Often 3, 5, 7 or 9 vegetables are combined together in a melange of textures and colours in Indian cuisine. Navratan Korma is sometimes found on the menu in Indian restaurants and that translates to a creamy mixture of 9 (navratan) vegetables. In Bengali cuisine, an odd number of vegetables are combined in a stir-fry and is called paanch (5) or shaath (7) mishali (mix).
Shukto is eaten as the first course in a Bengali meal because it is bitter due to the inclusion of bitter melon. The shukto that was served for lunch yesterday comprised bitter melon, sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, eggplant and zucchini, enveloped in a mustard sauce.
Bitter melon is certainly an acquired taste and the reason they are a favourite is because it's been a staple in our household since my earliest memories. I once asked Mum why everyone in our family likes bitter melon so much and she said she used to steam them and hand one to each of us 8 siblings and we would walk around eating it like candy.
2 Chinese bitter melons or 3 ucchay, deseeded, diced & tossed with salt
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 Oriental eggplants, diced and tossed with salt
1 zucchini, peeled and diced
1 medium tomato, diced
4 Tbsp. oil
1/2 tsp. radhuni (wild celery seeds)
2 tej pata (bay leaves)
2 tsp. ginger paste
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. ghee
1 + 2 sliced green chillies
salt to taste
- Allow mustard seeds to soak for at least 2 hours, drain and discard salted water.
- Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tsp. salt & 1 green chili to mustard seeds, blend until smooth and set aside.
- Heat oil in a pan and sputter radhuni and tej pata.
- Add sweet & russet potatoes, salt and ginger paste.
- Stir well and cook over medium heat until vegetables are partly cooked.
- Add bitter melon, tomatoes and eggplant, stir well, cover and cook until vegetables are soft.
- Stir in the mustard paste and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add sugar & remaining green chilies, stir, cover and cook for 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and garnish with ghee.