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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Seven Vegan Recipes from the State of Bengal on Janmashtami Eve


For more recipe-related articles featured in this blog, you can click this link.

Source: http://m.wikitravel.org/en/India
The soil of Bengal bears the essence of the three great rivers, Ganga, Yamuna, and Brahmaputra, along with their myriad tributaries. This remarkably fertile soil provides nourishment to an incredible variety of flora. Bengal is one place in the country where, along with the vegetables and fruits, the stalks, leaves, as well as the flowers of the plants are made into tasty dishes. Did you know that fritters made from kumro phool (pumpkin flowers) and shojne phool (drumstick flowers) are relished with great indulgence. Well, so much for the infinite variety of Bengali cuisine.

Most people know Bengal as the “fish-eating” state of the country; however, what many people do not know, is the fact that Bengal offers the richest variety in vegetarian cuisine in the world, most of which are vegan! Not only this, the vegan cuisine of Bengal is extremely healthy, cooked with minimal oil and spices, and very tasty because the method of preparation elicits the best flavors from all the ingredients in the dish. The USP of Bengali cuisine is that all tastes are blended beautifully – tok (sour), mishti (sweet), nonta (salty), and jhaal (chilli hot).

Today, on the eve of Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, we take the opportunity to launch the State recipe series on Vegan India! blog. We are very grateful to Smt. Sanchita Paul (Pal), resident of Shillong, for contributing all the six main course recipes in the Bengal series. Smt. Paul originally hails from “East Bengal”, now Bangladesh, and therefore brings the taste of “opar Bangla” into her preparations.

The last dish on our menu is “Tal er Bora”, a sweet dish recipe contributed by Smt. Urmila Dutta, resident of Gurgaon, with ancestry rooted in West Bengal. The Tal (Toddy Palm) fruit is available in the monsoon season; so in Bengali homes, Tal er Bora (Toddy Palm fritters) is prepared on Janmashtami day and offered to Lord Krishna as bhog (offering made to the Gods). “Tal er bora kheye Nondo nache re!!” are famous lines in Bangla that roughly translated means, “Lord Krishna dances in ecstasy as He pops Tal er bora in His mouth!!” However, as you will learn from the recipe, just in case you are unable to find the toddy palm fruit in your city, you may well substitute with ripe bananas. Details in the recipe.

A note about spices in Bengali cooking: Before we get on with the recipes, it is fair that we introduce you to the “panch phoron”, the ubiquitous spice mixture used in most Bengali recipes. Panch phoron meaning ‘five spices’ is a mixture of the following spices: jeera (cumin), kalojeera (black cumin), methi (fenugreek), sorsae (mustard), and saunf (fennel). It may not be too easy to find the ready-made panch phoron mixture in shops outside Bengal. However, you can prepare the mixture in your own kitchens. You will need to lightly roast each of the spices separately, then combine them, allow the mixture to cool, and finally bottle the mixture. This now becomes your panch phoron.

Another noteworthy feature of Bengali cooking is the usage of sugar. Most recipes use between one pinch to ½ teaspoon of sugar – not to make the end product sweet, but to balance out the flavors of the different ingredients and unify them.

Suggestions for healthy cooking: Finally, this may not be specific to Bengali cooking but important for overall healthy eating: In all the recipes, we have used the cold-pressed varieties of cooking oils obtained from organic stores and used organically-grown raw ingredients to ensure that we are offering the healthiest food to our bodies. However, if you have difficulty procuring organically grown raw materials, please do not let that hinder your trial with the recipes. And, if you do manage to procure the organically grown counterparts of the vegetables especially, please do not remove the skins entirely, for example, from the ridge gourd, potato, pumpkin, pointed gourd, or any other such vegetable. Most of the goodies are sitting just below the skins of the vegetables. Since organically grown vegetables are pesticide-free, you can enjoy the goodies to your heart’s content eating them with much of the skin.

The recipes!

1) Jhinga Posto (Ridge Gourd with Poppy Seeds)

For three servings, you will need:
Jhinge – 1, medium sized and tender, light green variety
Posto – 1 tbsp, soaked for 10 minutes
Mustard powder – 1 tsp (can use by Weikfield)
Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste, 2 for garnishing
Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
Panch phoron – ½ tsp
Salt – As per taste
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Sugar – Less than ½ tsp

Preparation: Piece jhinge into small cubes and keep aside. Prepare a paste of posto, mustard powder, and green chilli, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron and let it splutter. Add jhinge, salt, and turmeric. Cover and fry until jhinge is soft. Add the paste. Sauté for a minute or two. Add little water if too tight. Cook until mushy, add sugar, and remove from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together. Garnish with split green chillies and serve.


2) Green Tomatoes in Mustard Paste

For three servings, you will need:
Green tomatoes – 3, medium sized
Potatoes – 2, medium sized
Mustard powder – 1 tbsp (can use by Weikfield)
Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste
Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
Panch poron – ½ tsp
Dry red chilli – 1, small
Salt – As per taste
Turmeric – One pinch
Sugar – ½ tsp

Preparation: Piece green tomatoes and potatoes longitudinally, and keep aside. Prepare a paste of mustard powder and green chilli, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch poron and dry red chilli, and let them splutter. Add potatoes, salt, and turmeric. Cover and fry until potato is soft. Add the green tomatoes and the paste. Cook until tomatoes are soft, adding water if required. Add sugar and remove from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together and then serve.


3) Tok-misti Kumro (Sweet and Sour Pumpkin)

For three servings, you will need:
Kumro – ½ kg
Tamarind – 1 lemon-sized ball, soaked for an hour
Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste
Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
Panch phoron – ½ tsp
Salt – As per taste
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Sugar – ½ tsp
Coriander leaves for garnishing

Preparation: Piece kumro into medium-sized cubes and keep aside. Prepare a paste of tamarind and green chilli, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron and let it splutter. Add kumro, salt, and turmeric. Cover and fry until kumro is soft. Add the paste. Cover for 2 minutes. Add water, as required. Cook until mushy, add sugar, and remove from fire. Ensure the proportion of tok (sour), jhal (chilli hot), and misti (sweet) is as per your taste. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.


4) Pineapple Potol (Pointed Gourd with Pineapple)

For three servings, you will need:
Potol – 3, medium sized
Potato – 2, medium sized
Pineapple – 1, two-inch slice
Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
Panch phoron – ½ tsp
Turmeric – 1 pinch
Chilli powder – 1 pinch
Salt – As per taste
Sugar – 1½ tsp to ½ tsp (The amount of sugar will depend on the sweetness of the pineapple.)

Preparation: Piece potol and potato into medium-sized cubes and keep aside. Grate the pineapple and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron and let it splutter. Add potol and potato. Cover and fry until the vegetables are soft. Add water, as required. Add the grated pineapple, turmeric, chilli powder, and salt. Cook until mushy, add sugar, and remove from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together and then serve.


5) Mocha Ghonto (Banana Flower Curry)

For five servings, you will need:
Banana Flower – 1
Potato – 2, medium sized
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Chilli powder – 1 pinch
Turmeric – 2 pinch
Ginger paste – 1 tsp
Bay leaves – 2 
Salt – As per taste
Mustard oil – 4 tbsp
Panch phoron – ½ tsp
Dry red chilli – 2
Sugar – ½ tsp
Garam masala powder – ½ tsp
Cashew butter – As per taste
Coriander leaves for garnishing

Preparation: Apply a layer of mustard oil on your palms and knife, and mince the banana flowers into very tiny pieces making sure that you remove the hard stick-like portion from each flower. You must grease your palms because banana flower tends to leave them black in color since it is rich in iron (greasing can reduce the blackening considerably, although not eliminate it). Parboil the banana flowers with one whistle in the pressure cooker. Strain the water from the boiled banana flowers and keep aside. Piece the potatoes into small cubes and keep aside. Make a paste of cumin powder, chilli powder, one pinch turmeric, ginger paste, bay leaves, and salt, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Fry potato pieces with one pinch turmeric and salt until soft and keep aside. Add panch phoron and dry red chillis in the left-over oil. Add the paste. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add the boiled banana flower and potatoes, and cook until mushy. Add water, as required. Add salt, sugar, garam masala powder, and cashew butter before removing from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.


6) Moong Dal (Green gram de-skinned and split)

For three servings, you will need:
Moong dal – ½ cup
Salt – As per taste
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Ginger – 1 inch piece, cubed
Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
Panch phoron – ½ tsp
Dry red chilli – 1
Bay leaf – 1
Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste
Sugar – Less than ½ tsp
Coriander leaves for garnishing 

Preparation: Roast the dry moong dal and then clean in water. Boil the dal with salt, turmeric powder, and ginger cubes in a pressure cooker with four whistles. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron, whole dry red chilli, and let the spices splutter. Add the bay leaf and green chilli, wait till aroma comes out. Add the boiled dal and water (if required) to bring the preparation to the consistency you want. Add sugar and remove from fire. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.


7) Tal er Bora (Toddy Palm Fruit Fritters): As said earlier, Tal er Bora is a sweet delicacy that is offered to Lord Krishna on Janamastami day. If you have difficulty finding the Toddy Palm fruit in your city, you can substitute with ripe bananas. Our contributor has tweaked the original recipe a bit to make it healthy, for example substitute whole wheat for maida, introduce sesame seeds, and use cold-pressed canola oil for any other. There is another purpose to using canola oil: it does not have a taste of its own, therefore will not interfere with the tastes of the other ingredients. 

You will need:
Tal fruit – 1 or 5 big ripe bananas
Whole wheat – 1 cup
Coconut – 2 cups, grated
Sugar – 1 cup
Fennel seeds – 1 tsp
Cardamom powder – 1 tsp
Sesame seeds – 2 tbsp
Canola oil – As per deep fry

Preparation: Extract the sap from the tal kernals and keep aside. You can take tips from My Saffron Kitchen to learn how to extract the sap from the Tal kernels by clicking this link. If using bananas, mash them in a mixie and keep aside. Dry roast the grated coconut in an oven or tawa. Add the roasted coconut, sugar, fennel seeds, cardamom powder, and sesame seeds to the fruit mixture and combine well. Heat canola oil. Wet your hands in water, form small lumps from the mixture with your hands, and lightly drop them in the oil, one by one. Fry until golden brown and serve hot.

Happy Janmashtami, Everyone!

“We manage to swallow flesh only because we do not think of the cruel and sinful thing that we do. Cruelty... is a fundamental sin, and admits of no arguments or nice distinctions. If only we do not allow our heart to grow callous, it protests against cruelty, is always clearly heard; and yet we go on perpetrating cruelties easily, merrily, all of us—in fact, anyone who does not join in is dubbed a crank.” ~Rabindranath Tagore, in 1894 at the age of 33, in Glimpses of Bengal Letters, a selection of his letters.~

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