Like every Bengali, the delicacies prepared during Durga Pujo have always held a special place in my heart. Apart from the Bhog (food offered to the deity and then consumed by the devotees), there are a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian Bengali delicacies available at various food stalls and fetes that gladden the eye and are a veritable feast for the senses.
There are egg and fish cutlets, seasonal veggies dipped in besan and fried like pakodas, Muri ghonto (fried fish head), Prawn malai curry, the classic Shorshe illish or Hilsa fish curry—redolent with the flavours of the Hoogly, cooked in hand-ground mustard sauce—to name a few. The secret of Bengali cooking is in its seasonal ingredients and sheer, homely simplicity.
But undoubtedly, the pride of place has to go Kosha Mangsho, a distinctive Bengali-style mutton curry. While Mangsho stands for mutton, Kosha means slow cooked/fried for a long time, with ground and whole spices over high heat. In a Bengali household, the very mention of mutton inevitably brings on excitement, because unlike chicken or fish, kosha mangsho is expensive and cooked only on a special occasion like a Sunday family lunch or a festival like Durga pujo.
This is a leisurely preparation, requiring time and patience—what with the mutton being marinated in curd overnight with ginger-garlic, coriander and cumin seeds, turmeric, kasoori methi and Kashmiri red chillies. No salt is added at this stage, allowing the marinade to mesh with the meat completely. If you were to add salt, it would lead to both the water and masala evaporating from the meat, compromising its flavours to an extent. The mutton is then slow cooked and fried in mustard oil, giving this Bengali delicacy its unique taste.
You could eat Kosha Mangsho with rice or parathas, but I would recommend hot, hot Luchis—those golden balls of fried perfection—typical of our region. Unlike puris, Luchis are made of maida or refined flour, which gives it an elasticity that makes scooping the juices easy. Kosha Mangsho can be accompanied by aloo bhaaja—or fried potato fingers—a universal favourite.
Kosha Mangsho can be as spicy or mild as you choose to make it. The accent is on fresh ingredients and whole spices. For me, Kosha Mangsho is one preparation that is synonymous with tradition and my roots. It is a comforting throw-back to my childhood days, and despite being married to a non-Bengali, I make it a point to cook it every now and then for my son Aurmaan, just the way my mother used to make it for me.
Here's a recipe for Kosha Mangsho—straight from Ma’s kitchen.
500 g fresh mutton
(6 tbsp of mustard oil)
2 tsp of whole garam masala (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves) and bay leaves
4 – 5 split green chillies
2 potatoes cut into half
3 red onions ground to paste or finely chopped
Paste of 1 tomato
2 tbsp of ginger paste, 1 tbsp of garlic paste.
A typical rule in Bengali cooking is that garlic is used less. If you are using both, then ginger should be twice the amount of garlic.
Mutton marinade paste to be kept overnight
3 tsp curd
2 tsp each of chilli powder, garam masala powder, jeera powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp haldi
1. Heat the oil in a kadhai or a pan saute the whole garam masala, green chillies and bay leaves in the heated ghee/ oil
2. Once the spices crackle, add the onion paste. Keep stirring till the onions become brown and begin to stick. Add sugar to get a nice caramel colour.
3. Add the ginger and garlic pastes and stir the mixture till it begins to darken and stiffen.
4. Add the tomato puree and let it cook till it is dark brown.
5. Add the marinated mutton and potato, salt and stir the mixture together for about 5 minutes.
6. Add half a cup of and slow cook for about 30-40 min till the mutton is cooked.
7. Serve with luchis, parathas, rotis or pulao.
(Abhradita Chatterji Nahvi is assistant professor at Pune's St. Mira's College for Girls. As told to Kalyani Sardesai)
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