Monday, June 23, 2014

Tangy Red Lentils with Dried Mangoes

Tok Dal
Tok or sour masoor dal is generally made with green mango for its tart flavour. I used packaged dried mangoes which made the dal somewhat more sweet than sour. 


1-½ cups red lentils (masoor dal)
3 cups water
2 Oriental eggplants, cut in bite-size pieces and tossed with salt
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
½ tsp. black mustard seeds
2 dried red chilies
2 tsp. ginger paste
1 (3 oz.) pkg. dried unsweetened mango slices
or 1 green mango, peeled, deseeded and cubed
Salt to taste
1 tsp. ghee or melted butter
cilantro, chopped
2–3 whole green chilies


1.    Wash lentils until water runs clear.
2.    Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat & add mustard & dried chilies.
3.    When mustard seeds start to sizzle, add lentils, salt, mango and water.
4.    Cover and cook on medium heat until lentils are tender.
5.    Adjust salt to taste, add ginger paste and simmer for 2 minutes.
6.    Garnish with ghee, cilantro and whole green chilies.

Transfer to a serving dish and serve with steamed rice or naan.

Mushrooms & Peas Pilaf

Mushrooms & Peas Pulao
Here is a vegetarian pilaf that is as satisfying as its meaty counterparts. Mushrooms are the key ingredient that give flavour to this rice dish. Any kind of mushroom will work, including rehydrated shiitake mushrooms which pack a strong flavour punch. Aged Basmati rice is my long-grain rice of choice for making pilaf, but jasmine rice or other long-grain rice are also viable options. 

Zucchini & Potatoes with Lentil Dumplings

Zucchini Alu Bori
This dish is usually made with bottle gourd (lau/lauki) but since it is only available in the Indian markets, I used zucchini which is similar in texture and taste.

Lentil dumplings, known as 'Bori' in Bengali, are small stupa-shaped mashed and sun-dried lentils flavoured with asafetida and seasoned with salt. They are deep fried until golden brown and soaked in hot water to soften. Since some of the flavour leaches into the water in which they are soaked, I save this soaking liquid and add it back into the dish that is being prepared, to maximize on the taste.

Eggplant & Tomatoes in Mustard Sauce

Begun Tomato Shorshe
Oriental eggplants, onions and tomatoes are cooked in a coarse ground mustard sauce. It generally takes a while to prepare black mustard seeds for this dish. To remove the bitterness from black mustard seeds, they are generally soaked in salt-water for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight. They are then blended to a smooth paste.

4 Oriental eggplants, cut in half lengthwise & sliced in crescents
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
4 oz. frozen peas
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
½ tsp. nigella seeds (kalo jeera/kalonji)
2 tsp. ginger paste
2 Tbsp. black mustard seeds
1/2 cup water + 1/2 tsp. salt
Salt to taste
2–3 hot green chillies, left whole

1. Soak mustard seeds for 1/2 hour or overnight.
2. Drain mustard seeds, add salted water along with 1 green chilli, blend to a smooth paste & set aside.
3. Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat and fry nigella seeds.
3. When nigella seeds begin to sputter and sizzle, add first three ingredients, ginger paste and salt.
4. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until vegetables are tender.
5. Adjust salt to taste, peas and mustard paste.
6. Stir-fry for 2 more minutes until vegetables are coated with sauce.
7. Garnish with whole chilies and transfer to a serving dish.

Serve with steamed Basmati rice or chapatis.

The eggplants can be replaced with several other vegetables, such as green beans, cauliflower, potatoes, zucchini, ridge gourd (jhinge), sweet potatoes, pumpkin, etc.

Green Beans in White Poppy Seed Sauce

Green Beans Posto
Posto or white poppy seeds when ground to a paste with salt and green chillies makes a wonderful sauce for all kinds of vegetables. The vegetables are first cooked with ginger paste until almost done and the poppy seed paste is added at the end and simmered for a very short time. 

This dish is a favourite in the Bengali household. It is generally eaten at lunch, makes one feel really mellow and induces sound sleep. 

4 Tbsp. white poppy seeds (posto)
1 cup Water

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
½ tsp. nigella seeds (kalo jeera/kalonji)

1 lb. green beans, sliced width-wise into small circles
1 russet potato, peeled and diced 
2 tsp. ginger paste
Salt to taste

1 tsp. ghee or melted Butter
2 – 3 green chillies, left whole

1. Boil a cup of water in the microwave, pour over poppy seeds in a bowl and cover.
2. Set poppy seeds aside for half an hour to cool and soften.
2. Puree poppy seeds and soaking water in a blender until it reaches the consistency of a thick sauce. 
3. Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat and add nigella seeds.
4. When the seeds begin to sputter and sizzle, add vegetables, ginger paste and salt.
5. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes until vegetables are tender.
6. Adjust salt to taste and cook for 5 minutes.
7. Add pureed poppy seeds and stir until well combined.
8. Cook for 2 minutes until sauce reduces and just coats the beans.
9. Garnish with ghee & whole chillies and transfer to a serving dish.

Serve with steamed Basmati rice or chapatis.

The green beans can be replaced with several other vegetables, such as eggplant, cauliflower, potatoes, zucchini, ridge gourd (jhinge), sweet potatoes, pumpkin, etc.

Panch Mishali Shukto - 5 Vegetables in Mustard Sauce

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.

Panch Phoron or Bengali 5 Spice Mixture

Panch Phoron or Bengali 5 Spice
Bengali is the language spoken by the people of Bangladesh and in the state of Bengal in India. 

Known in Bengali as panch phoron (panch=5 & phoron=tempering), this mixture of spices comprises equal quantities of black mustard (shorshe/sarson/rai) seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds and nigella (kalo jeera/kalonji) seeds. Panch phoron is used for tempering Bengali vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.  

Randhuni or Wild Celery Seeds
In the more traditional panch phoron, randhuni (wild celery seeds) is used in place of black mustard seeds.The latter are more readily available than randhuni which is difficult to procure outside the state of Bengal in India. 

Roasted panch phoron powder is used to flavor vegetarian dishes and as a garnish in those same dishes as well as in chutneys, such as Tomato Date Chutney and raitas, such as Fuji Apple Raita. Take a tablespoon of each of the 5 spices and toast them in a dry skillet until fennel seeds turn brown and mustard seeds turn white. Grind to a coarse powder in a coffee grinder. This lovely, fragrant spice must be cooled and stored in an airtight bottle. It will remain fragrant anywhere from 6 months to a year.

Empty McCormick's spice bottles make great storage containers for my whole and powdered Indian spices. The bottles and lids are washed in the dishwasher, allowed to air-dry overnight and saved for this purpose. A label-maker comes in handy to help identify the contents of these recycled bottles.

It's a good idea to keep a coffee grinder specifically for grinding spices, but if you have to use it for grinding coffee as well, here's an effective way of cleaning the grinder and removing the aroma of spices. Empty the coffee grinder and clean both chamber and lid thoroughly with a paper towel. Add a teaspoon of Arm & Hammer baking soda to the grinder and pulse several times. Empty the baking soda into the sink and clean the chamber of the grinder and the lid thoroughly with a paper towel. Keep the lid off overnight to air the chamber of the grinder and it should be ready to grind coffee beans.