Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sukto with Jukti Phool

Sukto is a lovely light stew of assorted vegetables with a hint of bitter. Flavoured with a bit of mustard and a hint of poppy paste, this stew also has milk in it and must be cooked very carefully. Though you can make sukto without the bitter element, many Bengalis believe that a classic sukto must have the bitter ingredient. I always avoided sukto thanks to the bitter flavour and never bothered to even see how it was cooked, turning up my nose and shaking my head this utter waste of effort! 

Over the last few years my interest in Bengali food has increased greatly - maybe I'm feeling the need to understand my roots now that I'm well into my forties and the attraction of other cuisines has paled. Somewhere I also feel great ignorance where Bengali food is concerned - it is after all the cuisine of my forefathers and I should know it in some detail at least. My frequent visits to Kolkata and the discovery of new ingredients at practically every visit to the market only fuelled my curiosity. The door to door vegetable vendor, seeing my interest, would bring new things to show me - pui mituni, kolmi shaak, shapla, kochu'r loti, bok phul, shish palong... the list is endless. 

My visits to Kolkata are now incomplete without a visit to Gariahat market, if only for a quick walk through just to see what's available. The last visit to Kolkata was for less than a week and I squeezed in a quick trip to the market on my last morning there. This time I discovered Jukti phool. 

Jukti Phool  Dregea volubis is also known as Sneeze Wort or Green Milkweed Climber. This plant is known to many Indian cuisines and has names in many Indian languages. In Marathi it is called 'harandodi' or 'naaksikani'. In Hindi it's also known as 'akad bel'. The Malayalam word for it is 'velipparuthi'  while in Gujarati it's called 'kadvo kharkhodo', and in Bengali it's also called 'tita kunga'.  See here for more details -

I'd never heard of this ingredient nor seen it but the tiny, pretty bunches of blooms were irresistible and of course I bought some. I asked the vendor how to cook it and he said to either stir fry it with a little garlic and plenty of potatoes or to use it instead of uchhe (bitter gourd) to make sukto. It's quite bitter, he warned, and I wasn't to try to eat it on its own.

Back in Mumbai I read several sukto recipes before I attempted making it for the first time. My mother loved sukto - or 'suktuni' as she preferred to call it - and I keenly missed her because it would have been so easy to just call her on the phone and learn how to make one of her favourite dishes. I wish I had paid attention on the rare times she made it... 

Anyway! Here's the recipe for the Sukto I cobbled together today. This dish has a lot of ingredients and therefore there's a good amount of prep to do before you start cooking so make sure you read the recipe from start to finish and make a shopping list before you go to get the veggies. 

Jukti Phool diye Sukto

Jukti phool - half a cup
1 small potato
1 small sweet potato
1 small ridge gourd 
1 small long brinjal or a chunk from a large one
7-8 green beans (yard longs/borboti or french beans, either will do)
7-8 papdi or seem (flat beans) 
1 drumstick
2" piece of ginger

2 tbsp mustard paste 
2 tbsp poppy seed paste

1 tsp panch phoron
1 tsp randhuni (ajmod seeds)
1/2 cup milk
mustard oil

Wash the jukti phool and drain in a colander. 

Peel the potatoes and cut into thick batons. Peel the ridge gourd, discard seeds and pith, and cut into batons of the same size as the potatoes. Don't cut the vegetables too thin or small or they will disintegrate while cooking.
String the beans and cut into 3" pieces.
Peel the hard outer skin of the drumstick and cut into 5" batons.
Cut brinjal into proportionate pieces, not too small.
Grate or pound the ginger into a rough paste. 

Heat a generous quantity of mustard oil in a wok or kadai and wait till it's properly hot. Fry the prepared vegetables one by one for a couple of minutes each and remove to a plate or other flat vessel. 

In the same oil, after you've finished frying all the vegetables, chuck in the panch phoron, randhuni and grated ginger (add a little oil if required before you throw in the spices). Let the spices sizzle for a few seconds and then add the mustard and poppy seed pastes. Add salt and sugar to taste. Keep the flame low and stir well to cook everything. See that the pastes don't stick to the bottom of the kadai.

After a minute or two add a cup of water and the milk. There are different methods followed with the addition of milk - some recipes add it at the end of the cooking and some add it early. I added it at this stage. Bring the whole mix to a gentle boil and then add the fried vegetables. Mix gently and then cover the kadai and let it cook over low heat till the vegetables are done.

Once the vegetables are cooked switch off the flame and drizzle good ghee over the sukto. Cover and let it infuse for five minutes.

Sukto often has bori (vadi or lentil cakes) in it. My mom would fry the bori and then crumble it over the cooked sukto before serving. I didn't have any bori so I couldn't do that bit. 

You can make sukto without randhuni. It will taste different but no one will accuse you of cooking a sukto that's not authentic. So don't stress out over the randhuni. 

There are many variations to the vegetables in a sukto. Use whatever you have at hand - brinjal plantain, radish, potato, sweet potato, beans of various kinds, gourds, and something bitter, be it bitter gourd or jukti phool. Did you notice there are no spices here apart from the panch phoron and randhuni?

Serve the sukto as the first course of your meal with plain rice. Follow it up with daal accompanied by a couple of bhajas and then a light machh'er jhol and you'll be on your way to a proper Bengali meal! Or just keep it simple and have it with hot rice and daal to follow.


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