As a girl in Dhanbad and later during my college days in Kolkata I rarely got entry to my Mom’s Kitchen. Mom is very possessive about her kitchen and few are the occasions when I got chance to try my hands in her kitchen. Hence my self-cooking actually started with my first job when I moved to Mumbai and started staying with roommates. We used to take turns cooking dinner and that is the time when I started cooking out of necessity and compulsion.
My cooking from compulsion slowly turned into passion over the years when I move to US and then got married to a food lover. Indian food in general and Bong food in particular is not widely available – as per our taste in western countries. My husband also enjoys cooking and rarely criticizes what I make which is a blessing and inspires me to experiment with variety of cuisines.
I was picky eater during my childhood days until I started cooking and appreciating various flavors which comes from different spices used in Bengali cooking. The flavour that comes from fried whole red chilies in pure ghee used for Daal is unique, the aroma of Panch Phoran (seeds of Mustard, Fennel, Nigella, Fenugreek, Radhuni) does wonders in most Bong dishes. Another unique spice is mustard paste and poppy seed paste used in typical Bengali dishes. Fishes cooked in Mustard oil and mustard paste and eaten with white rice tickles your taste buds with a pungent aromatic flavour. Vegetables cooked in white poppy seed paste puts you to a lazy, late afternoon nap. And not to forget the mouthwatering flavour of mustard and poppy seeds together used for Shrimp and Hilsa fish curries which will linger with you for several days.
We all love talking about our own regional dishes and most of the times get carried away by it. I think mostly it’s about the acquired taste over time. Food brings back lot of childhood memories too. Food which I hated during my growing years are the ones which I crave for now. I smile when I see my 8 year old pushing away the mouthwatering dishes as she is still in the process of acquiring the taste to appreciate them, so it’s very important to keep on pushing kids to try out tradition food cooked daily at home even though they dislike it. It’s just matter of time you will see how appreciative they become of these traditional meals.
Today I love the aroma of fried Neem leaves mixed with mashed potatoes and yes traditional bong lunch starts with something bitter, be it Neem or Bitter gourd fried/boiled or if it’s any special occasion then Bitter Gourd Sukto– the bitter and sweet white creamy mixed vegetable dish. My passion for Bong food started with those weekend potlucks when I was staying in Philadelphia. We had few Bengali families who used to meet without fail every Saturday for elaborate Bong Adda and potluck dinner. The main attraction of those potlucks were that no dish was repeated. Every single one of us came up with variety bong dishes and that’s how I got to try my hands in various Bong recipes. Sujata’s Kitchen was my favorite website in those days for trying out Bong food as You-tube was not that popular or was not flooded with so many cooking videos. Today trying out various traditional recipes has become simple. I try out different East and West Bengal recipes from You tube channels. It’s not only thrilling and exciting but also takes me back to my roots!
Bengalis are always known for their Fishes and Rosogollas but just to let everyone know we have a variety of vegetarian dishes too which surpass Indian veg dishes from other states in count. Our range of vegetable is very similar to those in Chinese and other South East Asian countries. During my stay in US Bengali vegetables which were never available in “Patel Brothers (the most popular Indian grocery chain there)” were found in those smelly Chinese market – variety of vegetables like stem of banana tree and flower of banana, different leafy vegetables (Saag) and roots of plants (Yam). I am sure most Indians don’t know that we make excellent dishes with banana stem (Thor in Bengali) and banana flowers (Mocha). Do you know we eat peels (Khosa Bhaja) of most of the vegetables like bottle guard (Lauki), potatoes, pointed gourd (Parwal) and raw banana peel. I can see you raising your eye brows. Just get hold of a Bong friend and bribe her for these delicacies which you will rarely get in any Bong restaurants. These are only ‘made in home’ grandmother dishes.
Entire India eats unripen jackfruit curry, we too love jackfruit curry and also the ripe jackfruit and the big white seeds inside ripe jackfruit which is again a specialty in Bengal. We take the seeds from the jackfruit juicy pulp, sun dry it, remove the external skin and cut into pieces and use it as fries, put it in Daal and mixed vegetable curry. Needless to say it enhances the flavor.
Let me share a quick mouthwatering banana stem recipe with you all – Banana Stem Fried rice (Thor Pulao/ Chal Thor)
- Get hold of Banana stem (yes that’s a challenge based on your geographic location, I leave it up to you).
- Keep removing the external hard skin till you can’t remove anything. Once you have reached the soft white portion, slice it, remove the fibers with finger and then cut into small pieces. Soak it in salt turmeric water.
- Soak flavored rice for 30 mins, we prefer Govindo Bhog, you can use Basmati also preferable broken. Drain out rice water keep it aside to dry.
- Heat pan/ kadai, put ghee( yes only ghee)- bay leaves, sahi Jira, and cinnamon stick and crushed Cardamom (Black), once the flavor comes put the drained rice and mixing it slowly.
- After 10 mins when the rice is completely dry and is coated with ghee, add the cut Thor pieces. Remember to hand press it and take away all the water.
- Keep frying for another 5 to 10 mins, when its dry add water in same proportion as rice quantity, cover it.
- Periodically keep a watch till the rice is cooked and add water if required, put soaked raisins (optional). Add salt and definitely sugar as Bengali Pulao has a Bengali sweetness in it too.
- Before removing from heat add chopped green chilies and Bong Garam Masala powder (it’s always homemade- powder of Cinnamon, Clove and Cardamom- NO Jira or pepper powder).
- Last but never the least- Serve it with LOVE.
I am sure you all will enjoy it……Unlimited Love is the best Spice to make your food tasty and flavorful.