Month: March 2020

Food trails and many tales: Dishing wonders with waste

Zero Waste Cooking, the term is now in vogue. World has suddenly woken up to the fact that we waste a huge amount of food everyday and need to minimize it by changing our cooking style and eating habits. Average Americans waste 1 pound of food per person per day at the household level, according to USDA. I am sure we anglicized Indians with our penchant for western style fine dining are no better. But now suddenly the West has woken up to food waste and we Indians must toe the line and follow the trend! Therefore, we are bombarded with zero waste recipes, cooking styles and eating habits.

But, as a culture, didn’t we Indians always practice zero waste? Haven’t we laughed at our grandmothers and mothers for trying to squeeze the last bit from a toothpaste tube or pour the last drop of oil or ketchup from an almost empty bottle? And, when it comes to cooking with what many would toss out of the kitchen, we Bengali’s are the masters. We make yummy aloo ka chilka fry (aloor khosha bhaja), Chehki made with tender lauki chilka is a delicacy. We chop and put the stems of gobi in daal (khopir datar daal) that is both nutritious and delicious. The delicacies we make with the seed of ripe jackfruit and pumpkin seed are unparalleled. Kanchakolar khosha bata is a chutney that we make out of the chilka of green banana. There are so many more recipes where we use the so-called food waste and turn them into culinary delight!

Aloor Khosha Bhaja

Aloo is available in every Indian kitchen. Most of our dishes are incomplete without aloo. Use the potato peel or chilka for this quick recipe.

Image courtesy YouTube

Ingredients

1 cup potato peels, 1/2 tsp – poppy seeds, 1 tsp – vegetable oil, pinch of kalonji (nigella seeds), salt to taste

Method

  1. Wash the peels, bunch them together and roughly chop them.
  2. Heat oil in a wok and temper with nigella seeds. Add the chopped peel. Stir fry for 2 -3 mins on medium heat. Add salt and poppy seeds. Cook for another 2 mins, constantly stirring.
  3. Take it off fire and serve with steaming hot rice or with hot cup of tea.

Since a tiny virus has pushed the mighty human’s indoors, since we are forced to live with less and of many these ingredients may already be available in your kitchen, this is a good time to try out these recipes. Tea with aloor khosha bhaja should be quite a treat in the evening!

 Kanchakolar Khosha Bata 

Image Courtesy YouTube

Ingredients

  • 2 Raw Banana
  • 6 cloves Garlic
  • 1 Green Chilli
  • Salt to taste

Ingredients for seasoning:

  • 2 tablespoons Mustard oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kalonji (Onion Nigella Seeds)
  • 1 Dry Red Chillies

Steps

  1. Pressure cook the 2 raw bananas until soft. Once cooked, peel the skin. For this recipe we will be using the cooked and peeled skin and not the banana pulp (you can make a sabzi of your choice with raw banana).
  2. Blend the banana peel and the remaining ingredients into a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl and keep aside.
  3. In a small pan add the mustard oil. Once the oil is heated; add in the kalonji and the dry red chillies. Sauté on medium flame until the red chilies are roasted and browned then add in the peel paste and sauté on low heat for 2 to three minutes until the raw smell goes away.
  4. Serve the spicy and delicious Kanchakolar Khosha Bata with hot steamed rice or chapati.

Reclaiming Aadda – the lost art of a good conversation

The pleasures of growing up in a Bong joint family! Forever surrounded by Kaku, pishi, dida, cousins, so much pampering and conversations all around, storytelling, reading out to each other. I never lacked conversations growing up, till date nothing hooks me more than a good conversation. I miss those good old days, those conversations. Most of all I miss my kaku – a master story teller, a great conversationalist, in  whose room every evening would gather his friends and conversation would flow on art, literature, music, politics or football over cups of tea, moori makha, padad bajha or chop. There would be friendly banter, heated debates, enlightening dialogues with music playing in the background on the gramophone. My mom, and sometimes my pishi would heartily participate in the discussions. As a kid then I would sometimes peep in, take bite from my kaku’s plate. Though I couldn’t make sense of much of the conversation, I could feel charged atmosphere, the excitement around. Such was the magic of good conversation or Aadda!

Coffee Houser Aadda

The quintessential Bengali Aadda, that can be loosely translated as the art of conversation or discussion, probably emerged over a century ago when Bengali gentry (or bhodrolok) would congregate to discuss various issues ranging from art to politics to changing weather. Aadda, Coffee Houser Aadda, had a certain snob value about it. Prominent writers and thinkers would gather at a Coffee House talk about various existential and intellectual issues. Then there was Aadda in a drawing rooms or a living rooms, like the one in our family house.  Aadda, where boys of the neighbourhood gather on a staircase or parapet (rock), called Rockbaj Aadda, is considerably low brow. You wouldn’t want to be caught by your parents being part of Rockbaj Aadda.

Rockbaj Aadda

But no matter where the Aaddabaj (connoisseurs of Aadda) would gather, the spirit of Aadda, the free flow of conversation that was often intellectually stimulating, defies all definition. Usually a small group that could range from 3 to 10 people, Aadda could be dominated by one person or run into heated debates. It has been often said that these aimless Aaddas led to the downfall of Kolkata, once the intellectual capital of India. Maybe, or maybe Bengal fell from grace because Aadda lost its spirit somehow!

Aadda sessions in my kaku’s living room came to end with his untimely demise. I left home a few years after that. In college and university, we had our variants of Aadda, often literary discussion or idealistic talks about love and life ahead. Then real life happened, while struggling to fit into the real world, I did enjoy many animated conversations with my newfound friends over cups of coffee till wee hours. But people kept getting busier, drifting apart, conversations turned to long phone calls, online chats and somehow that spirit was lost. There was partying, there was pubbing and there was clubbing at the cost of a good conversation. Even families glued to their phone and social media forgot to talk.

Today, suddenly out of nowhere the world is inflicted by a novel virus that has pushed us indoors, shuts down pubs, clubs and malls. The term social distancing is suddenly in vogue. With nowhere to go we don’t have sassy pictures to post on social media, and the virus jokes and alerts are kind of getting on our nerves. While COVID is disrupting our lives, playing havoc with our schedule, maybe it’s giving us a chance to reconnect with our family and friends, revive the art of conversation. So why not use this family time as an opportunity to reclaim the magic of Aadda!

Khichdi – the delicious mish mash

Moong daler khichuri

Waking up to a rainy morning would always bring a smile to my face. Rainy day at school, playing in the rain, paper boats and Ma would make khichdi or khichuri as we Bongs’ call it, for lunch. Khichuri, served with maach bhaja (fish fry), jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry), begun bhaja (fried brinjal) or fried fish egg (Bengali version of caviar), topped with a spoonful of desi ghee, has been my favourite meal since. Khichuri and kosha mangsho (dry mutton curry) is a much awaited delicacy in Bengali households. But no matter what the accompaniments are, Khichuri has to be topped up with a spoonful of desi ghee, we Bongs prefer the flavourful cow ghee.

Khichuri or khichdi, a mish mash of rice, dal and sometimes veggies like aloo, matar and cauli flower, considered to be a humble meal in North India, is a feast for Bengalis. There are two popular variants of khichuri in Bengal – one with red masoor dal and the other made with roasted yellow moong dal. Masoor dal khichuri is usually made with onion, garlic, ginger and served hot on a rainy afternoon with all kinds of bhajas (fries).

Bhaja (roasted) moong dal khichuri is tempered with tej patta, jeera and other whole spices. We usually put aloo, matar, gobi and tamatar in moong dal khichuri. The same veggies along with beans or anything else that you fancy can be put in masoor dal khichuri as well. Moong dal khichuri is usually served as bhog during puja with a lavish accompaniment of labra (delicious and mild Bengali mixed veggie) or badhakopir torkari (cabbage curry), beguni (maida or corn flower coated brinjal fry), fried pumpkin and crispy aloo fry and chutney (made with tomato and dates). Relishing the cold moong dal khichuri with bhaja after pujo is an experience that I so look forward to.

Another variant of Khichuri is Neeler khichuri, cooked without haldi, that devotees of Lord Shiva in Bengal have every Monday of Sawan. I first had this khichuri at my masi’s place and enjoyed every bit of it. I also like the mildly flavoured North Indian khichdi, tempered with hing and jeera, served with dahi, achaar and papad. Though it is supposed to be a sick persons’ meal I can have it anytime. Be it healthy daliya ki khichdi that I often make or bland sabudana khichdi from Maharashtra, a staple when you are fasting in these parts, I love them all. Quite a khichdi fan I am!

Bisi bele bhaat

The South Indian variants of khichdi, Bisi bele bhaat in Karnataka and Pongal in Tamil Nadu, offer a different flavour. Though these are breakfast food in the South, Bisi bele bhaat and Pongal, served with dahi and papad make a tasty and nutritious meal anytime of the day. I am lucky to have a friend who often makes Bisi bele bhaat for me. It can be easily made with MTR’s Bisi bele bhaat masala. Though my friend usually gets the masala from Bangalore, you can check with the local MTR stores or you can try making your own masala.

Keema Khichdi is another awesome khichdi recipe that I plan to try some day. This aromatic Bohra delicacy is prepared with minced lamb, ginger-garlic paste, rice, moong dal and a melange of spices. Though its slightly time consuming this delectable khichdi is definitely worth a shot.