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.

1 have added some spice:

Kaberi Chatterjee said...

hey tania,I m visiting your blog first time and very beatifully expressed.felt like reading a book :) keet it up. Visit my blog too, ..thanks kaberi.