milk powder : 1 cup

Ghee or clarified butter : 3 teaspoon

Milk : 1/4 th cup

Procedure of Khoya or Mawa making 

In a microwave safe bowl take 3 teaspoon ghee and to it add 1/4th cup milk(room temperature).Mix it well and put in the microwave for 1 and 1/2 minute or till the milk is warm .After taking out the bowl, put 2 cups of dry milk powder over the hot  ghee-milk mixture. Stir and mix it well with a spoon.The mawa/khoya is ready.

Checking the texture of the Khoya

Checking the texture of the Khoya

Note :

  • To have more grainy textured khoya you can add  half to one cup of more milk powder.
  • This khoya can be  brought to room temperature,knead into a tight dough(by adding  a teaspoon of milk if it’s too dry) and wrapped in a muslin cloth to be stored in the fridge for around 3-4 days and can be frozen for about a month in an air tight container.
  • Bong Appetite’s suggestion : You can use this khoya in making Shondesh and Enchor -er Biriyani.

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