Thursday, November 26, 2009

Traditional Bengali Recipes

Bengali Cuisine – A Primer :

Key Starches : Rice, wheat ( eaten as deep fried refined wheat flatbreads called luchis).

Typical breakfast Luchi / Roti served with potato curry / dal.. Pantabhat is preferred in summer (cooked rice soaked overnight in water eaten mixed with salt, chopped onions, green chilies and a dash of lemon juice / yogurt). Pressed rice or puffed rice is also eaten raw / soaked in milk / cooked with spices.

Lunch : Rice served with 5-6 curries in a particular order listed on the left. Khichuri ( rice and lentil porridge) served with fries is popular during monsoons.

Key Flavourings: Mustard, Cumin, Nigella, Fennel, Fenugreek. Equal quantities of these are mixed together and called Panch Phoran. Turmeric, ginger, garlic, coriander seeds, leaves Garam masala ( a readymade powdered mix of roasted cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, star anise and coriander seeds) are also common.

Curry Bases : Mustard paste, Poppy seed paste ( soak equal quantities of mustard seeds and poppy seeds in water for 2 hours. Blend to a paste), tomato puree.

Preferred fats :
Mustard oil, Ghee, Peanut oil.

Protein Source:
Lentils ( Masoor dal, Mung dal, Channa Dal), Freshwater fishes (especially Hilsa), Chicken, Mutton & eggs. Beef is consumed in East Bengal (Bangladesh), Pork is eaten by the Anglo Indians & Chinese communities.

Common Vegetables: Eggplant, Potato, Squash, Ridge gourd, Drumstick, Spinach, Sweet potato, String beans, Pumpkin, Radish, Bitter gourd.

Building blocks:
Rice, Wheat Vegetables, Lentils, Freshwater fish.

Souring agents :
Green mangoes, dried mango powder.

Desserts :
Bengalis learnt the art of curdling milk to separate milk solids (chena), probably from Portuguese. This is used as a base for a wide variety of sweets – (Rasagolla, Rasamalai etc)

This cookbook lists 10 traditional Bengali recipes , greatly simplified, so that a first time cook can easily cook them. The following recipes are listed in this cookbook. Click the links for detailed recipes with photos from my fellow bloggers

1.: Pora (Grilled and mashed starter) (Begun Pora).

2.: Shukto (Bitter, mixed vegetable curry )

3.: Dal (Flavoured Lentils )

4.: Bhaja (Fries) ( Begun Bhaja)

5.: Shaak ( Leafy Greens curry) Mulo Shaak

6.: Charchari (Mixed vegetable dry curry) ( Panchmishali Charchari)

7.: Jhol (Thin, spicy gravy) (Macher jol)

8.: Ambol ( Sweet and sour dish ) Kancha Aamer Ambol

9.: Ghonto (Stir fried) Lau Ghonto

10.: Bhapa (Steamed ) Bhapa Ilish

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Okay, let me start from the very beginning. 1500 crore years ago, with a Big Bang, the Universe is born. It expands dramatically. Hydrogen forms, contracts under gravity and lights up, forming stars. Some stars explode, dusting space with the building blocks of life. These condense into planets, one of which is Earth. Over time, self replicating molecules appear, multiply and become more complex. They create elaborate survival machines (cells, plants, animals). A variety of lifeforms evolve. Soon, humans arise, discover fire, invent language, agriculture and religion. Civilisations rise and fall. Alexander marches into India. Moguls establish an empire. Britain follows. Independence. Partition. Bloodshed. The license raj is in full sway. I'm born. India struggles to find its place. Liberalisation. The Internet arrives! I move from Tirupur to Chennai. Start a company. Expand into Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. Poof! Dot com bust. Funding dries up. Struggle. Retire. Discover the joy of cooking, giving, friendships and the pleasures of a simple life. Life seems less complicated. Pizza Republic, Pita Bite and Bhojan Express bloom !

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