Bengali Soru Chokli (Rice Flour Pancakes with Zucchini or Calabash/Bottle Gourd) & PatiShapta Pitha

Dear Cousins,

(I am a bit late in writing this post coz Makar Sankranti has long gone..but nevertheless, please read it :D)

As you know mid of January is the time for celebrations all over India.  Between 13th Jan to 16th Jan, numerous festivals like Makar Sankranti, Lohri, Pongal, Magh Bihu, Uttarayan, etc. are celebrated all over India by various communities. Since India is primarily an agricultural country, many of its festivals coincide with important dates of sowing and harvesting.  Mid of Jan marks the end of winter and beginning of spring in most of the Indian calendars (different from the Gregorian Calender).  Now like all festivals around the world which mean food, family and more food, these festivals too are heavy of food and emphasise family unions.  For 2 consecutive years, I have had the privilege of being in Purulia, Ma and Baba’s hometown, during Makar Sankranti which enabled me to gorge on loads and loads of different varieties of Pithas, the traditional dish for this festival and understand the family rituals around it!! In Indian states like Assam, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand, sweet and savory versions of Pithas are a common sight in most households on this day.

At home in Delhi, Baba and Ma try to make some every year but in small quantities; so when I was at my relatives’ the sheer amount of stuff being made startled me!! Choto Mamima (Ma’s younger brother’s wife) says that on an average in a family of four, 4-5 kgs of Parboiled and Normal Rice is used along with 3-4 kgs of Jaggery, 3-4 fresh Coconuts and 1-2 kgs of Sesame Seeds for making sweet pithas during this time.  There are also savory pithas made of Lau (bottle gourd), Seem (flat beans) and cabbage.  In joint-families the amounts simply double as there are more hands for moulding the pithas.  Sometimes, if relatives are not around, friends and neighbours extend helping hands to each other to create massive mounds of Pithas!!  Hence in every way the festival is an opportunity to meet, gossip and bond over food.

The sweet varieties like Sheddo Pitha, Puli Pitha, Gokul Pitha, Moong Puli are awesome but I have never tried making them (maybe next year!); so I made the most easy one – the Pati Shapta. For savories, I made the Lau Soru Chokli and I tell you, they were yuuummm!!

Pati Shapta

Pati Shapta

Zucchini Soru Chokli

Zucchini Soru Chokli

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Mushoor Daaler Boda’r Dalna (Masoor/Red Lentil Fritters in a spicy curry)

Dear Cousins!

Since you guys are busy with other things, lemme carry on my writing.  This is a dish that I learnt from Ma. Now one must note that she doesn’t like cooking, yet every time she cooks, she does create wonders falsifying the notion that only people who love to cook can cook good food!! Usually, she just throws in this and throws in that and !!VOILA!! a splendid dish emerges…one can rightly call her a good careless cook! She tells everyone that she can’t cook, apparently when compared to me, but Ma, you are my true inspiration to cook.  From childhood I saw you create amazing things out of nothing or with limited things…Baba used to say, ‘Anyone can cook well with a lot of oil, spices and expensive ingredients; but your mother cooks well even with limited resources, that’s why she is a good cook!’  I second my Dad in this….you rightly exemplify the funda of jugaad (we Indians are so adept in jugaad, that there is even a wiki page on it!!).  You were the one who taught us how to bake a Cake in a pressure cooker; grill an awesome Pizza on a pan, where even the dough is homemade without yeast; make a Egg & Crumbed Bread pizza (will surely write about that in another post); the gorgeous but delicate steamed Caramel Pudding; Mutton Rezala; 1/2 an hour Chicken Biryani; Fish Biryani and the entire fare of Bengali foods….shukto (a veggie dish with a bitter taste) to payesh (rice cooked in a sweetned milk thats been thickened through slow cooking)…I guess this is why I too have learned the art of using jugaad ingredients & less oil!! My mother – my inspiration, my strength and my friend!! This post is dedicated to you, Ma…

Mushoor daale'r Boda'r Dalna

Mushoor daale’r Boda’r Dalna

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Juicy Honey-Sesame Chicken Drummettes, Fried Eggs with Tamarind Relish & Fish Tikkis

Woooooooow Daibi!!! What a walk!!! I sure miss Delhi on such days….when I visit next time, please, oh please take me there again..coz I see new things that I never tasted…me and Niloy together drooled over your Iftaar foods post and the other pictures on your DelhiByFoot Facebook page and took a pledge..WE HAVE TO GO TO DELHI 6 ON OUR NEXT VISIT!!

Didi, I too wish I was at one of Rizi’s B’day parties…managing kids or helping you clean afterwards would have been a cake-walk if I would have had the chance to fill myself with all the goodies you make for these parties…I still remember the pictures of the self-made burgers that you made last year…yuummmm!! But lemme not stray with old memories of food again (is there something about food & memories, good or bad, they tend to linger on, don’t they?)… So getting back to your last post, like you, some of my friends too have been asking me about a few starters that I keep making regularly..so here are some of my favorite recipes..please note that in this post the ingredients of the recipes are in italics.

Juicy Honey-Sesame Drummets with Grilled Butternut, Grilled Tomato and Avocado Salad

There are four amazing starters on this plate.  Grilled Butternut, which is basically half-inch slices of this buttery-textured pumpkin arranged on a grill pan and then sprinkled with olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Just when the butternut slices are cooked (you can poke a knife in it to check) and slightly browned, sprinkle some shredded cheddar cheese on top.

Second is that beautiful Grilled Tomato where I cut the tomato in to half, cleaned the innards (Beauty Tip: don’t throw them..the juice and seeds mixed with one tsp of olive or almond oil and 1 tbsp whole wheat flour or black chickpea flour makes an awesome face pack or body scrub to reduce dark spots), stuffed it with lots of cheddar cheese and chives and then grilled it for 10 mins.

The third is an Avocado Salad or dip which as you know is called a guacamole.

The fourth is the very Juicy Honey-Sesame Chicken Drummettes! It is a bit different from the normal recipes coz I add a few extra flavors in it.  For the two of us, I take 8-10 drummettes with skin (A whole chicken wing has three joints – one is the wingette which sort of rectangular in shape with the two skinny bones & meat in between. The drumette is the section that is attached to the body of the chicken and resembles a drumstick. The wing tip isn’t eaten normally). If someone doesn’t like the skin, they can peel it off by soaking the pieces in hot water.  Then I marinate these drummettes in 1tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp oyster sauce, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp tomato ketchup, 1 tbsp honey, 1/2 tsp hot chilli powder, 2 tbsp lime juice, 1 tsp ginger and 1 tsp garlic.  I also add grated lime rind and finely chopped coriander root in this (according to my Thai friend Paruedee to get the maximum flavor of coriander leaves, one must use the part close to the roots.  She washes them thoroughly and adds the green parts to her curry pastes or simply throws them in a boiling soup).  After marinating for 5-6 hours, I pan fry them with very little oil on mostly high heat till they are partially charred and yummily cooked 🙂 In this way, all the juices remain intact and you have these flavorsome soft and amaazing drummettes….gosh I am drooling!!!!

Fried Eggs with a Tamarind Relish

Fried Eggs with a Tamarind Relish

This is again a recipe from Paruedee and she used to produce this simple but totally delicious starter/main dish from thin air in what the Germans say, an augenblick (a moment).  So you pan fry boiled eggs and set aside.  Make a table tennis sized ball of tamarind and soak it in hot water.  In a pan fry some chopped red chillis (depending on how hot you want it) and then add the tamarind water, sugar and salt according to taste and boil. I like it hot, sweet and very sour..but you can tweak accordingly.  Then slice the eggs into halves and plate them.  Pour the tamarind sauce liberally all over them, sprinkle chopped coriander, mint and basil, and throw in a generous dash of fried shallots on top (here you get them prepackaged in the market, but you can fry some onions till they are crispy brown).  I drizzle some more sauce to add an extra kick 🙂 And you can serve these with drinks or as a party snack for kiddies or if you have made a lot of sauce, you can serve it with rice too!!

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Fish Tikkis

I made these fish tikkis or kebabs for Niloy’s b’day party.  It was again very simple…I made some 35 tikkis by mashing 1kg boiled Basa fish fillets (any boneless fish would do), 4 medium sized boiled potatoes, 2 medium sized onions and 4 cloves of garlic chopped finely, 2 handfuls of mint leaves & coriander leaves, 5-6 chopped green chillis, 1 cup breadcrumbs, 2 tsp homemade garam masala, 4 tbsp lemon juice and salt to taste.   You can do the maths if you want small amounts 🙂 With a clean hand roll out table tennis sized balls and flatten them into a shape of a tikki.  Pan fry these with few drops of oil.  The sheer exhilaration of producing 35 tikkis made me forget my blog and I didn’t take any pictures!! 😛

Let me know if you guys try these..sending lots of love,

Dakhina

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Hey Rinks,

I still remember those half-spheres of eggs and were they addictive or what…the sauce was to-die-for. Actually I always thought that the eggs were simply boiled, now I know that u did saute them a bit…

This is really simple, i am making this very very sooooon 🙂

cheers & take care

Ramit.

Bengali Illish Macher Paturi (steamed Hilsa Fish in banana leaf with Mustard paste)

Dear Rinki ,
This year the Bengali bhadrolok (Gentleman) has been quite  glum ..why you might ask …  You know how we Bongs are a bit crazy when it comes to maach (fish) and mishti (sweet-meats). These two are a part of our cultural, social and emotional fibre. And this season, the famed Illish mach ( Hilsa fish) is not as plentiful as other years. A true Bengali waits with the patience of a tiger hunter….for this delectable fish which is available only around the monsoons.  Usually, if one visits the early morning fish markets any where in Bengal around this season, rain or hail, you would encounter all varieties of men fighting to buy one variety of fish. Rolled trousers, cigarette in one hand and the striped ubiquitous shopping tote in the other, the usual gossip put aside, jostling in the muddy slime of fish markets….and the loudest haggling this side of NASDAQ. The fish makes its appearance in all hotel menus, just like a celebrity, which it rightly is. One reads of Hilsa festivals and new concoctions like Hilsa in orange sauce.  It has been written about in songs, poetry and literature. We are a crazy bunch..in a good way of course 🙂 Sadly this year, the supply has been nowhere near satisfying the eager wait. Most prized of all the Hilsa is the one from the River Padma in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi government has put a ban on the export of the fish…..the Indian government retaliated by threatening to curtail the export of rohu, and katla (varieties of fish)…a stink was raised…tempers were raised higher and the price of Hilsa skyrocketed! Talk about fishy politics!!!

Even here in Santiniketan too, we have been lamenting the lack of the golden fish. But yesterday Prasanta, by a stroke of luck found an excellent specimen….and proudly came bearing his good fortune like a victorious battle weary soldier wears his wounds! And what an occasion it was. My parents were duly invited for lunch. Much reminiscing  and discussion ensued about the good old days when one would eat the fish every day, what its ideal shape and weight should be and how it should be cooked. One would think we were at some scholarly discourse. But it’s my kitchen, my rules! Of course I was going to cook the preparation I like best. I wanted to make the most delicious of all Hilsa preparations ..the bhaapa maach or steamed fish wrapped in banana leaf. The steaming in the ground spices leaves the fish exquisitely soft and preserves  its unique aroma… Oh even thinking about it now can put me in an ecstatic mood .

Illish Macher Paturi

Illish Macher Paturi (if made without the banana leaf, then called Bhaapa Shorshe Illish)

Ingredients

Hilsa steaks 6
Black Mustard seeds 1 tbsp
White Poppy seeds 2 tbsp
Turmeric 1 tsp
Red chili powder 1 tsp
Green chilies a few
Mustard oil 2 tbsp
Salt to taste
Banana leaves

Method

Grind the mustard and poppy seeds together with one or two green chilies . Mix together the salt, turmeric, chili powder and oil. Smear the fish with the paste. Wash and cut banana leaves into large rectangles  and warm over the gas flame swiftly to make it pliable. Arrange the marinaded fish in the leaves and make a parcel.  Top with a few split green chilies and drizzle some more oil over the top. Tie with a string or banana fiber. Keep on a heat proof plate. In a large vessel add water and a stand (a ring or metal lid) on which to stand the parcel bearing dish. Steam for 20 minutes on high heat. Serve hot with rice.

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Do you get Hilsa there ? If not try using any meaty Australian fish like say, John Dory or Monk Fish. Let me know how it tastes when you make this recipe using local ingredients instead of the traditional ones….You must make it at least once this season, although I know its winter there..but nothing to beat the chill like a taste of home….And if you don’t have a Banana leaf do make it in foil or in a oven-proof covered dish with some extra 2-3 tbsp of Mustard oil and bake in the oven or microwave for 20 mins. If you don’t get poppy seeds you could try and substitute coconut paste. And don’t worry about the mustard oil, just use any oil. Food should after all be about enjoyment, and we are no purists, hey even mustard out of a bottle is just fine.  When it comes to food  my motto is….cooking thy name is flexibility!

Ciao, Didi

Bengali Style Stuffed Pumpkin Flower Fritters (Kumdo Phooler Pakoda)

Dear Rinki,

Monsoon is here, its wet and damp and soggy, and we are confined to the house …and you know how it is that the rain always makes us Indians pine for pakodas (fritters)..I thought I would do something different with my pakodas today, especially as the pumpkin plant in our kitchen garden is in bloom. So I made stuffed Kumdo Phool (Pumpkin flower) fritters. Although this is a typically Bengali dish , I think the Greeks also have a somewhat similar take on this with the flower stuffed with cheese. My ingredients , though couldn’t be more traditional.

Bengali Style Stuffed Pumpkin Flower Fritters

Serves two

Pumpkin Flowers ( stamen removed and washed)  – 6 nos

Coconut grated                           2 tbsp

White Poppy seeds                                 2tbsp

Black/white mustard seeds   1 tsp

Green chilli de-seeded             1-2 nos

Bengal Gram Flour                     100 gms

Garlic paste                                   ¼ tsp

Kalo Jeera (Nigella seeds)       1 pinch

Salt to taste

Pinch turmeric powder

Pinch baking soda

water

Oil for frying

To begin, wash and clean the flowers, remove the stamen and the sepals. Try to keep the flower whole. You may leave the stem attached. Soak the poppy seeds in warm water for ten minutes then combine with mustard ,coconut and chillies  then grind to a thick paste . You can use a mortar and pestle . Just take care that the mix is not runny or watery. It should be rather thick. Add salt and then stuff the flowers with this mix, folding the petals over each other to form a parcel of sorts. Next prepare the fritter batter by mixing together gram flour, garlic paste, nigella seeds, baking soda , turmeric and salt and water to make a thick batter. Heat oil in pan to smoking point then turn down heat. Dip each plump stuffed flower in the batter and deep fry till it turns golden brown. Eat hot with chutney of your choice or with a steaming dish of Kichdi

I hope you will definitely make this and share in our taste of monsoon.

Love

Didi

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