Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Posto Sorse Dhyarosh - Bengali Style Okra with Poppy Seed and Mustard Pastes

Posto is a must-have in most Bengali kitchens. In fact, it would be a rare Bengali kitchen that didn't have it. Moni cooked different posto dishes quite often and I loved it. My favourite, and the most commonly made, was aloo posto. As far as the cooking method goes it's pretty much the same with whatever veggies you use - a tempering of nigella or kalaunji with some fresh green chillies in hot mustard oil, followed by the veggie of choice being sauteed in this oil, and ultimately the posto paste joining the party in the kadai along with seasoning and sugar. 

However, this darling of the Bengali kitchen has a bit of a murky past. After the Battle of Plassey in 1757 the British East India Company gained control of Bengal. The Company realised that there was a huge market for opium in China and decided to cultivate poppy as a cash crop in massive swathes of agricultural land in place of every other food crop. The Company made huge profits while the local populace languished without ingredients to cook with beyond a very few basic things. The extraction of opium from the poppy flowers left behind tiny dried seeds. Since the scale of this cultivation and the subsequent extraction was massive there was a large amount of these 'waste' seeds. In a desperate bid to bulk up their dishes and add some new flavour/texture to the food this waste product came into play and turned out to be quite delicious. It was used as a thickener and has a lovely nutty taste of its own. 

Today posto or the poppy seed is  literally a part of a Bengali's identity. We have so many preparations with this one ingredient we could actually fill a cookbook. 

Anyway! I had some posto paste in the fridge and as a change from the usual aloo posto I decided to make something I haven't eaten in years - dhyarosh posto. I made it with a dash of mustard paste to liven it up. 

Posto Sorse Dhyarosh 

500 gm ladyfingers or okra
2 tbsp posto paste
1 tbsp mustard paste
1/2 tsp nigella or kalaunji seeds
2-3 fresh green chillies
mustard oil

Cut the ladyfingers into two to three inch pieces.
Heat mustard oil in a kadai and chuck in the kalaunji and green chillies.
Add the cut ladyfingers and salt and fry for a few minutes on medium heat. I like to cover the pan and let the ladyfingers cook properly when I have cut them this big. The sliminess goes away when you take off the lid and dry it off. 
Once the ladyfingers are cooked through cook for a couple of minutes to dry it up. Then add the posto paste and the mustard paste. Also put in half a teaspoon of sugar. Stir to mix properly and let it cook for a few minutes on medium heat till the posto is no longer raw and whatever moisture is in the mix has gone. 

Serve the Posto Sorse Dhyarosh with daal and rice.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Jhinge Aloo Posto - Bengali Ridge Gourd and Potatoes with Poppy Seed Paste

I loved posto as a kid and would eat any vegetable cooked in it which very obviously became a convenient way for my mom to get veggies down my gullet. One day she had made just aloo posto with no veggies lurking in it. I was the first at the dinner table and since the others were taking their time to come I started nibbling at the aloo posto.. a little, a little more, a little more, and in some time there was very little left. I spread this around the bottom of the bowl to fool my parents into thinking there was plenty. Of course I got a sound thrashing and no dinner. But with a belly full of aloo posto I was quite happy regardless!

Jhinge aloo posto is a classic combination using ridge gourd with potatoes in poppy paste and I make it often. As with many Bengali vegetarian dishes the preparation is fairly frugal and the process simple with no heavy spices. Some families use turmeric and some don't. Bengalis can argue endlessly over which is the correct way or the better tasting dish, I'll stay out of the argument and cook it like Moni used to - without turmeric, letting the mustard oil lend a very pale yellowness to the final product. 

Jhinge Aloo Posto

4 tbsp poppy seeds
2 green chillies
4-5 cloves garlic (optional)
1/2 tsp nigella or kalaunji seeds
2 green chillies
1 cup peeled and chopped ridge gourd or jhinge
1 cup peeled and cubed potato
mustard oil

Soak the poppy seeds for 30 minutes or so and then grind to a smooth-ish paste with a couple of green chillies and the garlic. You can leave out the garlic to make this purely satvik and niramish. 

Heat mustard oil in a kadai and chuck in the nigella seeds and the green chillies. Saute for half a minute and add the potatoes. Stir fry for a few minutes without letting the potatoes turn red/pink. Moni was particular about keeping the dish as white as possible. Reduce the heat and let the potatoes cook a little and then add the chopped jhinge. Add salt to taste and around a teaspoon of sugar, mix well, cover and let it cook till the potatoes are done. 

Now add the poppy paste, washing out the mixer jar with a little water to get every bit out. Poppy seed is expensive so don't waste! Stir to mix coating the veggies with the paste and then simmer open till the water has mostly dried up and the paste has lost its rawness. Drizzle a little mustard oil over, cover and let it sit for a few minutes. 

Serve hot with plain rice and daal. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Capsicum Chicken

Moni went to the Dadar Catering College in Mumbai for a short term cooking course that they offered for housewives. My brother and I were obviously delighted as she would come home bearing goodies after every class! I think I was around 10 years old at the time and I thoroughly enjoyed the stuff she brought home as it was all so different from what she cooked regularly - the usual daal, bhaat, torkari, machh'er jhol. I think she learned this capsicum chicken at this course. I can't say for sure but I have very happy memories of tucking into it, something so different in appearance and taste from our everyday Bengali food.

Capsicum chicken, as you've surely guessed, is chicken cooked with green capsicum. I never actually asked Moni for the recipe - I wish I had! But over the last few years I was so busy learning about Bengali food and turning to her for help with that that these dishes just didn't figure. I have tried to approximate the recipe relying on my memories of the dish and the results of my attempt are pretty close to what she used to make. 

Capsicum Chicken

1 chicken, curry cut
2 large green capsicums (green peppers)
2 large onions
2-3 green chillies
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
black pepper
2 - 3 potatoes

Marinate the chicken with salt and ginger garlic paste.

Make a smooth paste with the onions, capsicums, and green chillies. Remember to discard the seeds and membranes from the capsicums, use only the green fleshy part. 

Peel the potatoes and cut into long large wedges. 

In a cooking pot heat some oil and first fry the potatoes. Let them get a little red and then remove and keep aside. 

In the same oil braise the marinated chicken pieces for around 10 minutes letting the pieces turn colour nicely. 

Once the chicken is nicely braised add the onion-capsicum paste and a teaspoon of sugar. Mix it in well over a high flame, stirring well. Lower the flame and cover the pot and leave the chicken to cook for around five minutes. The chicken will release its own water. 

Add the potatoes, stir them in and cover and leave it all to cook.  Rinse out the mixer jar and the bowl in which you marinated the chicken with a quarter cup of water and add this water to the pot. Make sure the flame is lowered properly and leave it to cook till the potatoes are cooked through and the chicken is also done. 

While this is cooking coarsely bash some fresh pepper. Sprinkle this pepper on the chicken once it's all cooked. Taste and adjust salt if required. 

You can serve this with plain rice like Moni used to or you can have it with bread, pav, or parathas.