Friday, July 30, 2010

Shukto- Just like Picasso ,a simplistic dish with many interpretations

In the olden days, when the grooms’ families were choosing a bride for their son, they would test her culinary and housekeeping skills by asking weird questions like “If you have rice cooking on the stove , you son is wailing at the top of his lungs and someone is knocking at the door, what will you take care of first?” or “If you had three potatoes and a cup of rice at home, how would you feed two unexpected guests?” You see, the Bengali household always revolves around food- what are we making for breakfast, how will we cook the fish today, should I make a cooked or raw chutney with lunch, what should I serve my guests with tea etc etc. We will also criticize every wedding dinner we have been to- be it a five course or twenty course meal. There is a famous story that goes around -Once a man decided that he would not let his guests complain about his daughter’s wedding reception. He had made every arrangement for their comfort and the food was fabulous. He had made many dishes both for his vegetarian and non-vegetarian guests. When the reception ended, he asked few of his close friends their opinion about the wedding. One of his friends complained “Oto bhalo o bhalo noi.( Too much good is not good either.” See, you can never make Bangalis happy about the food. A typical Bengali meal starts off with something bitter, followed by greens, then some hearty vegetables, followed by a bowl of lentils, accompanied by fritters. Then comes the non vegetarian course followed by sweet or sour chutney and ends with dessert. The variety gets more outlandish as we move away from a daily meal towards a big party.

When it comes to the beginning of the meal, its either a fry of bitter gourd with other vegetables or it’s a mixed vegetable dish called Shukto. Shukto is cooked in many ways – with or without turmeric, with different blend of spices. But it will always contain bitter gourd. The traditional way is to use a paste of mustard, poppy seed and ginger to thicken the gravy. People use sun dried lentil fritters called bodi with the vegetables to add texture. I learnt Shukto from my mom and she learnt it from both my Grandmas. I prefer the spices that my Dad’s Ma used and I like the way Ma incorporated it in her recipe, My MIL’s recipe contains a garnishing of grated coconut. Shukto is an acquired taste and I have not acquired the taste of my MIL’s Shukto yet. So here is a lowdown on my Dida’s recipe.

Radish ½
Chinese eggplant (long ones) 1
Green Plantain 2
Potatoes -1
Bitter ground (korola) -1

Bodi( sun dried lentil fritters) -7-8
Bay leaf -1
Ghee( clarified butter) -1 tsp
Panch Phoran- 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Canola Oil- to cook

To be ground into paste:
Mustard 2 tsp
Poppy seeds( Posto) 2tsp
Ginger 1 inch piece
Fennel seeds( Mouri) 1 tsp

• Soak the paste ingredients in a bowl and grind it into a smooth paste.
• Chop the bitter gourd into small pieces.
• Peel and chop the remaining vegetables lengthwise.
• In a pan add a little oil and fry the bitter gourd with a little bit of salt till it is cooked.
• In a separate wok add a little oil and fry the lentils fritters till they are brown and set aside.
• Add a little more oil and add the panch phoran and bay leaf for tempering.
• Add all the raw vegetables in the tempered oil and stir fry for 2 minutes.
• Add water to cover all the vegetables and salt to taste.
• Bring the vegetables to a boil and cook them covered till they are half cooked.
• Add the fried fritters and bitter gourd.
• Once the vegetables are almost cooked, add the paste and stir it till it forms a thick gravy.
• Just before it comes down from the stove , add the ghee and mix.
• Serve it with hot rice at the beginning of a meal.

The distinct flavor in my Shukto comes from the fennel seeds and I still love it that way. I also like that it is not overly bitter as I add the fried bitter gourd at the end. The slight addition of ghee at the end gives it a special smell. It might be one of the oldest Bangali dishes, but the one above is what I called distinctly mine which I have inherited from generations. I hope you enjoy the flavor and cook it in your kitchen.

Continue reading: Shukto- Just like Picasso ,a simplistic dish with many interpretations...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dal Puri and World Cup- A complete meal

This post has been long due as it has been busy for the last few months combined with summer camps, swim meets and the World Cup. I am not an ardent sports watcher but the rest of the family is. My only stints with sports on TV are the Olympics, an occasional game on World Cup Soccer and Cricket and of course the Super Bowl for the ads. We have a Super Bowl party every year and to keep up with the tradition of food with spectatorship, we had to do something special for the match between UK and USA on a weekend. So I decided to make Dal Puri ( Pan fried bread stuffed with split chickpeas) .

Since I was born in Lalu’s state, Dal Puri and Malpua are pretty popular food for any occasion. Dal Puri is not deep fried like other Indian fried breads , but instead pan fried like a paratha. It can be enjoyed with a potato curry, a bowl of yogurt or simply an Indian pickle on the side. It was a hit with my 8 year old who loves dunking everything in ketchup including dosas, idlis and any stuffed paratha. I enjoyed mine with some pickle with the annoying noise of vuvuzelas in the background.

Chana Dal- 1 cup
Wheat Flour 3 cups
Cumin 1 tsp
Red chilli -1
Sugar – 2 tsp
Salt to taste
Canola or vegetable oil – 1 tsp for the dough and some to fry
• Pressure cook the chana dal with very little water.
• Once the dal is cooked and can be mashed with your fingers, grind the dal to a fine consistency with a food processor or a grinder.
• In a pan dry roast the cumin and the red chilli.
• Using a rolling pin, grind the toasted cumin and red chilli into a fine powder.
• Mix the toasted powder, sugar and salt to taste into the ground chana dal. It should not be too spicy neither too sweet.
• Add a tsp of oil to the flour and add water and mix the dough to the consistency of a tight bread dough
• Cut the dough into 10-12 large balls the size of golf balls.
• Spread each ball in your hand and add a tbsp of the ground chana dal mixture inside. Pinch together the top so that it forms a clean stuffed ball.
• Roll the stuffed ball into a 4-5 inch flat bread.
• In a pan add a little oil and cook the dal puri until brown spots form on each side.
• Serve hot with pickle , ketchup, potato curry or a bowl of plain yogurt.
It works very well for an evening meal as it contains both protein and whole grain carbs. You can serve it with a mixed vegetable curry and forms a full meal, But the best time this can be enjoyed is a late morning brunch when you have spend the morning cooking it sipping a hot cup of tea.

Continue reading: Dal Puri and World Cup- A complete meal...