Friday, May 27, 2016

Begun Basanti - Eggplants in Mustard and Curd

Begun Basanti. I don't remember where I encountered this dish for the first time but the name lingered in my mind. I only encountered it online, mentioned on someone's post on Facebook or in a food group or some such random location. The name had me hooked. Compared with 'begun bhaja' 'begun pora' 'neem begun' etc., which are bare descriptions of the dish, begun basanti was mysterious and romantic and deicious all at once!

Today a close friend was coming for lunch and these days, whenever someone comes over for a meal I try to cook something new or special, something I haven't cooked a zillion times already. I had a bunch of lovely green long brinjals in the veg drawer in the fridge and since Bengalis love brinjals I knew I was cooking something with these babies. I remembered Begun Basanti and thought of making it finally.

A trawl through the Internet and a glance through my Bengali cookbooks threw up quite a few recipes with many variations - some had curd, some had coconut, while others had posto (poppy seeds), and some had combinations of these, while the common ingredient was mustard paste. I figured out a basic recipe from my reading and proceeded to make my version of Begun Basanti.

6 - 8 long green brinjals
2-3 green chillies
1 inch fresh ginger
1/2 packet Sunrise Mustard powder
4 tbsp curd, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
chilli powder
jeera powder
mustard oil

Wash the brinjals and cut them into long pieces. I cut the brinjal into 4 inch pieces and slit each piece lengthwise.
Sprinkle salt and turmeric on the cut brinjals and leave aside for 10 minutes.
Soak the mustard powder in a little water to make a runny paste and let it sit for 10 - 15 minutes.
Pound the ginger in a mortar to make it as fine as you can.
Heat mustard oil in a wok or kadai and fry the brinjals till soft. Let the cut sides brown but don't burn the brinjals. Remove the fried brinjals to a plate.

In a bowl combine the mustard paste with the beaten curd, smashed fresh ginger, salt and turmeric. Make a smooth mix. This will form your gravy.
In the same oil chuck in the kalonji followed by the green chillies. You can slit the chillies for extra punch.
Now pour in the mustard-curd paste and stir well. Add some chilli powder and jeera powder. Let this cook for a few minutes till the oil separates out again.
Add the fried brinjal pieces and a good pinch of sugar. Stir gently to coat the brinjal pieces with the gravy. Be careful not to squash or break the brinjal pieces. Let it cook for 3 -4 minutes.
Now add half a cup of water, stir and let it simmer for another couple of minutes. Reduce the gravy to a consistency you like.
Add salt if required.
Remove to a nice serving bowl and garnish with fresh chopped coriander.

This is great as a side dish on an elaborate dinner menu and also as the star of a light dinner paired with simple rotis.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Daab'er Shaansh ar Gondhoraaj Lebu diye Chingri - Prawns in Tender Coconut and Gondhoraj Zest

It was one more of the little dinner parties I have - just a few friends, and a completely home-cooked meal. Since one of my guests was a friend from Australia who misses Bengali food a lot, I was cooking a Bengali meal in her honour. I planned to make the entire elaborate traditional meal right from the bhaja, teto (bitter element) daal, through fish, chatney, and a finale of mangsho'r jhol. However we're having sickeningly hot weather and the hubby cautioned me to pare down the menu as no one would actually enjoy the full spread in this awful weather. That did make sense and I edited my menu severely by removing the little fiddly elements like the bhatey (mashed vegetable) and bhaja (fried accompaniment with daal), and even the vegetable course I had planned.  The final menu had a simple daal, plain white rice, a prawn course, mangsho'r jhol (goat curry) and kaancha aam'er chatney, followed by gur'er paayesh for dessert.

I started out with a plan to make Daab Chingri, a well known Bengali classic, with the prawns. I happened to have loads of daab (tender coconuts) at home and it had been a while since I'd made daab chingri. As it happens with me a lot, though I planned a tried and tested and guaranteed to be great dish, something kept me hesitating, not a 100% convinced. I checked countless recipes online and dithered away, or simply cooked the other things on my menu.

And then it was evening and my guests would be arriving in a little more than an hour! I hadn't made any progress with my daab chingri. And then I had an idea. The daab chingri was abandoned but not entirely. I was in the mood to fool around and I had, what I thought would be a brilliant dish in my mind. But I did have guests to feed - so taking no chances I had a quick confer with the hubby and I was back in the kitchen ready to make Daab'er Shaansh ar Gondhoraaj Lebu diye Chingri.

500 gms, fresh medium sized prawns
flesh from two tender coconuts
1 cup tender coconut water
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/2 tsp zest of Gondhoraaj Lemon
1 large onion finely chopped
2 or 3 green chillies minced
1 inch fresh ginger
Mustard oil

Shell and devein the prawns. You can leave the heads on if you like, I don't because the hubby is allergic to the shell. Marinate the washed and drained prawns in salt and turmeric.
In a wok heat the mustard oil. Once it's hot reduce the flame and chuck in the finely chopped onions and the minced green chillies. Fry slowly taking care not to brown the onions at all.
Smash the ginger into a rough paste in your mortar and pestle. Use fresh ginger instead of store bought paste - the flavour is significantly better. Add it to the frying onions.
After a minute or so add the prawns. Stir well and cook over a medium flame till the prawns turn just opaque.
Now add the coconut flesh and the coconut water. Bring it to a boil and add the coconut cream. You can use half a cup of thickly made coconut milk using a commercial coconut powder if you don't have coconut cream. Mix well.
Let it all simmer till the prawns are cooked. Don't over cook your prawns!
Switch off the flame and then sprinkle the Gondhoraaj zest over the curry. Cover the pot and let it infuse for 5 minutes.
Serve with plain hot rice.