Aloo Morich – Potatoes in Black pepper – for Saraswati Pujo

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Decades ago this day, the day of Saraswati Puja – the day of praying to the Goddess of Learning , was one of the best celebrations of the whole year. Not that we were too religious ever, but this was the day when we were officially banned from studying or reading and writing. Can you imagine what fun it was as a child?? All the books, copies, pens/pencils, musical instruments – for us it was the harmonium – anything that is related to knowledge and ‘vidya’ was not to be touched and were offered to the goddess for her to  shower loads of blessings on them and we in turn would be blessed. Having studied in a convent school in U.P., unlike my cousins in Kolkata, we did not have holidays for Saraswati Puja; so – and here comes the good part – for years, on our parents instructions we bunked school and had great fun the whole day. We would show off the ritually sanctioned abstinence from studies infront of our classmates who would be going to schools wearing the same old boring uniforms while we adorned new clothes in varying shades of yellow, representing the color of Basant Panchami which marks the onset of Spring Season.

My grandmother would ask me the same question every year – “who comes first( as in who is more important) : Ma Lakshmi or Ma Saraswati?” It was a question that would always puzzle me -” whom to choose?” The goddess who gives financial success and money which helps me to go to school or the goddess who gives us knowledge and enriches our brain which makes us successful enough to do good in life and become richer. It was as puzzling as the age-old dilemma of  ‘the chicken or the egg’. Had she been alive today, I might have answered her with a counter question of how life and the universe came into being. And that would have taught her a lesson to never bother me with such disturbing questions.

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Getting back to the celebration – The night before the puja, me and my mother would do all the preparations like decorating the goddess and her podium with flowers, paper cuttings, thermocol cuttings and painting the floors with traditional decorative art called ‘alpona‘, arranging the books next to the podium, filling up of ink pots with ‘kacha doodh’ (raw milk) and ‘khager kolom’ (bamboo quills) and washing all the fruits ready to be cut in the morning for presenting to the deity. Making ‘Alpona’ was something that I learned very early from my mother and grandmother. I would steal some chalk pieces from my class so that I could sketch the outline of the alpona on the floor before proceeding to finish it with soaked rice flour using cotton balls. My father would be the priest chanting the mantras  while we would wake up early, get showered, and decked up for Pushpanjali (empty stomach, mind it!).

This was also the time we were allowed to have the fruit ‘Kul‘ (‘Jujube’ in English and ‘Ber’ in Hindi). Year long me and my brother would crave for the forbidden fruit, as we were told for reasons unknown to me, it was only to be eaten during Saraswati Puja.  The next day morning, before school we would take flowers and ‘bel pata‘ from the goddess’s feet and tuck it inside each book, write some prayers on the Bel leaf with the bamboo quills dipped in raw milk and offer it to Ma Saraswati post which we would expect extremely good results in exams. And that marked the end of the celebrations.

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As we grew up the much enjoyed ban on studies were relaxed and in high school there was no option of not studying as this was the time for preparing for Board exams.

In college hostel Basant Panchami was celebrated with lot of fun and galore. After I moved to Kolkata for higher studies I realised that this day is also known as Bengali Valentine’s Day! The streets would be full with girls in yellow sarees and boys in kurta payjama roaming hand in hand as if this was the day of officially ignoring the Indian conservative mindset and giving open permission for romance.

During my MBAs in Kolkata when I was staying at our apartment with my brother and uncle I started the ritual of having Saraswati Puja at home, though my parents could never be with us as they were still in U.P. So I would invite my cousins, friends of mine and my brother’s and everyone would come to our place for Anjali. I had my friends stay over the night before so that they could help me with the decorations; the cook whom we had hired for our daily meals would prepare huge quantities of Khichudi, labra, tomato chutney for all of us. I feel good that by the time I got married my dad had retired and moved to our Kolkata apartment and my mom took over the Puja preparations. Though I am not present there now, they still manage to invite friends and relatives and make a big celebration out of it.

Well, for me – sitting in the US and lacking the motivation of having a Puja done here, I skyped with my family and my inlaws and tried not to feel sad at missing out on all the fun. It was pretty nostalgic to see the ‘P.K.De.Sarkar’ English Grammer book from our school days lying next to the deity just the way it used to be decades ago. I guess somethings never change….

So while there was no Pujo done we celebrated it with food as usual… :-). I made pure veg food (which means not only no non-veg but also no onions/garlic) for yesterday’s dinner- Porotha, Cholar Dal (sweet chana dal) and Aloo Morich (Potatoes with black pepper). Left over Aloo morich with luchi/poori for lunch today.

Here is the recipe for the Aloo Morich  which is my Ma-in-law’s recipe. I love it for its  simplicty in taste and preparation. You will understand it if you decide to make it.  In addition to her recipe I just added some fresh dill leaves that I had got the day before. This is the first time I used dill leaves and just loved the flavor. However it is completely optional.

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Ingredients: (Most of them are to taste so adjust accordingly)

  • Potatoes – 4-5 small to  medium sized, boiled and cubed
  • Ghee – 1-2 tbsp. (No cringing please!!! This recipe demands it so be generous, if required go for more)
  • Green chillies – 3-4 or to taste, slit lengthwise. If you dont want it too spicy reduce the amount as the black pepper will have a strong flavor.
  • Freshly ground black peppercorns – a little less than 1 tbsp or to taste. Note: For the right taste it is required that the pepper be freshly ground and not store bought.
  • Fresh Dill Leaves – a handful chopped (optional)
  • Salt – to taste
  • Water 1 tbsp, if required.

Method:

  • In a pot boil the potatoes really well so that they can be mashed up easily if required. You do not have to mash them just cube them.
  • Heat a wok and add ghee to it.
  • Once hot, add the green chillies and freshly crushed black peppercorns and give it a stir.
  • Add the boiled and cubed potatoes and chopped dill leaves, salt and mix well. Since the potatoes are well boiled some of them will mash up a little bit as you stir, or you can do that with the back of the spoon. That’s how you want it, not completely mashed but just a little.
  • If you want add 1 tbsp of water to it so that everything mixes well and does not stick to the bottom. However remember this is a dry dish. Additionally, if you want, you can add a drop of ghee at the end to garnish.

Serving suggestion – Serve it hot with paratha or puris. I usually make the paratha/puris and then prepare this dish as it dries up when left to cool. Once the potatoes are boiled it takes only couple of minutes to finish it so I prefer making it at the end.

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Aloo Posto – Potatoes in poppy paste curry

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Bengali’s love for food is conspicuous and even more renowned is his love for ‘Aloo Posto’. Posto / Poppy seeds / Khus Khus is a must have in our kitchens and every Bengali household will have a frequent serving of aloo posto – potatoes in poppy paste curry with musur dal – red lentil soup (for the recipe click here) and rice for lunch before moving on to the other courses of the meal.

So it is no surprise that ours is a family of posto lovers. And my husband – well back at home, he always keeps aside a small portion from his serving to have it at the end of his meal after he has had chicken / fish / eggs (Can you believe it???). When it is just the two of us, we avoid the traditional four course meal (or maybe more). Its usually just one dish along with rice/roti and maybe dal.

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I guess it was high time I posted this recipe in my blog so today when lunch called for preparing it I got some shots of it quickly. The best part is it needs minimum preparation, the only that I can think of is the grinding of the seeds and the chopping of potatoes. Here is the recipe for the well known ‘Aloo Posto’.

Ingredients:

  • Potato, cut into small cubes – 3 medium sized
  • Posto/poppy seeds – 4 tbsp
  • Oil – 1 tbsp or adjust according to your preference.
  • Kalonji/Nigella seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Green chillies – 4 to 5 slit lengthwise (or according to your taste)
  • Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Salt – to taste
  • Sugar, optional – a pinch or to taste
  • Water – as required

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Method:

  • Grind the poppy seeds to make a fine paste. I usually dry grind them first in my grinder, then add a few drops of water (just enough to make a fine paste) and continue grinding. Do not add too much of water. If you want you could grind some green chillies along with this for extra hotness.
  • Heat oil in the pan on a medium flame.
  • Once hot add the nigella seeds; as they splutter add the slit green chillies and the cubed potatoes.
  • Sprinkle some salt and turmeric mix well. Keep sautéing for a while.
  • Once the potatoes start getting a light golden color add the ground paste.
  • Mix well till the paste coats all the potatoes.
  • Add some water (as required) and cover and let it cook. I usually add 1 cup of water since I like the potatoes to be well cooked (almost mushy). You  may like to have the final dish a little dry or a little moist, so add water according to your preference. If the water is drying up and the potatoes are not yet done, you can add some more water to it.
  • Once the potatoes are well cooked, check for spices. Adjust salt / add more green chillies if required.
  • Add sugar if you want; usually many bengalis would add a pinch of sugar to it but I generally do not.
  • Serve it with plain musur dal and rice.

Green Beans Bharta – Mashed Green Beans

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As a child, have you ever been enamored by magic? I used to be. And I wanted to be special, to be different from others, to have uncommon abilities. I so ..so.. aspired to be a brilliant child and to be at the top of my class. Whenever I would get weary of studies my imagination would run wild. In that wild world I would be transformed into a person with a special photographic memory so that every thing that I read would be etched in my memory forever; that way i just needed to glance through the pages of my study-books and I would top all my exams. As I grew up, I secretly started hoping that maybe someday I would discover this extraordinary power of mine.  And when I traveled with J.K.Rowling to the world of Harry Potter, I found myself again nurturing that exotic dream.

In hindsight I am glad that I do not possess any such photographic memory because (a) some lessons are best learnt the hard way, so they go a long way; (b) forgetting is sometimes a bliss for only then can we move ahead in life; and (c) Being Normal is the best thing that can happen to you.

But that does not mean I totally deny the existence of magic.

“Magic exists. Who can doubt it, when there are rainbows and wildflowers, the music of the wind and the silence of the stars? Anyone who has loved has been touched by magic. It is such a simple and such an extraordinary part of the lives we live.”
Nora Roberts

In perspective it just holds a different meaning. You have known magic if you have ever fallen in love, ever created a child, if any of your dreams have ever come true.. you have known magic if you have looked at the creation around you, the world around you, if you have witnessed the change of colors and seasons or the mesmerizing view of a sunrise or the sun setting across the ocean.

I have seen the impossible and the unimaginable happening, so I will never close my mind to such a magic.

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
Roald Dahl

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Today’s recipe is of Green French Beans. If you are like me who only cherishes the thought of beans in Fried Rice or Chowmein then I can assure that you will be pleasantly surprised with this. I had never known such a bharta to even exist till I came across BongMom’s Cookbook. According to her this Bharta – spelled as Bhorta with an ‘o’ – is made in Bangladeshi style with mashed beans and coconut. Now, I love coconut and anything with coconut in it and was very happy when it turned out to be so good. I have to confess that though I make it as a second side dish, I end up
having my whole meal with just this and whited steamed rice.

So if you love beans, you will love this dish too. And if you are not a beans lover, then for sure do try this once and let yourself be beguiled with this magical dish.

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  • French Beans, cut into 1′ length – 2 cups
  • Oil (preferrably mustard oil, but vegetable oil will do) – 1 to 2 tbsp or as required.
  • Onions, thinly sliced – 1 small
  • Garlic, chopped or grated – 1 tbsp
  • Green chillies, slit lengthwise – 5 to 6 or to taste, can use red chilli powder instead
  • Salt – to taste
  • Coconut, grated – 1/2 cup to 1 cup; I use it generously
  • Coconut, grated / Coconut flakes – for garnishing (optional)

Method:

  • Heat oil in a pan, once hot add the thinly sliced onions and saute.
  • Add garlic and green chillies and fry well.
  • Once the onions start getting translucent add the beans and salt. Mix well. Cover and cook till the beans are tender stirring in between.
  • Once cooked, transfer the fried beans mixture on a plate and allow it to cool completely.
  • Once cooled add it to a blender along with coconut and little water and blend to a thick wet paste.
  • Heat the same pan, add a few drops of oil to it and add the wet paste.
  • On medium flame cook the paste till most of the moisture is dried up.
  • Garnish with grated coconut and serve with hot rice.

Suggestion: Mix small portions of the paste and rice with your hands/fingers and enjoy!

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Jhol Bhaat – a vegetable stew served with plain rice

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If there is one thing we Chatterjees are proud of (among the many others) and cherish – Jhol Bhaat would rank the top most. ‘Jhol’, in general, means a thin curry and can be of vegetables, fish, chicken or eggs; but I am, here, referring to a vegetable curry that formerly used to be prepared at my in-laws joint family home in Barhampur, W.B… This dish is like  a family tradition… every Chatterjee man wants his wife to master their skills in it… every mother wants her Daughter in law to make this for his son… and every Chatterjee bou love talking with their co-sisters (-in law) how this family is crazy about it. Everyone will have endless tales woven around it… number of variations considering you can add or skip any number of vegetables / spice.

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Early days of marriage and BBC brandishes his skill at dishing out his favorite ‘Jhol’, chopping off big chunks of cauliflower florets, potatoes and eggplant, stir frying them with cumin seeds, salt, some slit green chillies and turmeric and a thin gravy of tomatoes, ginger and asafoetida (this dominating the flavor) and finally topping it off with fried ‘bori’ (sun-dried lentil paste nuggets). The whole process of cutting and preparing takes 20-30 minutes. My MIL makes different kinds of jhol with the different spices and seasonal vegetables but for the two of us this is how we like it.  In those initial days every Sunday lunch would be the husband’s task to make jhol bhaat. Not to mention… plain steamed white rice is the only way to serve this curry with – or so says the man. I have tried having it with roti / paratha and it works for me as long as I am thick-skinned enough to ignore the nearby gapes and stares.

Those over enthusiastic days of being newlywed and covertly wanting to win approval  made me master this simple dish in no time… Now, I know better! I have taken over this custom of Sunday’s Jhol Bhat, while my husband boasts about it on our weekly Skype chats with my MIL. Though I  have to admit there are still days when he enters into the kitchen and announces his intention of preparing this meal and I gleefully agree to do the clean up.

So while Friday-Saturday nights see me cooking Chicken Kasa (spicy and thick chicken gravy)  or pasta/pizza to celebrate the weekend mood, Sundays are most often ‘being-at-home’ phase with simple comfort foods  like this one. This followed by the afternoon nap gears us up for the upcoming week. With this post I am hoping to achieve a high score as the devoted member of the Chatterjee clan. Is anyone listening???

DSC_0322Here is how it goes:

 Ingredients:

  • Vegetables: Adjust the amounts as you like.
    • Cauliflower – 1/2, cut into big florets
    • Potatoes – 1 big, diced into cubes
    • Egg plant,  – 1/2, If using Chinese egg-plant variety – 1; cut into rounds
    • Any other vegetable of your choice cut into mid size chunks; some suggestions might be carrots, beans or peas  .
  • Bori – a handful; these are sun-dried lentil paste nuggets. You can  prepare this at home and store it for later use, but it is easily available in Indian Grocery stores as “Moong Dal Wadi”
  • Oil – 1-2 tbsp or as required
  • Cumin Seeds – 1 tsp
  • Asafoetida – 1/4th tsp
  • Salt – to taste
  • Turmeric – 1/4 tsp + 1/4 tsp + a pinch
  • Cumin Powder – 1 tsp
  • Ginger, grated or paste – 1 tbsp
  • Green Chillies, slit lengthwise – 4-5 or to taste. Can use red chilli powder (to taste) instead.
  • Tomatoes, chopped or grated – 1 medium
  • Water – as required
  • Coriander Leaves, finely chopped – to garnish

Method:

  • Soak the egg plants in a bowl of water mixed with a pinch of turmeric and salt.
  • Combine the ginger paste, turmeric powder, cumin powder in a bowl.
  • In a thick deep pot or wok or karahi heat up some oil and lightly fry the bori till they turn slight brown in color. Drain and keep aside.
  • In the hot oil add cumin seeds, once they start sizzling add the slit green chillies and all the vegetables except egg plants.  Fry the vegetables on medium flame with 1/4 tsp of turmeric and little salt for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the mix of ginger and spices and fry for a while.
  • Next add the grated/chopped tomatoes and mix well. Cover and cook for 5 minutes stirring in between.
  • Add substantial amount of water, mix well, cover and cook for 5-10 minutes till the veggies are halfway cooked.
  • Drain the eggplants and add to the brewing stew. Eggplant absorbs a lot of oil on frying so we do not fry them beforehand. Stir for a while and cover and cook till all the veggies are done.
  • Adjust water for the desired consistency and  salt or spice for taste.
  • Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve hot with plain steamed white rice.

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Gobi (Cauliflower) Manchurian

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What do you say of a nice romantic date? I say maybe we go out to a fine place for a cozy candle light dinner… or I make you sandwiches and you carry a picnic hamper as we head out to the beach… lets go back to our teens and catch a nice movie in a theatre with a huge bag of popcorn and coke… if not then lets shut down all the gadgets and let me cook you a nice dinner that we will then have on bed, we can tuck our feet into the comforter, maybe share a glass of wine and chat aimlessly like those initial days. Will it bring a smile on your lips? Will that make you happy? I know it will…

To the good times then, now and forever…

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Ingredients:

  • Cauliflower – 1/2 medium, cut into small florets
  • Oil – for deep frying

For the batter:

  • All purpose flour – 5 tbsp
  • Cornstarch – 3 tbsp (flour:cornstarch will always be in 5:3 ratio)
  • Ginger Garlic paste – 1 tbsp
  • Salt – to taste (If you are adding Soy sauce which already is salty, add accordingly)
  • Black Pepper powder – to taste
  • Red chilli powder – to taste
  • Soy Sauce – 1 tbsp (optional but adding it gives a nice deep color)
  • Paprika – optional, to be used for extra red color
  • Water – to make a thick batter

For the sauce:

  • Oil – 1 tbsp
  • Onion – 1/2 medium, finely chopped
  • Garlic, finely chopped – 3-4 colves
  • Green chillies, finely chopped – to taste (since you are adding chilli sauce adjust accordingly)
  • Soy Sauce – 1 tbsp
  • Chilli Sauce – 2 tsp (adjust to taste)
  • Tomato Sauce – 1 tbsp
  • Salt – to taste (soy sauce has some salt in it so add accordingly)
  • Sugar (optional) use only if required – sometimes if the sauce becomes too tangy you might need to add little sugar, check the taste first and then decide if you need to add it.

Note: The quantities for the sauces mentioned are approximates since I never measure them while pouring. Just eye ball it, add little at first,  taste it and add more if required.

For Garnishing: (use any of these)

  • Chopped Cilantro
  • Chilli vinegar – optional but adds a great flavor. Follow instructions mentioned below on how to prepare this.
  • Chopped green chillies – for extra spice
  • Spring onions, roughly chopped – I did not use it this time

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Method:

Marinate and deep fry:

  • Soak the florets in hot (not boiling) water for 2-3 minutes. Drain completely and pat dry.
  • In a bowl add all the ingredients for the batter except water and mix well. Add little water at time and keep mixing with a whisk to get a thick batter of pouring consistency. Do a taste test and adjust the spices accordingly.
  • Add the florets and mix them so that they are well coated with the batter. You can add some extra flour if the batter is too thin or add extra water if it is too thick.

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  • Keep aside the marinated florets for almost an hour to a couple of hours, the longer the better.
  • Heat oil in a deep fryer / pan. Once hot add the florets in batches and fry them till they are cooked and turn golden. Do not over fry or they will turn mushy.

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Note: The first time I was making this, I got the proportions messed up so that batter was falling off when frying. Once the entire batch was done, I added the fried florets in the leftover batter again and re-fried them.

  • Drain the fried florets onto a paper towel.

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Prepare the sauce:

  • Heat up a pan and add 1 tbsp of oil. If using the same pan as used for deep frying the florets remove the oil leaving almost a tbsp of oil.
  • Add the chopped onions, garlic, green chillies and fry for a couple of minutes until the onions turn translucent.
  • Add all the other ingredients – sauces, salt and sugar (if needed) and mix well.
  • Sprinkle some water and cook for a couple of minutes so that it comes to a light boil. Check taste and adjust salt and the sauces accordingly.

Note: If you want you can prepare the sauce before hand. Fry the florets just before serving as they will loose the crispiness if kept for a while. You can assemble the dish just before eating.

Assemble the dish:

  • Reheat the sauce if made previously.
  • Add the florets to the sauce. Mix gently.
  • Garnish with any of these – chopped cilantro, green chillies, chilli vinegar or chopped spring onions.

How to make chilli vinegar:

You can use this for any Chinese / Indo-Chinese cooking. So if you need it very frequently make in large quantity or else if you are going to use it once in a while like it do make a smaller portion.

  • Take 3-4 tbsp of white vinegar.
  • Roughly or finely chop 2-3 green chillies and add them (along with the seeds) to the vinegar. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
  • Use it for garnishing.

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Serve it as a side or a starter.