Sushoma and Anjona
For the past 18 years I have been coming to Kolkatta on one pretext or the other and indulging in the fabulous cuisine of this state. This time I had an opportunity to be taught the cuisines by 2 beautiful Bengali women “Anjona” and “Sushoma”. Sushoma lives in a near by slum and works in 4 homes doing everything from cleaning to cooking. She is a wide-eyed beautiful women with a ready smile and a can do attitude, with some education she would have been an ideal fit for a fabulous corporate career. I don’t even think she has any idea about what she could have achieved had her parents been able to afford her a proper education, today she shies from even trying to read a grocery list that she asked me to write for her.
Anjona is quite and shy. She seems like a diligent worker with a mind of her own. She doesn’t reveal much about herself other than being a tough negotiator. After being interviewed and offered a position by my husband, Anjona said that she had 2 conditions. (It is not normal for house help in this part of the world to have any say in the matter so it was a first for him but he was pleasantly surprised) Her two conditions were
“I have a four year old son so sometimes I might come at 8.15 am instead of 8.00 am, and that should not make you upset. Secondly I need to head back home at 7 p.m.”
Rony was touched by sheer irony of her situation and life where even though she would be working 11 hours a day for $6 (for the entire days work) she felt her conditions could be rejected.
My agenda in this 8-day vacation was to get my blog going and learn some simple Bengali cooking to add to my repertoire. So here goes
Menu for the day:
Chicken stew (Murgi Jhol)
Mutton curry (Kasha mansho)
Moong lentil with vegetables (Dal torkari)
Pan-fried eggplant (Baigun bhaja)
Please note that if you want a precise recipe then do write to me and I will post it for you.
Rony wanted a soupy stew so extra water was added to the curry. I was a bit unsure as to how it would turn out but the flavors of the green peppers and sweet carrot made it delicious wholesome meal in it self. The kids enjoyed the curry as much as we did. I was amazed that with just one spice she could achieve so much. Anjona would have preferred less water in the curry.
Chicken stew (Murgi Jhol)
Marinate the chicken with chili powder and keep aside
Add oil to the wok and heat it. Add finely chopped garlic followed by finely chopped shallots. After the onion starts to brown add the chopped ginger. Then add chopped mixed vegetable (peas, carrots, potatoes, green peppers) and sauté till they start to brown, at this point add the chicken and salt and brown it on low flame stirring occasionally.
Add a whole tomato and cook for 5 minutes with the lid on. Mash the softened tomato in and add water. Cover pan with a lid and boil till chicken is cooked.
Once again the utter simplicity of this dish amazes me. My daughter who is normally a picky eater devoured those slices like there was no tomorrow. I must say that it is difficult to go wrong with these beautiful, plump long almost seedless green and aubergine variety of eggplant.
Pan-fried eggplant (Baigun bhaja)
Marinate eggplant in salt, sugar and turmeric
Heat mustard oil in a shallow pan; add the marinated eggplant in flat slices and pan fry till they turn soft and brownish on both sides.
The sugar is added to enhance the browning.
We had been enjoying slices of tomatoes sprinkled with salt and sugar with our toasts in the morning and exclaiming over the sweetness and flavor of the tomatoes. Today we thought of making the chutney and I placed the request to the two ladies in-charge of the kitchen. Sushoma immediately came up with the suggestion of adding “Aam Shukto” (dried mango jelly) to the chutney and the result was absolutely stupendous. I like the idea of using minimum spices to cook but this practically one spice cooking was inconceivable to me and yet good.
Tomato Chutney with sweet dried mango jelly
Heat mustard oil in a shallow pan and infuse with mustard seeds. Add the grated tomatoes and chopped mango jelly; allow to cook on low flame for a while and then season with some salt and a few tsps of sugar. Voila the tomato chutney is ready to serve.
Sushoma did say that some times she would even add a dried red chili and a cinnamon stick to enhance the flavor.
To start with I must say that the variety of moong lentil used in Bengal is small and fine, very different from the plump and yellow variety used in the North. So I have decided to carry some with me to Hong Kong. Traditionally I have not been a very Lentil person however in recent year I am becoming quite a convert. It is so easy today to serve a completely vegetarian meal and not think about protein balance etc. This lentil curry cooked with abundance of vegetables is indeed a delight.
Moong lentil cooked with vegetables
Cook moong lentil with salt, turmeric, finely chopped mixed vegetables (potato, beans, carrots) and a green chili in a pressure cooker.
After the lentil is cooked, add oil in a small shallow pan (I normally use my tarka pan) and infuse with cumin seeds. Once the seeds start to splutter add the infused oil with the spices into the cooked lentil and vegetables and season with some sugar and chopped coriander.
I have finally figured out that the term “Kasha” in Bengali basically means “Bhuna” in Hindi. Which is the art of browning the meat and all the ingredients on low heat stirring occasionally.
Spicy mutton curry (Kasha Mansho)
Marinate the mutton with lemon juice and keep aside for a while. Grate ginger, garlic, and onion and season it with red chili, turmeric and salt. Apply this to the mutton and keep aside.
Heat mustard oil and infuse with bay leaves and cumin seeds. Add the sliced onion to it and sauté till it browns. Now add the mutton and slow cook it on medium flame stirring as you go till it brown
Separately heat oil and cut potatoes in half and fry them till they turn light brown. Remove and keep aside.
Mixed in the potatoes with the meat and pressure cook. Before serving add a pinch of garam masala and serve hot.
After this fabulous meal my father in law has relented to taking me shopping with him and show me the secrets of his shopping at the fresh market in Gariahat. I believe the best Aar fish is the Rs. 400 a kilo and not Rs. 165 as the larger the fish the more expensive it is and the tastier it is. I must say that I still find it difficult to differentiate or appreciate the differences of each of these delicious river fish. I am going to work on it because it not “a fish is a fish is a fish” (Oscar Wilde did not say that!)