Living away from home, I must admit that the handful of Bengali recipes that I cook today, have been passed down by my mother. The influence is inevitable for when the monotony of eating fried paaplet strikes (Maharashtrians make a mean one), I rustle up a jhol or curry using her recipe. Dida (maternal grandmother) cooked it too in the same way using tomatoes, onions, garlic, green chillies and a dash of sugar.
The Bengali kitchen, like most other communities, have distinct recipes that have been passed down for generations. Be it the chorchoris (a medley of vegetables), bhaajas (fries), jhol or dalna (curries) and mishti (sweets), heirloom recipes evoke nostalgia and deserve a chance.
Take for instance US-based food blogger and cookbook author Sandeepa Mukherjee Dutta, who grew up in West Bengal, eating food that now finds mention in her blog as well as the cookbook Bong Mom’s Cookbook.
Her childhood memories are laced with holidays spent at her maternal grandparents’ house in north Kolkata, where her mother’s aunt would prepare a Bati Chorchori for breakfast. “She as well as my mother would make it mostly with potatoes chopped in long, slender, finger-like slices along with green chillies, mustard oil, turmeric powder and salt,” she says.
There is no sautéing or frying and everything is mixed together and cooked. “Traditionally she would make it in a steel container with a lid (a bati), which was then put in a pot of boiling rice where it got cooked,” explains Sandeepa. The probashi Bangali (non-resident Bengali) makes her own version using green beans, cauliflower, pumpkin, potato, potato peels and even peels from the pumpkin. She makes it in a wok and it tastes just as good.
Likewise, Mumbai-based home chef and author Ananya Banerjee sometimes find solace in her paternal grandmother's recipes. Chingri maach diye thor chechki or prawns with banana stems despite being delicious is lost to today’s generation she says. “It is a tedious process to remove the threads while chopping the thor (banana stem). I still remember the way thamma used to cut the thor using a boti (traditional cutting equipment), and coil the thread of the thor around her index finger,” she adds.
Interestingly, many of these heirloom recipes have been introduced in the Bengali restaurant scene. But, did you know that Daab Chingri is not a restaurant dish? Ask Pia Promina Dasgupta Barve, whose mother Minakshie Dasgupta penned the first Bengali recipe book in English, Bangla Ranna: The Bengali Cookbook, and she exclaims, “My mother put it on the dining table in the 60s!”
Mumbai-based Dasgupta Barve reminisces her Didima making a delicious Daab Chingri on an earthen coal stove for several hours. Prawns cooked in an aromatic coconut and mustard spice mix inside a tender coconut was indeed a dish to be preserved. So, the Dasgupta family immortalised the heirloom recipe by adding it on the menu of their legendary restaurant Kewpie’s in Kolkata. Little did they know that it would become a sensation in the contemporary Bengali dining scene.
And then there are stories of recipes passed down from the kitchens of the Nawabs of Kolkata. “Dom Chingri Potol is a dish that was handed over by my grandmother to my mother. The story goes that she had learnt it from one of her friends with royal lineage to the Nawab Siraj-ud-daula of Bengal,” reveals Anirudhya Roy, Executive Chef of Taj Lands End in Mumbai. The unique smoky flavour comes from cooking it on an open charcoal fire in a brass handi or kadhai, the traditional technique of cooking this dish.
Recipe of Baati Chorchori (Vegetables cooked in a bowl)
By Sandeepa Mukherjee Dutta
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and chopped in 1" long pieces
1 and 1/2 cup chopped carrots
10-15 sugar snap peas (optional)
A mix of green beans, cauliflower, pumpkin, potato, potato peels and peels from pumpkin
4 green chillies
Salt as per taste
Note: Ideally the vegetables for this dish should be cut thin and small, so that they all cook at the same pace
- In a heavy-bottomed deep pan heat 2 tsp of mustard oil.
- Add the green chilies, slit halfway.
- Add all the veggies.
- Add salt to taste and 1/4 tsp of turmeric powder and mix well.
- Add 1&1/2 to 2 cups of water and mix well.
- Cover and cook without any stirring till veggies are cooked and water dries up. If needed add more water for cooking.
- Once done, add 1-2 tsp of mustard oil on top before serving.
I sprinkled some sumac for its gorgeous colour, but this is totally optional as it is not a native ingredient for this dish.
Note: I have not used red chilli powder, tomatoes or coriander since my Ma wouldn't. I also went a little low on the oil. You can adjust these as per your taste. Imag
Creative by Vartika Pahuja
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