Is it common belief that we Bengalis eat only fish, rice and rosogolla? Well think again, because the variety that a Bong home-chef can whisk for a regular Bengali meal can blow you off your senses. It is popularly believed that an average Bengali cook can put to use every part of a vegetable plant. Its unthinkable how often Bongs use rejected peels, stalks and leaves of vegetables to churn out extraordinary dishes.
So consider this……..visualize a Banana Tree & now read how every part of the tree is made use of :-
· Banana Stem or ‘Thor’ – Can be used to cook a spicy Thor Bhaja or fried / Ghonto/ chochori/ or Chenchki (a kind of mishmash using spices)
· Banana Flower or ‘Mocha’– Mocha’r Chop (fried Croquettes) / ghonto (spicy mishmash) / alu diye torkari (dry curry with potatoes)
· Green Bananas or ‘Kachkola’ – Shukto (a bitter mixed veggie semi-gravy dish using an assortment of vegetables including bananas & bitter gourd)/ Kachkola’r Kofta (dumplings cooked in an onion-tomato based gravy)/ Kachkolar’s torkari (mishmash with potatoes)
· Banana Leaves – Used for serving food on special occasions, Pujas etc. Also used as a wrap for Bhetki / Ilish Paturi & steamed or deep-fried.
The primary cooking medium in Bengali cuisine is Shorsher tel (mustard oil) , although Badam tel (groundnut oil) or Sunflower oil is also used, because of their high smoke point. This later group, popularly known as “shada tel“, is gaining prominence of late & the use of rice-bran oil, soybean oil and refined vegetable oil is also quite prevalent now .
However, it is really the type of food being cooked that defines the oil to be used. If its fish, Chicken, Mutton or different kinds of ‘Bhaja’ or deep fried Veggies, Mustard Oil is the preferred medium. If its more subtle tasting food like Luchi / parota (deep & shallow fried flat breads) , the ‘shada tel’ or Ghee (clarified butter) is often preferred.
Also other common ingredients that give flavour and aroma to the delicious Bengali cooking are Mustard paste (Mustard seeds ground with green chillies & water), holud (turmeric), posto (poppyseed used as paste), aada (ginger), dhone guro, gota or pata (coriander powder, seeds and leaves) and narkel (fresh & ripe desiccated or sliverred coconut) . Panch phoron is a versatile & popular spice used in many vegetarian & fish dishes & is really the bengali 5 spice mixture of seeds. It is made of Nigella, Cumin, Fenugreek, Fennel, and mustard taken in equal proportion.
While I am sure that most of you may have heard of common Bengali items Luchi, Aloor Dom, Kosha Mangsho, Alu Posto, popularized by the plethora of Bong restaurants around, there are infact many more exotic and popular dishes that you can find in the everyday Bengali menu. Bengalis usually have a 5 course elaborate meal, of different flavours and textures.
Listing below are 15 of the lesser known (outside Bengal) but equally popular dishes from the State. Also listing along with some popular blogs / microsite links where you can source these & more delicious Bengali recipes from :-
- Dimer Devil
It is a popular “StreetFood” of Kolkata & served as an evening snack. It is made with half portion of hard-boiled egg , wrapped around with a spiced mashed potato mixture, dipped in gram flour batter, coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried till crispy on outside & a dark brown colour & served with a tangy Mustard sauce and onions .
Photo Credit : http://breatherbounty.blogspot.in/
- Cholar Dal & Hinge’r Kochuri
A traditional Bengali breakfast or evening snack platter where asafoetida or ‘Hing’ flavored Kachori is served with a thick & spicy potato gravy or Cholar Dal ! Cholar Daal or Bengal gram is a popular lentil preparation in Bengal, which is part sweet and part spicy and served along with a generous topping of grated fresh or slivered & fried pieces of coconut.
Photo Credit : http://www.ahomemakersdiary.com/
A cherished first course in a Bengali meal, shukto is a concoction of all seasonal vegetables such as sweet potatoes, brinjals, okra, drumsticks , bitter gourd, raw bananas, Jhinge etc cut into thick & long pieces & cooked in a milk & mustard based gravy with a seasoning of ‘Paanch Phoron’ & is to be enjoyed along with steamed rice.
Photo Credit : http://www.bongcookbook.com/
- Posto’r Bora
Posto Bora or poppy seed fritter is a very simple and lightly spiced fried item. The Posto or poppy seeds, a very popular ingredient in Bengali cuisine, is soaked in water & then blended in a mixer to form a thick paste. Chopped onions & green chillies are then added to this along with a dash of gram flour to bind the mixture. Portion size equal to a spoonful of the mixture (resembling fritters) are then deep-fried in oil & served with steamed rice & biuli’r daal (urad) during lunch.
Recipe Link : http://bengalibhoj.com/postor-bora/
Photo Credit : http://bengalibhoj.com
- Begun Bhaja
Bengalis love their ‘Bhaja’ which are thickly cut vegetables like potatoes, pointed gourd, brinjal etc, sprinkled with salt & turmeric powder & deep –fried in smoked mustard oil. For begun bhaja, thick roundels of bharta brinjals are cut, sprinkled with salt & turmeric powder and deep fried in mustard oil till cooked through. Served as an accompaniment with Dal & steamed rice as a 2nd course.
Photo Credit : http://www.indianrecipegalleri.com/
- Koraishuti & Narkol diye Muger Dal
A thick moong dal, slightly sweet in taste that is first dry-roasted & boiled & then tempered with dried red chili, bay leaf, cumin seeds in ghee. Ginger Paste. salt, sugar, cumin powder are then added to the dal for taste. Lastly boiled peas & fried coconut slivers are mixed well. The dal is served with a generous about of ghee drizzled on it.
Photo Credit : http://www.peekncook.com/
- Jhinge Alu Posto
A semi-dry ridge gourd & potato vegetable in thick poppy seed paste that is tempered with Cumin seeds, turmeric and onions. A favorite along with steamed rice & Biuli’r Dal (Urad Dal) that is tempered with a ada – mouri (grated ginger & fennel seeds) seasoning for lunch.
Photo Credit: http://curriesanstories.blogspot.in/
- Mochar Ghonto
When I mentioned that Bengalis put to use every part of a plant, I surely wasn’t joking and this recipe is proof of that. This delicious unique vegetarian preparation made with banana flower, grated coconut and cubed potatoes is an appetizing dry curry that is cooked along with roasted spices like bay leaf, cumin, salt and caramelized sugar & is served with steaming hot rice. The segregation & chopping of the banana flowers is a time-consuming & tedious job, and that’s why most Bengali homes reserves the weekend for this dish
Recipe Link : http://www.bengaligourmet.com/2012/03/mochar-ghonto.html
Photo Credit : http://www.bengaligourmet.com
- Potoler Dolma
Pointed Gourd or Parwal also is called ‘Potol‘ in Bengali and ‘Dolma‘ means a stuffing. This Bengali delicacy is usually made using prawns or fish for non-veg & grated Indian cottage cheese and dry fruits for vegetarians. The potol is de-seeded & then stuffed with the filling & then shallow fried instead of deep frying. The fried potols are then tossed in a tangy and spicy tomato-cashewnut gravy and finished off with Bengali garam masala powder (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom powder)
Photo Credit : http://mmskitchenbites.blogspot.in
- Dhokar Dalna
Dhoka is a lentil cake prepared with a mixture of Cholar Daal and Matar Daal that is soaked in water & then made into a very thick paste. The mixture is then spiced and sautéed in oil till it loses its moisture, can be spread on a greased thali , cut into diamond shapes and deep fried in oil. The onion – tomato gravy with quartered potatoes is prepared separately & dhokas are soaked in it minutes before serving.
Photo Credit : http://cookwithpoulamee.blogspot.in/
- Bhetki Maacher Paturi
This fish delicacy made from succulent fillets of Bhetki which is coated with a paste of Mustard & green chillies & drizzled with generous mustard oil. The marinated fillets are then wrapped in banana leaves and deep-fried or steamed. The paturi is a delicacy in Bengal & is often referred to as a favorite comfort food
Photo Credit : http://jayatisfoodnfood.blogspot.in
- Shorshe Chingri Bhapa
This ambrosial main course is prepared with big-sized prawns or chingri maach, which happens to be Bengal’s 2nd favorite fish (1st being hilsa). Washed & de-veined prawns are steamed/ pressure-cooked in a Mustard & coconut paste, with generous drizzles of mustard oil , green chillies & chopped coriander leaves.
Photo Credit : http://www.bongcookbook.com/
- Tomato Khejur Aam Shotto’r Chutney
This chutney, which is sweet in taste and sticky in texture contains ripe red Tomatoes, Mango Leather Bar or aamshotto, Dates & Raisins. The mixture is cooked till the tomatoes are soft & then tempered with Mustard seeds & dried red chillies and sprinkled with a Bhaja Masala (roasted & pounded cumin seeds & dried red chillies)
Photo Credit: http://eatreadandcook.blogspot.in
- Nolen Gurer Payesh
Payesh is a popular dessert in Bengal & is a rice pudding made with rice, milk and flavoured with jaggery. This is a signature dish of Poush Parbon in West Bengal and is also popular as a winter dessert.
Photo Credit : http://saffronstreaks.com/
Again a popular poush parbon dessert, these thin crepes made with refined flour, rice flour and semolina are stuffed with a tasty coconut and jaggery filling or a khoya & semolina filling.
Recipe Link : http://madhurrecipes.blogspot.in/2010/01/patishapta.html