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Eats: Bringing in the New Year the Bengali WayThe instructions were simple – wear red, gold or white for a Bengali celebration! It was a party for the holiday season and a welcoming of the New Year. And yes, Jal Muri was absolutely on the menu. And since Nandini Mukherjee, once owner of the hugely popular Indian Bread Company, was the host, you could expect a great spin on Indian food.
After giving birth to her daughter and spending one year juggling her busy restaurant and catering company, she decided to step back and spend some time with her one year old. She sold her company; but although she got out of the Indian Bread Company, it wasn’t that easy to get the passion for food out of her.
A Foodie’s Calcutta Childhood“I grew up in Jamshedpur in a Bengali family of food connoisseurs. Food was respected and celebrated,” she recalls. “The kitchen was a great leveler; the men in the family were as fond of cooking as the women; and it was the men of the house who cooked on Sunday, while the women got a much deserved break.”
Every Sunday, the focus was on each meal starting from an elaborate breakfast of radhabollobi (Bengali lentil stuffed puri) with dum aloo, singara (Bengali samosa), and jalebi to a course by course lunch of bhajas (potato shoe string fries, fried cauliflower, eggplant fritters), cholar dal (Bengali chana dal preparation with coconut), chorchori (mixed vegetable), aloo posto (potato with poppy seeds), bhapa ilish (hilsa fish marinated in mustard paste and steamed in a banana leaf), kosha mangsho (braised goat curry), ghee rice, luchi (puri) and Bengali sweets (rasgulla, chanar jilebi, sandesh) to finally stepping out for an early family dinner.
Food certainly seemed to be the be-all and the end-all – and the reason for getting up in the morning!
“My grandmother was a fabulous cook and a natural hostess, and she passed on her passion for food, entertaining, and her eye for detail to all her children. She would ply us with food and regale us with stories; Mahabharata, Ramayan, Rajput kings, Rabindranath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose were all hot favorites!
I remember her planning our weekly tiffins (fish fingers, chicken sandwiches, fried rice) which were the envy of our classmates to meticulously selecting the most tender methi leaves for methi parathas in winter, to teaching us how to make sandesh using traditional sandesh molds.”
Bengali Recipes in AmericaSo it’s no surprise that Mukherjee in her new avatar as a mother wanted to replicate some of those wonderful food memories. She started collecting family recipes and tweaking them with the idea of creating a cookbook. She also collected recipes from other parts of India and kept experimenting with them as a hobby. She plunged headlong into baking, and taught herself to bake tiered and 3D cakes with butter cream and fondant; she now bakes these for her daughter as well as friends and family.
After IBC, Mukherjee started a company BoloBolo with her friend Nandita Sood. It has created an innovative and fun way to introduce Hindi to both heritage and foreign language learners. She says, “Based on extensive research and designed with inputs from linguists, early childhood educators, speech therapists, yoga instructors, dancers, and musicians, BoloBolo teaches Hindi in a play-based methodology so kids can enjoy learning it.”
Given the delicious treats at her holiday party, perhaps Nandini Mukherjee should also start cooking classes for adults! Here she shares some of the recipes and the stories behind them.
“I grew up in a Bengali family and went to Sacred Heart Convent, a Catholic school where Christmas was a big deal. All the enthusiasm around Christmas at school percolated its way back home. We had a Christmas tree every year which we would decorate with much enthusiasm with ornaments bought from shops in Kolkata’s New Market. We would excitedly wait to open our gifts on Christmas morning under our tree at home, and then go to the club to receive more gifts from Santa. We would indulge in fruit cakes, mince pies and caramel custard. We would sing Christmas carols with full ardor throughout the day.”
A Bengali Christmas Menu
Nandini Mukherjee’s party in New York hosted with her husband Chetan Gandhi was a combined celebration of Christmas and New Year.
The menu included Phutchka (Pani Puri),Birds Nest beet Chops, Achari Paneer Sushi, Singara (Samosa), and Aloo Dum in Luchi Cones. The non-vegetarian dishes included Fish Fingers, Narkel Shorshe Prawn Sushi (Mustard prawns steamed in banana leaves), Quail egg Devils, Chicken Seekh Kebab Coins and a dish you don’t see too often in New York – Meter Chorchori on cucumber coins (Spiced Goat liver)
And what’s a Bengali celebration without dessert? Mukherjee had a gaggle of sweets – Rasgulla,Lichi and rose Sandesh, Mishti Doi with pomegrate coulis, Hand shaped cookies and Coconut Kheer. All topped by Paan Truffles!
Nandini Mukherjee shared some of the recipes with Lassi with Lavina readers along with stories about why these three eats were so special to her.
Three Favorite Dishes, Three Recipes
Kosha Mangsho on Edible Toasted SpoonsKosha Mangsho is an all time favorite. It is the quintessential Bengali goat curry which is lovingly marinated overnight and braised lovingly on low heat over 2 hours to deliver a tender falling-off the bone meat bursting with the flavor of the spices. I grew up eating this every Sunday and in my mind it signals family time and food bliss!
It’s eaten with steamed rice or luchis (Bengali puri) on the day it’s made, but even more special is eating it with toasted buttered bread the day after when the meat has further absorbed the flavors. It is this memory I tried to channelize when I decided to make bite sized portions of kosha mangsho on toasted edible bread spoons.
Jhal MuriJhal muri is the Bengali version of Bhelpuri and is a teatime favorite. It is made with puffed rice tossed with cucumber, onion, tomatoes, green chillies, chanachur, and chat masala and then mixed with mustard oil which gives it its pungency; and finally topped with cilantro and sev for a crunchy burst of an amalgamation of flavors.It is also linked with memories of train journeys where vendors would invariably tempt you with jhal muri sold in newspaper cones. It is this memory which translated into the jhal muri bites in bamboo cones.
Paan trufflesPaan was a forbidden treat which we grew up seeing the adults enjoy and as children we could indulge in it on special occasions. I loved the meetha paan (sweet betel leaves) loaded with gulkand (rose petal preserve), desiccated coconut and fennel. It is redolent with memories of wedding receptions where we would sneakily gratify our taste buds with paan when our parents weren’t watching us.
It is a palate cleanser and signals the end of a meal. The paan truffles are a combination of two of my favorite sweet indulgences from childhood: chocolate and meetha paan. You can enjoy the chocolate and as you delve deeper into it, the flavor of the meetha paan kicks in to give you a delightful sensory overload.
Kosha Mangsho (Braised Goat Curry) on Toasted Edible Spoons
2lb Baby goat
2 large red onions
4 garlic pods
½ inch ginger
2 tbsp yogurt
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chili powder
2 tsp plus ¼ cup mustard oil
2 large potato, quartered
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp red chili powder
Garam Masala (4 green cardamom, 2 cloves, 1 cinnamon stick)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp sugar
1 large red onion, sliced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 cup water
Salt to taste
1 green chillies, sliced
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
Wash the meat and pat dry. Make a paste of the onion, garlic and ginger and add it to the meat. Also add the yogurt to the meat. Add turmeric powder, salt, red chili powder & 2 tsp mustard oil. Marina overnight. Heat the mustard oil in a deep bottom pan. Cut the potatoes into quarters. Mix with turmeric powder & salt. Fry & keep aside.
Add the bay leaf and the garam masala to the same oil. Fry it for 30 seconds. Then add sugar, fry till caramelized & brown. Then add sliced onions and fry it till light brown.
Add the tomato paste, coriander & cumin powder and fry it on slow heat till oil starts coming out. Add a little water if the spices starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the marinated meat. Fry it on slow heat (around 45 mins) till it becomes dry and oil starts coming out.
Add 1 cup water. Boil the meat in a closed pan in low heat, stirring frequently as required. Once the meat is ¾ done, add the potatoes and keep stirring on open flame till water evaporates. Add green chilies.
Let it cool and pull out the meat from the bone.
Add 1 tbsp of the pulled meat to each toasted spoon, top with cilantro and serve.
Toasted Edible Spoons
10 Stainless steel soup spoons
Spoon cookie cutter
25 Slices white bread
½ cup Melted butter
Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees.
Remove the crust of the bread. Roll the bread flat with a rolling pin.
Next, neatly layer about 5 pieces of bread on top of one another. Push the spoon-shape cutter through the bread.
While the edible spoons are still together, poke 3 holes through with a toothpick to prevent them from forming bubbles. Peel the spoons apart. Brush with melted butter.
Line the bread inside the bottom of the spoon and press down with your thumbs, working your way to the top of the spoon.
Place the spoons on a baking pan, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Keep an eye on the edible spoons to make sure they don’t burn.
Once golden brown, place the bread spoons on a drying rack to cool down.
You can blend the remaining parts of the bread slices in a food processor to make breadcrumbs
For the Spice Base:
1½ teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon tamarind paste (not concentrate)
1 tsp lime juice
3/4 tsp chat masala
1/2 teaspoon black salt
For the mixture:
½ small cucumber peeled and finely diced
½ medium sized roma tomato, diced
½ red onion, finely diced
¼ cup potato (peeled, boiled, diced)
1 green chili, finely chopped (optional)
1 tablespoons dry roasted peanuts
2 tablespoon cooked brown chickpeas
3 tablespoons Indian spicy mix called chanachoor (optional)
1 tablespoon finely diced coconut
2 cups puffed rice or muri
1½ teaspoon mustard oil 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
¼ cup Sev or Indian Crispy noodles to finish
Dry roast the cumin and the red chili until the cumin is fragrant and a few shades darker, grind to a powder and place in a mixing bowl.
Add in the tamarind paste and squeeze in the lime juice and stir in 1 tablespoon of water. Mix in the freshly ground cumin and red chili and the black salt and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, mix in the cucumber, tomato, onion, green chili (if using), roasted peanuts, chickpeas, the chanachoor (if using), and the diced coconut and mix well.
Stir in the tamarind and spice dressing and mix well.
Finally add in the puffed rice, drizzle with the mustard oil, chopped cilantro and mix well. Garnish with the sev and serve immediately.
Makes 42 truffles
2 chocolate molds , 21 cavities each
1 lb varlhona milk chocolate
3 meetha (sweet) paan, without any supari inside
Oil a chocolate mold.
Mince the paan into little pieces. Cut the chocolate into little pieces.
Heat water in a saucepan. Once it boils, top with a bowl to form a double boiler. Add the chocolate and stir till melted. Add the paan pieces and mix well, around five minutes.
Pour the mix into chocolate molds. Put the mold in the freezer for 15 minutes or till set.
Unmold and store in a cool, dry place.
(Copyright Nandini Mukherjee | Bengali Recipes)
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