The Bengali hymn, none other than the Indian National Anthem written by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win a Nobel prize for literature. Hence Bengal occupies a special place in India, as for matters of Bengali cuisine, it might as well as have been on the other side of the world, that is exactly how much knowledge I had of it. From my corner of the world in TamilNadu anyone who lived north of the Vindhyas were predominantly wheat eaters and chapati making just came naturally. Imagine my great surprise when a blogger friend who will be introduced soon, confessed she was not good at making them.
I'll quickly state a few other facts that come to mind whenever I think of Bengal and feel free to please dispense me of any wrong ones.
1. Unlike most Brahmins who are vegetarians, Bengali Brahmins eat fish.
2. Clothes most specifically ready made garments were sold by the Kilo. - this fact mentioned by my dad of what he saw when he visited
3. Goddess Kali is a very important deity
4. Communists have ruled the state for as long as I can remember (and)
5. Their love of literature and poetry.
But something happened a few years ago that gave me a deeper and a richer understanding of Bengali cuisine, when I discovered Sandeepa's excellent blog Bong Mom's CookBook. She loved her rice and read the previous paragraph again to learn one other truth about her.
Along the way I discovered a few more excellent blogs none of which need any introduction but I will list them all the same.
Shramila's Kichu Khon
Sayantani's A Homemaker's Diary
Mallika's Quick Indian Cooking
I am sure there are many more good ones out there. Please feel free to list your favorites ones in the comments.
Read Sandeepa's latest post, don't ask me how she anticipated what I was going to talk about today!. As for rasagulla - the other stereotype, those days and maybe even today they came in tins packed I guess all the way from Calcutta (or was it Haldiram?), my dad loved them and bought them wherever he found them, as for me I loved my ammayee's gulab jamuns more.
A timely article in the Washington Post - Mmm, Kolkata: Eats on the streets and off the beaten path was perfect to spur me along.
I have learned so much about, admired and anticipated tasting various Bengali dishes and had to start somewhere. I wanted to try fish/shrimp in mustard paste or vegetables in poppy seeds paste first. Life interfered and potatoes happened first.
I am a succor for potatoes small, big ,round,oblong, thin, fat - you name it and I will buy it if I can see it. One look at this Karaishutir Kochuri aar Notun Alur Dom and a date was set and was also the first dish to be tried. I did not add the whole spices, garam masala or sugar the recipe called for.
Recipe Source: Sayantani's Notun Alor Dom
Baby Potatoes in onion yogurt sauce
1. 10-12 baby potatoes boiled and peeled, pricked with a fork and set aside
2. 1/2 of red onion minced using a food processor - 1 cup worth
3. 1 inch knob of ginger grated - 1 tbsp
4. 2 tomatoes chopped 1 cup
5. yogurt - 3-4 tbps whisked
6. coriander seeds - 1 tbsp
7. 2-3 tsp cumin powder
8. 1/2 tbsp red chili powder (or to taste)
9. 2 tsp of turmeric powder
10. salt to taste
11. seasonings: cumin seeds.
12. 2-3 tsp oil
1. In a wide mouthed pan (kadai) heat oil and roast the potatoes for 3-4 minutes and set aside. ( i forgot to rub them with turmeric and salt, please remember to do that)
2. Add the onions and saute, as they start to turn pink, add the ginger and saute till they are brown but not burned.
3. As the onions are sauteing dry roast the coriander seeds and powder them
4. When the onions are brown, add the turmeric,coriander, cumin and red chili powder and mix it in.
5. Now add the tomatoes, cover and cook till they are completely mushy. Switch off the flame.
6. Cool the pan for 5 minutes , add the whisked yogurt and put the pan back on the flame, add the potatoes, salt and let them cook for 8-10 minutes. I did not need to add any water as I was using yogurt made from fat free milk. Add 1/2 cup of water otherwise.
No kachuris only chapatis but thoroughly enjoyed.
Next up is the Doi Maach. One of my cousins was fond of non.veg (chicken/goat) so much that he wanted to take the day off from school if he found out non.veg was being cooked that day. In our(my) family that kind of enthusiasm is reserved for fish. It is one item we can eat without any problems whatever way it is cooked. A day was reserved for cooking doi maach as I am not lucky enough to know a source of Rohu or Hilsa, what I had on hand - frozen flounder had to do. I rubbed them in turmeric and salt and set them aside for a while. DD had to go somewhere and I just under an hour to finish the cooking and this was done with plenty of time to spare.
Fish curry in our parts was usually made with the head, tail and a few pieces usually with the bone left behind after the fleshy ones were taken for the fish fry. The fish pieces dropped into the gravy was never fried before hand and because the only most sturdy pieces were used they did not fall apart in the gravy. Lot of Bengali curries use fried fish in the curry and keeps the fleshy pieces together and from falling apart. Even the delicate flounder maintained most of its shape. Here too I did not add the whole spices - the rush got to me and I forgot.
Recipe Source: Sandeepa' Doi Maach
Fish in yogurt sauce
1. 8 fillets of flounder smeared with turmeric and salt
2. 1 cup of minced onion (I did not make a paste)
3. 2 tbsp of grated ginger
4. 1 cup of whisked yogurt
5. 3 slit Thai red chilies
6. 1 tbsp turmeric powder
7. 1/2 tbsp chili powder
8. 1 Tbsp oil
9. salt to taste
11. Whole spices - cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves and cardamom (I did not add them)
1. Heat 3/4 tbsp of oil in a frying pan and the sear the fish pieces on both sides
2. Now heat the rest of the oil in the kadai and add the whole spices if using.
3. Add the slit chilies and minced onions and saute, when the onions start to turn pink add the ginger and saute till the onions are brown.
4. Add the turmeric and chili powder and turn off the heat.
5. After 5 minutes add the whisked yogurt. I did not add any water because the fish will leave water.
6. Let it cook on medium low heat for 6-8 minutes.
7. Add the fried fish and salt if required and let it cook till the gravy thickens.
Serve over rice.
We enjoyed the fish preparation immensely.
My experiments with Bengali cuisine will continue at the rate of one every 2 weeks. Let's see if the schedule sticks.