Bengali native Kankana Saxena captures the wealth of intoxicating dishes and depths of favor that are fundamental to the Bengali community with savory stews, fragrant rice dishes, zesty spice blends and iconic street foods.
Each recipe preserves the authenticity of traditional Indian cuisine but with a modern approach specific to the Eastern regionsuch as Chicken Shingara, which is similar to an Indian samosa but in Kolkata they’re smaller, spicier and deep-fried. There’s Chaana Kaju Torkari, which features paneer (Indian cottage cheese) that is rolled into dumplings for a hearty stew. Meanwhile, Fulkobi Aachaar reinvents Indian spiced cauliflower as a show-stopping pickled condiment.
Brimming with culinary tradition and adventure, this rich collection of recipes transports you to the bustling streets of Kolkata, where the food is as fun to make as it is to eat.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Let's Start with the Basics
Cooking Bengali food is as easy as it gets. At the end of the book (here), you will find a list of spices that are commonly used in Bengali cuisine. Some of those spices are then mixed together to create spice blends that are unique to Bengali dishes. I recommend preparing these spice blends in small quantities for the freshest flavor.
In addition to the spice blends, in this chapter I include a basic recipe for bhaat (steamed white rice), ruti (whole wheat Indian flatbread), luchi (deep-fried puffed mini bread) and chaana (fresh unripened cheese).CHAPTER 2
Bengali Gorom Moshla
20 green cardamom pods
Dry roast the spices in a hot pan for a few seconds, and then grind to a powder in a clean coffee grinder dedicated to spices or in a mortar and pestle. Store in an airtight jar. (Photo upper right)
Dry roast equal portions of cumin seeds, coriander seeds and fennel seeds in a hot pan for a few seconds. Grind them to a coarse texture in a clean coffee grinder dedicated to spices or in a mortar and pestle. Store in an airtight jar. (Photo upper left)
Mix equal portions of nigella seeds, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds. Store in an airtight jar. (Photo lower left)
Soak yellow mustard seeds in water for a few hours to soften, and then grind to a smooth paste along with a few green chillies and a pinch of salt in a blender or in a mortar and pestle.
The tricky thing about this spice paste is that if you grind mustard seeds for too long, they will turn bitter and inedible, so you need to soak the seeds to soften them to make grinding easier. I prefer to grind this in a mortar and pestle instead of a blender. But, if you have to use a blender, just make sure you don't run the blender for too long.
These days, you can get dry mustard powder in the market and all you have to do is mix water with it. You could also grind dry mustard seeds using a coffee or spice grinder and then store the powder in an airtight container for months. When you need to make the paste, just mix water with the ground mustard seeds along with finely chopped green chillies and salt, and pound to form a smooth paste. (Photo lower right)
Soak poppy seeds in water for a few hours to soften, and then grind to a smooth paste along with a few green chillies in a blender or in a mortar and pestle. As with shorshe baata, I find it easier to grind this using a mortar and pestle, unless I have to make a big batch, in which case I use a blender.CHAPTER 3
(Steamed White Rice)
Bhaat to Bengalis is not just a daily food but is also very sacred. There are several ceremonies dedicated to the beauty of consuming rice. Mukhe Bhaat/Annaprashan is the first big festival in a child's life and happens when they are six months old and they taste rice for the first time. Aiburo Bhaat is another family festival where a soon-to-be-married bride and groom are given a feast that includes their favorite dishes. Then comes Bou Bhaat, when a newly-wed bride enters the kitchen for the first time and prepares rice for the family.
1 cup (211 g) short-grain white rice
Rinse the rice in several changes of water and then let it soak in a bowl of water for about 30 minutes. Soaking the rice makes it fluffy and also speeds the cooking process.
Place a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat and pour in the water. Once the water comes to a boil, drain the soaked rice and very carefully add it into the boiling water. Stir and let the water come to a boil once again. Then lower the heat to medium and let the rice simmer for 15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the rice is almost cooked. Turn off the heat and cover the pan for 5 minutes. Fluff using a fork and it's ready to eat.CHAPTER 4
(Fresh Unripened Cheese)
Makes 1½ cups (344 g)
Chaana is a fresh, unripened cheese that is prepared by curdling whole milk with something acidic, like lemon juice or vinegar. It's a very fast process and the cheese turns out moist. Chaana plays a very important role in Bengali diet. A wide variety of desserts and savory dishes are prepared with it. Growing up, I didn't like drinking milk, so occasionally Ma would give me a break from milk and prepare fresh chaana. Sprinkle some sugar on top and it becomes a healthy, protein-packed snack. In the Sweet Tooth chapter, you will find several sweet treats prepared using chaana and in the Plant-Based Main Dishes chapteryou will find a savory, hearty recipe prepared with the fresh cheese.
Key Notes: Cooling the milk slightly before curdling makes the texture of the chaana soft. It is important not to let the curdled milk hang in a cheesecloth for more than 40 minutes or the moisture gets completely drained out. If it completely dries out, it will spoil the final texture of the dishes that you will prepare with it. Any recipe that calls for chaana cannot be replaced with store-bought paneer because the texture of fresh chaana is very different.
3 tbsp (44 ml) white vinegar or lemon juice
Line a colander with a cheesecloth folded in half and place the colander in a clean sink.
In a cup, mix the vinegar with the water and set aside. Place the ice cubes in a bowl and set aside.
Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place it over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally using a wooden spoon as the milk comes to a boil.
Once the milk comes to a complete boil, turn off the heat and immediately add the ice cubes. Now pour in the water-vinegar mixture and stir. You will notice the milk start to curdle and the water will turn pale green. Carefully pour the curdled milk into the cheesecloth.
Run cold water over the collected curdled milk in the cheesecloth. This will remove the acidity from the cheese and will also cool it down.
Next, gather the edges of the cheesecloth and squeeze out as much water as possible. Then tie the corners into a knot and hang it over the sink for 30 minutes to drain out the water.
After 30 minutes, carefully untie the knot and scrape the cheese out of the cloth and into a bowl. You can sprinkle some sugar on it and enjoy right away with some fruits on the side.CHAPTER 5
(Whole Wheat Indian Flatbread)
Bengalis love rice, but if rice is not an option, then it's ruti with some leftover curry from last night or a quick veggie stir-fry. These days, considering the fact that ruti is healthier than bhaat, Bengalis have started to add more ruti to their everyday diets.
Key Notes: Making ruti sounds very easy, but it will take some practice to get the perfect soft texture. Ruti tastes best when you eat it with your hands. You tear a tiny bite-size portion, and scoop a little bit of the stew onto it and put the entire thing in your mouth. It's casual and comfortable. Of course you can always use the same ruti as a wrap too!
2 cups (260 g) durum wheat atta or whole wheat flour
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt and stir with your hand. Then pour the water little by little as you start kneading the dough. Knead the dough until it comes together into a soft dough. Then pour in the oil and knead it one last time.
Cover the dough for 15 minutes before you start making the ruti.
To prepare the ruti, divide the dough into 10 equal portions. Shape each portion into a disk. Cover the disks with a kitchen towel to keep them from drying out.
Place a skillet over medium-high heat. As the pan heats up, place one disk on the kitchen counter or chopping board, sprinkle with some flour and roll it into a 6- or 7-inch (15- or 18-cm) diameter circle.
Place the rolled dough on the hot skillet. In a few seconds, you will see bubbles appearing. Flip it carefully and let it cook for a few seconds on the other side.
The next step, where you puff the ruti, can be done in several different ways.
Option 1: Use a soft kitchen towel to press on the hot ruti gently while it's on the hot skillet. It will start puffing, and the air will start filling up. Keep pressing gently around to make the entire ruti puff up. Transfer to a plate. Prepare rest of the ruti the same way.
Option 2: Turn down the heat to medium-low and, using tongs, lift the ruti from the hot skillet, remove the skillet and hold the ruti over the open flame. It will start filling with air almost immediately. Place the puffed ruti on a plate. Prepare the rest of the ruti the same way. You have to be very careful if you follow this step. The heat of the stove should be medium-low or else the ruti will be charred a little too much.
Option 3: This is the step I follow, where I use a steel wire roaster to puff the ruti over an open flame. Using tongs, lift the ruti, remove the skillet, place the steel wire roaster over an open flame and place the ruti on it. The ruti will start to puff in seconds. Transfer to a plate. Prepare the rest of the ruti the same way.CHAPTER 6
(Deep-Fried Puffed Mini Bread)
Deep-fried, airy, unleavened mini bread, luchi is a favorite for weekend breakfasts. Sometimes served with veggie stew and sometimes with meat, these puffed-up breads are one of my guilty pleasures. Unlike North Indian poori, luchi is prepared with all-purpose flour. Although it sounds like one of those simple recipes, mastering the perfect puffed luchi takes some practice.
Key Notes: Typically, luchi is prepared with only allpurpose flour, but I like to add a small amount of whole wheat flour to the mixture. It doesn't change the flavor but it makes it easier to roll out the dough.
1½ cups (149 g) all-purpose flour
In a mixing bowl, combine the flours, sugar and salt. Stir.
Pour in the vegetable oil and mix it around nicely. When you hold a fistful of flour, it should retain its shape. If it doesn't, pour in a little more oil.
Then pour in the water and start kneading. You have to knead for about 7 to 10 minutes to form a smooth dough. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, knead the dough again and divide it into 20 portions. Shape each portion into a tiny disk and cover the disks with a kitchen towel.
To roll the disks, rub some oil on the disk and roll it from the center outward. Keep rotating and rolling the disk until it is a thin 4-inch (10cm) diameter circle. The dough will be elastic and will shrink back as you roll, so put gentle pressure as you rotate and roll. Cover the rolled luchi with a kitchen towel and roll the rest of the disks.
After rolling all the disks, place a heavy-bottomed pan over mediumhigh heat and pour in enough oil to reach a depth of 2½ inches (6 cm).
Layer a kitchen towel on a plate and keep it ready for the hot luchi to drain excess oil.
Once the oil is between 325°F and 350°F (163°C and 177°C), very carefully slide one disk into the hot oil. Use a slotted spoon and gently press the disk on top. This technique will puff the luchi in a few seconds. Flip the luchi and fry for a few more seconds. Remove it from the hot oil to the prepared plate. Continue frying the rest of the luchi in the same manner. Serve warm.CHAPTER 7
For the Love of Rice
The presence of rice in Bengali meals is essential. It's a staple. "Bhaat chara chole nah," a typical expression used often, means, "It's impossible without rice." Everyday lunch and dinner always includes bhaat (steamed short-grain white rice) paired with several side dishes. Somehow, most Bengali dishes are such that it tastes best with rice.
The simple rice gets elevated in different ways based on occasion. During festive seasons and on weekends, Bengali basanti pulao (sweet saffron pilaf) is served with a spicy mutton stew. Hearty khichuri (rice and lentil porridge) is a ritual for rainy days.
Then, there is biryani for those lazy Sundays, which gets heavily loaded with spices when prepared with meat and kept subtle when prepared with fish. There has to be muri ghonto(fried fish head and rice pilaf), which may sound bizarre to some, but for us Bengalis it's a delicacy.
Rice is not just a staple grain; it is also quite auspicious to us. Babies are introduced to their first solid food at six months. It's quite a ceremony. Called Annaprashan or Mukhe Bhaat, it literally translates to "rice in your mouth." The first thing that the babies taste is khejur gur chaal er payesh (date molasses rice pudding) and the ritual of preparing payesh continues with every birthday. You will find all these recipes in this chapter.CHAPTER 8
Bengali Basanti Pulao
(Sweet Saffron Pilaf)
Bengali basanti pulao, also known as mishti pulao (sweet saffron pilaf), is a quintessential rice dish prepared during every celebration and festive season. Bengalis love their rice, be it for lunch or dinner. On special occasions, the everyday steamed white rice gets uplifted with whole spices, nuts, raisins and a hint of exotic saffron. It's one of those dishes where aromatic gobindo bhog rice is typically used, but it can be easily replaced with any short-grain white rice.
½ tsp saffron thread
Place the saffron in a bowl and pour in the milk. Whisk and set aside for 10 minutes. The milk will infuse and turn a saffron color.
Pour the rice into a mixing bowl and wash the rice several times in running water. Then drain using a colander and leave it there for the water to drain out completely.
Place a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat and add in the ghee. Once the ghee heats up, add the cinnamon, bay leaves, cardamom and cloves. Allow them to sizzle for a few seconds.
Add the raisins and cashews and toss for a few seconds or until the cashews are mildly toasted.
Next, add in the rice, sprinkle with the salt and give it a stir. Then pour the saffron milk and 2 cups (473 ml) of the water into the pan. Stir. Turn the heat down to medium and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, when the rice is almost cooked, sprinkle with the sugar and stir.
If the water is almost absorbed, pour in the remaining ¼ cup (59 ml) of water. Continue cooking for 5 more minutes.
Once the rice is cooked and the water is absorbed completely, leave the pan covered for 5 minutes and then fluff it using a fork.
Serve warm with a few more roasted cashews on top as garnish.CHAPTER 9
(Roasted Yellow Split Mung Beans and Rice Porridge)
Bhog is a term used for a cooked pure vegetarian meal that is offered to gods and goddesses on festivals. Khichuri is a creamy porridge of rice and lentils, and when it's offered to gods or goddesses, it is referred to as bhoger khichuri. Bengalis are known for their love of nonvegetarian meals, but this warm comforting porridge wins everyone's heart. Khichuri can be prepared with any kind of lentils, but Ma always prepares it with roasted yellow split mung beans. Roasting these petite, yellow split mung beans brings out a lovely, nutty aroma and an earthy taste to the khichuri.
Key Notes: Just like risotto or rice pudding, bhoger khichuri can also thicken up as it sits. You can make the khichuri in advance, but in that case, leave it runny with more water and don't temper it. Just before serving, warm it up and then add the temper for the earthy aroma.
½ cup (100 g) yellow split mung beans
Place a wok or a skillet over medium heat and dry roast the mung beans to a mild darker shade for about 3 minutes, stirring every now and then. Then soak the roasted beans in water to cover for 30 minutes.
Wash the rice in a colander under running water, scrubbing the rice with your hands for a few seconds. Let the rice sit in the colander to drain.
After 30 minutes, add the washed rice into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the drained beans to the pan. Add the water, salt and turmeric. Give it a stir and place the pan over high heat.
Once the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for about 20 minutes or until the rice and beans are almost cooked and softened. Add the green chillies and stir. If the water gets absorbed completely, pour in some more water and cook for 10 more minutes or until the consistency looks like a creamy porridge. Check for salt and add any if required. Turn off the heat once done.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Taste of Eastern India"
Copyright © 2018 Kankana Saxena.
Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Let's Start with the Basics,
For the Love of Rice,
Bengali Basanti Pulao,
Khejur Gur Chaal Er Payesh,
Kolkata Chicken Biryani,
Mushuri Daal Er Boda,
Posto Narkol Boda,
Kurmure Bhendi Bhaja,
Jhuri Aalu Bhaja,
Ilish Maach Bhaja,
Chingri Aalu Boda,
Aalu Sheddho Makha,
Narkol Aar Till Baata,
Ilish Maach Er Matha Diye Daal,
Piyaj Mushuri Daal,
Plant-Based Main Dishes,
Zucchini Aalu Posto,
Chaana Kaju Torkari,
Fish, Meat and Egg Main Dishes,
Tomato Kalojeera Maach Er Jhol,
Rui Maach Er Kalia,
Aalu Begun Diye Papda Maach Er Jhol,
Kashundi Ilish Paturi,
Robibar Er Murgi Jhol,
Patla Murgi Jhol,
Dim Omelet Er Jhol,
Dim Papad Er Dalna,
Smack Your Palate,
Kacha Aam Makha,
Anarosh Till Chutney,
Kacha Aam Er Chutney,
Tomato Khejur Er Chutney,
Tangra Maach Er Tok,
Malai Chum Chum,
Khejur Gur Er Mishti Doi,
Kheer Er Sondesh,
Snack and Sip,
Aam Pora Shorbot,
Aada Pudina Shorbot,
Aada Tejpata Chaa,
Fresh Cheese and White Chocolate Fudge,
Mango Yogurt Tart,
Mascarpone and Jaggery Filled Eggless Crepe Cake,
Bottle Gourd Meringue Pudding,
Quinoa Split Yellow Beans Pilaf,
Red Lentil Falafel,
Spiced Salmon in Swiss Chard,
Essential Ingredients Used in Bengali Cooking,
About the Author,