Winter vegetarian Medley from Bengal
There is a crispness in the air. The mornings are cool and the cotton socks have become mandatory. The cats dry and bask in the sun, the flowers bool with all their might and the offerings of the vegetable market is a sheer delight.
I was delighted when my favourite Aunt M (Mimi) called me over for a quick chat and a delicious meal on Monday and sent over some homemade "vadi" (dried lentil cones made at home) Not to be mixed with the spicier Punjabi Vadi these special Bengal bori as we call them can be bought at most grocer's but of course the asafoetida flavoured homemade "bori" is a class apart.
There is a special reason why all my Bengali recipes can be attributed to this one beautiful aunt of mine. So any other Bengali might ask me what might be so special about her cooking. That is exactly what I shall tell you today. You see as a child I was hyper sensitive to heat and spice in food and to some extent some emotive problems with the extra usage of turmeric giving the dishes an extra artifical colour. While at my home half the days would be spent either having Plain short grained aromatic rice with boiled potatoes and butter with fried fish it was a different story when I spent my weekends at my "mamarbari" some 15 minute walk away from my own home. Not only was there my Grandmother but her food was more adult friendly and again I was stuck with fried fish and plain rice, it was at my Mimi's that I developed my taste buds for Bengali food. They were always full flavoured yet mild, without too much heat from chilies. her chilies would always retain the original colour making it easier for me to avoid them. It seemed healthy and was extremely delicious. Over the years I did develop a palate which appreciated extremely spicy food and extremely mild food as well but the simple flavoured recipes are what I mostly crave.
This one is a medley of winter vegetables.
What one needs
2 medium sized Cauliflower cut up in medium sized florets
1 large Eggplant
1 massive sized Potato
A little more than a handful of Seem / Flat beans
Homeamde "bori, dried lentil about 10 of them, these were small sized ones) If you do not have homemade ones you can of course substitute with store bought ones
Salt as per taste
1 tsp sugar
Half cup milk
1 to 1.5 tsp Panch phoron (Five spice from Bengal) Now there is a lot of debate on the correct spices sued in Panch Phoron but the 4 ingredients which remain intact are fenugreek seeds, radhuni/ajmod , Kalonji /nigela seeds and fennel seeds, the fifth disputed one is among mustard seeds and cumin seeds. So use it as per your liking. I have seen my father's house using cumin seeds and I have seen people use mustard seeds as well. Mix these in equal proportion.
2 medium sized bay leaves
2 to 3 dried red chilies
2 slit green chilies
1 to 1.5 tablespoonful of coriander leaves
1 large tomato pureed from before (You can blanch it and then blend it and cook it with sugar and salt or simply make a paste)
The fresh smell of coriander leaves and the mild taste yet beautiful aroma and flavour makes this dish really delicious. Start by cubing the eggplants in not very small pieces because Eggplants easily overcook in water. Make medium sized cauliflower florets. Dice the potato smaller than the other two vegetables. Chop the flat beans in squares.
First fry your boris/vadis golden brown and take them out.
Now use about 3 tablespoonful of mustard oil and saute the vegetables in the order of cauliflower first, then potatoes, eggplants and the flat beans. I use this trick to covering them for quicker cooking. Add enough water to cover the vegetables and after bringing them to a roaring boil and yes do add the boris /vadis as well take out the eggplants and bori or vadi else they will get overcooked. When the other vegetables are half done. Check with a fork , add the eggplants and cook till all are cooked and transfer to a bowl along with the remaining water . Now add 2 tsp oil and add the five-spice , bay leaves and dried chilies, when the spices splutter add the tomato paste /pureee and then add the vegetables with the remaining water and add the milk. bring to a moil and then simmer and add the coriander leaves. Cook for 7 minutes and serve hot with rice. This is a typical Bengali vegetable dish. It is called "Niramishi jhol" (Vegetarian soupy curry) which means it is a soupy vegetable curry and so this cannot ideally be teamed with chapatis.