Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bengali Begun Pora/ Roasted Eggplant Bharta

Some call it the melancholy fruit, some call it without any “gun” (talent). I call it Begun, Bengali for Eggplant or Aubergine or Brinjal.

All around the world this talentless eggplant is cooked in many ways- batter-fried, crescents fried in oil called begun bhaja, roasted, broiled or boiled and mashed. Making it one of the most congenial “fruits”, probably second only to the potato.

Come winter, India is flooded with plump, dark purple eggplants. In some parts of the country, the large, round variety of eggplants are also called Bhanta

stock-photo-a-round-eggplant-isolated-on-a-white-background-59226370 (1) That’s what my Mother uses for Bengali Begun Pora (Bengali Baingan Bharta). Since eggplant oxidizes very quickly, make sure you cut an eggplant just before you are ready to cook it.

Ingredients for Bengali Begun Pora are:

1 eggplant, slit lengthwise, make sure you keep its stem on
Handful of fresh coriander, coarsely chopped
1 medium red onion, slivered finely
Few green chilies, broken from the middle
Generous drizzle of mustard oil

34180_131303390224266_118032338218038_213325_6768331_n Smoke or roast the eggplant. Hold the eggplant over a low open gas flame. Rotate frequently. I used my stove-top rack on my cooking range.

34180_131303393557599_118032338218038_213326_2663353_n 34180_131303396890932_118032338218038_213327_4779942_n You will see that the skin of the eggplant will gradually darken, it will start to sag, and you will notice a pleasant smoky smell. Its time to turn the kitchen vent on!

34180_131303400224265_118032338218038_213328_1078131_n In the meantime, keep all your other ingredients ready.

34180_131303403557598_118032338218038_213329_1141720_n After about 20 minutes (or half an hour depending on the size of the eggplant), when the skin is completely charred, remove the eggplant from the flame. Allow the eggplant to cool, then discard the skin. Mash the eggplant with the back of a fork or use your hands.

36101_131303693557569_118032338218038_213330_3565804_n Add the onion, green chilies, coriander leaves, mustard oil and salt and mix well.

37013_131303696890902_118032338218038_213331_4097260_n 34141_131303700224235_118032338218038_213332_3320888_n The smoke-kissed Bengali Begun Pora is now ready to be eaten with ruti (chapati).


Friday, October 29, 2010

You, Me and Michael

Have I ever told you about my huge culinary crush on Canadian chef Michael Smith? He is like the Amitabh Bachchan of the food world. Not just toweringly tall at six feet three inches, but humble, oozing that very-guy-next-door feel and extremely easy going. He’s exactly the kind of man you want in the kitchen.

He lives in a huge house by the ocean, has a pantry the size of my living room, a wife he cooks for and a son who adores him.
ChefMichael_n_lgAnd just yesterday I meet this elderly lady from Pakistan in a supermarket who loves him too! Another generation smitten by him.

I watch Chef at Home, everyday at in the morning, and there have been times, I have even watched the repeat show in the evening. Yes, he can get very addictive if you love freestyle, homemade cooking.

i_recipesearchBut that is not all about city boy Michael, who has made the country his home now. He is specially kind to animals, even the ones who land up on his grill and gas.


I have made a few a few recipes of his, like the stuffed chicken thighs wrapped in bacon and just yesterday, this Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese Sandwich. And may I add, for the second time in two weeks.

Ingredients for Michael Smith’s Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese Sandwich are:

Slices of bread
Slices of smoked salmon
Half a red onion, very finely sliced
Half cup cream cheese, softened
Fresh dill, chopped finely
Fresh black pepper

Make a spread with the softened cream cheese, capers, chopped dill and red onion. Add freshly cracked pepper to it.

IMG_2347Spread the cream cheese spread on the bread, top it with the smoked salmon and close with another slice of bread. You can make triangles or squares with these. Bite into the sandwich. Subtle, smoky and very creamy.

IMG_2348I served these sandwiches with my latest favorite, that clear chicken soup.

IMG_2343IMG_2341 Perfect for a Fall evening.

IMG_2363 What’s your favorite Fall meal?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Banana Bride

This is a supermarket find again. IKEA to be precise. I went there to get candles for Diwali, and fell in love with this Musa Banana Plant.

Now we Bengalis hold a banana plant in high esteem, apart from its culinary and cultural sanctity, we also believe that the Banana Plant is Ganesha’s wife!

Legend has it that Ganesha was setting off to get married. The wedding party left, while Mother Durga waited at home. In case you did not know, Durga has 10 hands. Why? Because she is the super woman. Apparently, Ganesh had forgotten something at home, probably his BlackBerry.

As he returned home, he saw his Mommy with her hands stretched out, eating with all of them. Astonished the elephant-headed Sonny asked why was she doing this. To which Durga said, “Tor bou aashle judi khete na daye.” Meaning, your new bride may not give me food to eat.

Dejected and unhappy with himself, Ganesha quickly made a decision that he wouldn’t get home a bou, slashed a banana plant nearby and said to Mommy, “E nao tomaar bou”. Meaning, a mute banana plant wouldn’t dare to usurp your position at home.

IMG_2379 IMG_2371IMG_2378 Thus started strange obsessions of Bong Mothers with their sons. Ma Dugga left a very strong precedence and till date no Bengali Mother has let go off her adult, married son. Strange obsessions of the recent times. But let me warn you, not all Bengali brides are like the mute, obliging Banana Bride of our Gonesh. But let’s not go there. At least for now.

Okay, where was I? IKEA.

As I kept the Musa Banana on the window sill, which incidentally has a stone Ganesha (which has chipped and I am using it as a book end), I got reminded of this mythological story and thought I’d share with you.

IMG_2370IMG_2376 IMG_2380 IMG_2374 IMG_2375 

If you haven’t noticed yet, next time you are celebrating Durga Puja, watch closely and you will see a coy-looking Banana Bride by Ganesha’s side.


Chicken Soup for a Cause

There is nothing remotely romantic about men who talk to your breasts. Its uncomfortable and downright disgusting to have someone stare at you in a manner which is not only inappropriate but also comes close to being “unlawful”.

The Blog world is full of posts on Pink Power and the cause and awareness of Breast Cancer, well there is another kind of cancer that affects individuals with breasts!

I was still naive in my first job at a large encyclopedia company. I was also very aware of the fact that every time I talked to a certain male colleague, I “mesmerized” him in a way which was all too new for me. His eyes remained transfixed. The gaze just wouldn’t shift. Initially I thought it was me. The next few times I had the need to talk to him, I would shield myself with the latest edition of The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus. But his peering gaze bore through its hard covers. Neither Merriam nor Webster could provide an armor for me.

I talked about it to another colleague. Apparently she was a victim too. Soon, we were all talking about the man who stared at… And he did not even look like George Clooney!!

I was definitely not alone.

In my last life in an ITES corporation, I was no more naive, no more the duckling trying to become a swan. I was the swan in four-inch stilettos. And my hawk eyes met another such highly placed honcho, who was in the habit of having conversations with the chest.

The first time he talked corporate policies and tools and technology in the Knowledge Management domain to my breasts, I did brush it off thinking it was my imagination (read paranoia).

The second time, I was not so kind. As his stare shifted, so did I, on my swivel chair. I slid in my seat to meet his eyes. I stooped low to meet his gaze. But it was all worth it. He never looked at me again. Not even my eyes.

This Chicken Soup is not related in anyway to the above incidents (or the people), except that I used chicken breast portions for my soup which is now becoming a highly recommended source of calm and cure when the mind is racing and the nose is runny.


Ingredients for my Chicken Soup are:

2 portions of chicken breasts
One small onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon very finely chopped ginger
Half cup finely chopped green beans
Half cup finely chopped carrots
Half cup green peas
Half cup chopped coriander/cilantro
1 tablespoon butter
Black pepper

Make the broth by boiling the portions of chicken, onion, salt and pepper with 6-7 cups of water. Cook covered.

Remove the boiled chicken pieces and shred.

Just before you are ready to have the soup, crank the heat up of the broth, when its come to a raging boil, add the chicken, ginger, green beans, carrots and peas. And butter.

Turn the heat off after about 3-4 minutes. The idea is to keep the vegetables crunchy and retain their color.

IMG_2354 Remove from the stove and add the chopped coriander. Lots of it. Cooking the soup with the coriander in will result in darker leaves which are not too pleasing, just like the looks of these men.

Season with more salt and pepper if needed.

IMG_2278IMG_2281 IMG_2350

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Supermarket Find

I was pleasantly surprised and almost beaming from ear to ear when I found these in a leading Canadian supermarket here in TO.

IMG_2329 I am talking about the clay diyas. The symbol of Diwali. The epitome of grace.

I brought back a couple of boxes of them CAD 2.99 each. IMG_2330 We Bengalis light 14 clay lamps (chhoddo pradip) the evening before Diwali to offer our gratitude to our forefathers. Its a tradition my Mum has been following, and now I am starting to do so. Though its very difficult to remember or know the names of our ancestors.

On Diwali, we Indians go full throttle with all kinds of decorative candles and diya. Call it coincidence or planned connivance, but I even made a couple of hand pinched diyas last week in my Pottery Class!

IMG_2331 Enjoy your Diwali shopping and buy lots of Diyas, they are forever to stay in your hearts and cameras.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mince Meat Masala

Mince meat is one ingredient that does not get the recognition it deserves. This recipe is inspired by the several meat curries I have made in my kitchen. Usually, when I “create” a new recipe, which happens mostly on the spur, I quickly play the flavors in my head. Then I measure, merge and marry ingredients to bring something new to the table. Today it was this Mince Meat Masala and adding a couple of wedged hard-boiled eggs as a garnish was an absolutely new idea, something never tried in the culinary world before!


This Mince Meat Masala or Keema Masala is something in-between a curry and a sauté, which makes it quite versatile. You can eat it either with rice or roti, paratha or naan, or maybe sneak it in a good to go wrap. We chose fluffy phulkas today.


Ingredients for Mince Meat Masala are:

500 grams mince meat (you can use beef, lamb or goat meat, I used extra lean beef today)
1 large red onion, coarsely ground (use the pulse mode of the blender)
2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste
2 medium size, ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
5-6 green chilies finely chopped
2 hard boiled eggs, cut into wedges
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 heaped teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon garam masala powder (I dry grind together green and black cardamoms, cloves, and cinnamon)
1 teaspoon fennel / mota mouri / saunf powder
1 teaspoon dry mint leaves (I dry them when in season and store in glass jars)
1 teaspoon Kasoori Methi leaves, crushed
1 tablespoon vegetable or Canola oil + 1 tablespoon ghee

Heat the oil and ghee in a pan together. Add the bay leaves and cumin seeds, sauté for a 5-6 seconds. Add the onion paste and fry on low-medium heat.

(Tip: If you want a nice color to your meat, add a pinch of sugar to the hot oil, let it smoke and then add the onions. This will caramelize the onions, which in turn will give a great color to your meat curry.)

Once the onions start turning pink, add the chopped green chilies. Continue cooking on medium heat till the onions turn brown in color. Add the mince meat. Fry the meat till all of it turns brown and you can no more see the raw, red color.

IMG_2287IMG_2288 With your spatula, make a little well at the center of the pan and add the ginger-garlic paste. Let it sizzle for a couple of minutes, give it a good mix with the meat.

Now add the chopped tomatoes, all the dry spices, mint and kasoori methi leaves and salt. Mix, cover and cook for 7-8 minutes on low heat.

IMG_2289 At this point, the meat will release a lot of moisture, make sure you turn the heat on and dry up all the extra moisture, but not parching the mince meat up. But if you have, add half a cup of water and let it cook into the meat.

IMG_2290 With the back of your spatula, press the pieces of tomato to mash them well with the meat. Check the seasoning. The fennel will give the meat an exotic, fragrant taste. Don’t miss adding it.

IMG_2293Transfer the Mince Meat Masala in a serving bowl and decorate with the boiled eggs. Serve hot with the suggested accompaniment.


Sending a bowl of this Mince Meat Masala to Patty’s Weekend Wrap Up Party. Hope everyone there enjoys it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Narkel Naru for Lokkhi Puja

Aaj Lokkhi Pujo, which means Narkel Naru is necessary. IMG_2265

So it was natural for me to give in to peer pressure. IMG_2269 IMG_2270IMG_2277 IMG_2260

Ingredients for Narkel Naru/Bengali Coconut Laddu are:

3 cups shredded coconut (fresh or packaged; I used the unsweetened kind)
300 ml sweetened condense milk
1 cup plain milk
6-8 green cardamoms, coarsely ground

Move around the coconut in a thick bottom pan for about 4-5 minutes on very low heat. Add the condense milk and the cup of milk, mix well. Keep the heat at the lowest gas mark.

The coconut and the milk mixture should start bubbling on the sides and get thicker. Keep mixing it with a silicon coated ladle if you have, else use a steel spoon. Make sure you keep scraping the bottom of the pan and watch the mixture all the time.

After about 10 minutes on low heat the mixture would have cooked. Turn the heat off and add the cardamom powder. Give it a good mix and let the coconut mixture cool down.

When the mixture is cool enough for you to handle, make little lemon-size balls with your hands and place on a clean platter. This quantity makes about 20 naru/ laddu.

Store in an airtight box and do refrigerate.

IMG_2274 IMG_2253 The Narkel Naru is an essential offering in many Indian festivals, and particularly the Lokkhi Puja/ Lakshmi Puja that Bengalis do just after Durga Puja.

IMG_2249 IMG_2272IMG_2253 IMG_2257May the Goddess of Prosperity and Wealth shower her blessings on all of you and some Narkel Naru too, but watch that head. Bhalo theko.

More photos are here.