Bengali Thali

I was standing there, watching the waves dance. Hubby and kiddo were playing hide and seek with the waves. Teasing the water to come and touch their feet.

At the horizon, the anchored ships had switched the lights on, they were now twinkling like little stars far far away.

I decided to let the waves kiss my feet. I wanted to feel the salty, chilling water wash away all my worries. I looked down to watch them come and bury my feet in the sand.

Only I couldn’t. My paunch was coming in between.

Not one to take a hint easily, I stretched a bit further to see the waves bury my feet. I could still not see my feet, only my paunch was visible.

OK, I get the message. Time for some serious measures to watch my weight. No more fatty food.

While I ponder over the point, you guys enjoy this great thali, dishes prepared from the state of Bengal. Just like dieting sounds alien to me, Bengali cuisine is also foreign for me. So thanks a ton, Vaishali, for your insight into Bengali food and for helping me design the menu. Without your help, I would have been totally lost!

Like Kerala Sadya, Bengali food too has some rules when it comes to the food. I read about Bengali Cuisine here, written by Sandeepa of Bong Mom’s Cookbook.

Rice is the main cereal there, just like in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The first course has bitter gourd or neem leaves (something bitter) in it, this is supposed to have cleansing properties.

It is followed by rice and dal, with a fried bhaja or any other seasonal vegetable as a side dish. Fish and meat courses follow, but for vegetarian meals, paneer is a common substitute.

Then comes the chutney round. I tried getting pineapples, but I was out of luck that day. Went in for a raw mango chutney, and boy! it tasted so good.

The last round is yogurt and then some sweet. I made misti doi. I cooked the milk in the pressure cooker and I don’t know what I did wrong, the texture didn’t come out right. The taste was yum, but the texture didn’t come close to even my usual thick yogurt. Just bad luck, I guess.

The menu:

  • Vegetarian Dishes/ Curries
    • Ucche Bhaja : Bittergourd cooked and fried in oil
    • Begun Bhaja : Deep fried eggplant
    • Aloo Poshto : Potato in Poppy seeds (I was not able to grind the seeds properly!)
    • Cholar Dal : Dal made with chana dal, made on festivals and special occasions.
    • Chanar Dalna : Paneer and green peas curry
  • Rice
  • Sides
  • Sweet
    • Rasgolla : Paneer balls, cooked in sugar syrup

Ingredients for Eggplant fry (Begun Bhaja):

For Ucche Bhaja, bitter gourd fry, substitute brinjal with bitter guard and follow the same recipe. 

  • Eggplant , big variety              : 1
  • Turmeric powder                     :  1/2 tsp
  • Salt
  • Oil for deep frying

Method:

  1. Wash and pat the brinjal dry. Cut into 1/2″ thick round slices.
  2. Apply salt and turmeric powder.
  3. Heat oil in a pan. Deep fry brinjal until crisp and brown on both sides.
  4. Drain on a paper towel and serve hot.
  5. I have cut mine too thin. It should be a little more thick.

Except for the rasgolla and the dal, I am making everything for the first time. I hope I have done it right. This is a first time Bengali thali for me and I really loved the food. Who thought eggplants would be so tasty when fried with salt and a pinch of turmeric?!

Aam Pora Sherbet:

Ingredients:

  • Raw Mangoes          :        2
  • Sugar                           :   a varying quantity, depending totally on the sourness of mangoes. Start with 1/3 cup
  • Salt                               :     a pinch
  • Mint leaves               :   a handful, optional
  • Water or Soda for serving : 4-5 cups, again need to taste test and adjust accordingly.

Method:

  1. The first step is to get the mango pulp. Then for serving, the pulp can be diluted with water or with soda.
  2. Wash, clean and pat the mangoes dry. Roast them directly in open flame (like how we do for Baingan bhaja) or I guess you can bake them until they are soft as well.
  3. Turn the mangoes with a pair of tongs cook both sides. Once the skin is black and blistered, keep aside to cool.
  4. Once its cool to handle, peel the charred skin off. Wash thoroughly so that there are no burnt pieces left and squeeze the pulp out. Collect it in a bowl.
  5. Add sugar and a pinch of salt and handful of washed mint leaves (optional) and blend in a mixer/blender.
  6. This is the concentrate. I finished off mine then itself , so never really got around storing it.
  7. Add 3-4 cups of water and blend again. Check the sugar and add more if required. The quantity of water and sugar will depend on the sourness of mangoes. So start with a lesser quantity and work your way upwards.
  8. Pour into tall glasses and serve cool with ice cubes.

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South Indian Breakfast – Idli Vada Sambar

Summer vacation is here , the most dreaded time for any parent. Vacation camps and classes are saviors for many, else entertaining a single kid at home is no easy task.

So, I was surprised when Mittu – my neighbor’s daughter, informed me that she is not going to dance class anymore. Its vacation and kid being even an hour away from home means a lot for sanity, so I checked with her mom the reason behind it.

And her mom said that Mittu’s dance looks more like Bhagyaraj doing exercise than dance itself. So after waiting for a long time to see whether Mittu will dance with some grace, her mom finally decided to take her out of the class as a show of respect to the art.

Mittu is now going to Hindi class instead, where she is really shining.

Like Mittu bowing down to the art and moving out, I had bowed out of the art of deep frying. I cannot even fry a papad, I would brown them. But finally I gathered some courage, poured the oil and made some vada. And the funny thing was that they came out well and paired wonderfully with idlis for this tiffin thali. A couple of them went into the Punjabi Thali as Dahi Vada too.

So may be, at some point of time, Mittu too might dance with some grace!

Items:

Ingredients for Tomato Chutney:

  • Onion                     :             1 big, chopped roughly
  • Tomatoes             :             2 medium, chopped
  • Red Chilies           :             3-4, per taste
  • Roasted Gram    :             1-2 tbsp
  • Salt
  • Oil

Method:

  1. In a microwave proof bowl, add the chopped onions and a teaspoon of oil, mix so that the oil coats the onion. Cook on high (do not close with a lid) for two minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes and the chilies next. Microwave for another 3-4 minutes, until the tomatoes are cooked.
  3. Wait for it to cool down and then blend in a mixie with roasted gram and salt. I usually add a tbsp of roasted gram and then do a taste check before adding more.
  4. Serve with dosa or idli. If preferred, season with mustard and urad dal seeds.

Coconut Chutney:

  • Grind together 1 cup coconut, a handful of roasted gram (2-3 tbsp pottu kadalai), 2-3 green chillies, 1/2 tsp tamarind paste (or a small ball of tamarind), salt as required. Add ons can be : 1/4 cup coriander leaves, 1/4 cup mint leaves, a small piece of ginger, 1/2 cup of sauteed onion and tomato mix etc
  • If desired, we can season this with mustard seeds, curry leaves and urad dal.

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Simple South Indian Thali – Tamil Nadu

Like it or not, we have to eat three times a day. Once the breakfast is over and you catch your breath, its time for lunch. And after a relaxed lunch, when you feel sleepy and at peace with the whole wide world, the stomach starts grumbling again.Time for dinner.

This cycle doesn’t stop. Its fine actually, I love eating different kinds of food. The snag is that I just don’t like cooking them. Not three times a day, seven days a week, four weeks a month (you get the idea).

So weekends are dedicated to restaurants. But after one point, your wallet and your stomach protest at the very thought. So when I need really good home made food, I turn to my mother in law. An awesome cook, even her everyday food is a mini thali. Like the thali here. It tastes as good as it looks too.

I made just that rasam so that I can post it here without any guilt.

Everyday Tamil Nadu Meals Menu:

  • Vegetable Dishes and Curries
    • Keerai Masial : Spinach cooked and mashed
    • Raw Banana Podimas : Cooked and grated raw bananas cooked with minimum spices
    • Rasam : Made with ginger and green chilies
    • Mor Kuzhambu : Yogurt based gravy, with ash gourd cooked in
  • Plain Rice
  • Dal
  • Sides
    • Banana Chips : Store bought, usually we have pappadom
    • Lemon Pickle : Home made
  • Sweet
    • Motichur ladoo : Store bought

Usually, rice is served with sambar/mor kuzhambu/ kuzhambu and a vegetable side dish. In some homes, two side dishes are common. A second course is with rice, rasam and the same vegetable side dish. Final round is rice and curd with pickle. Sweet is not common as part of regular meals.

Recipe adapted from here

Ingredients for Rasam:

  • Tamarind paste                    :          1 tsp
  • Toor dal                                  :           1/4 cup, cooked
  • Tomato                                   :           1, chopped fine
  • Ginger                                      :           1″ piece, chopped
  • Green Chilies                        :            1
  • Sambar powder                   :            2 tsp
  • Pepper powder                    :            1/2 tsp
  • Salt

Method:

  1. Mix the tamarind paste with two cups of water. Add the tomatoes, green chili, ginger, sambar powder, pepper powder, salt and bring it to a boil.
  2. Let it boil for 5-8 minutes, till the raw smell of tamarind goes away. Mash the tomatoes well with a ladle. Do a taste test and adjust seasonings and add one more cup of water, if required.
  3. Add the dal, let it boil for another 3-4 minutes and take off the heat.
  4. For tempering, heat one teaspoon of ghee in a small kadai. Add mustard seeds and a pinch of hing. Add 4-5 curry leaves and once it turns color, add it to the rasam. Serve hot with rice and papad.

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Gujarati Thali

Check out a mini version of this thali here.

A decade before, I had been to a Gujarati restaurant with my two brothers. We ordered the unlimited Thali meals. The pleasant waiter started fine, bringing all the delicacies with enthusiasm. But towards the end, he totally ignored our table.

Can’t blame him, because that’s how much my brothers ate! After all the restaurants too are there to make a profit. With a few patrons like my brothers, they can kiss good bye to their profit.

Anyway, it was all long time back. My brothers are grown up now (old old old!) and their food intake is normal now. But I can never forget those growing up years and our appetite at that time.

So even though my brothers were not received kindly at Gujarati restaurants, this food has held a fascination for me. I love the light phulkas they serve for the thalis. Super soft and fluffy.

I have tried recreating a mini thali here, and it indeed proves how much old I have become, I just had to look at the spread to feel full!

Some of the dishes are from Nita Mehta’s book Taste of Gujarat. Others are from the internet, so I have no idea how authentic they are. So please bear with me in case I have gotten them wrong.

Gujarati Thali

*Scroll down for recipe

  • Vegetable dishes and Curries
    • Sev Tameta Nu Shaak* : Tomatoes cooked with spices and served with farsaan sev
    • Tindora Nu Shaak* : Ivy gourd cooked with simple spices
    • Batata Nu Shaak : Simple Potato subzi
    • Khatti Mitti Dal : Sweet, sour and spicy lentil preparation
    • Gujarati Kadhi : Yogurt and besan based preparation
  • Plain rice
  • Roti
    • Bakri : A thick flat bread, made with whole wheat
  • Sides
    • Mint Coriander Chutney  : same as in Punjabi Thali
    • Khaman Dhokla:  A healthy snack made with besan. Microwave version
    • Panha* : A drink made with cooked raw mango that is pureed with cardamom powder and sugar (**The book had this as a Gujarati drink, but its actually from Maharashtra)
  • Sweet
    • Jalebi : A fried sweet, dipped in sugar syrup. Store bought!

Sev Tameta nu Shaak
  • Tomatoes                                :       2 cups, chopped
  • Turmeric powder                :  1/4 tsp
  • Chilli powder                         :    1/2 – 1 tsp
  • Coriander – jeera powder : 1 tsp
  • Sugar/Jaggery                      :     1 tsp
  • Salt
  • Farsan sev                              :       1/2 cup, readymade
For tempering
  • Oil                                              :         1 tbsp
  • Mustard seeds                      :         1/2 tsp
  • Asafoetida(hing/kayam) :         a pinch 
Method:
  1. Heat oil. Add the mustard seeds and once it crackles, add hing.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes. Add the chilli powder, salt, turmeric powder and coriander-jeera powder. Mix.
  3. Add the sugar/jaggery as well. Mix until everything combines well. Add 1/4 cup water, turn the heat to low and let the tomatoes cook till soft and release their juices. Do a taste test and adjust seasonings.
  4. At the time of serving, add the farsaan sev as garnish.
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Tindora Nu Shaak:

Ingredients:

  • Tindora/kovakka/Ivy gourd  :  1/4 kg
  • Turmeric powder                         :    1/4 tsp
  • Chilli powder                                  :   1/2 tsp
  • Coriander-cumin powder         :   1 tsp
  • Jaggery                                             :    2 tsp (optional)
  • Salt

For tempering:

  • Oil                                                 :        2 tsp
  • Mustard seeds                         :       1/2 tsp
  • Hing                                             :       a pinch

Method:

  1. Wash, clean and slice each tindora lengthwise into 4-6 pieces. (Cut into half lengthwise and cut each half in middle again. If those pieces are really big, then slice them once more lengthwise).
  2. Microwave covered for 6-8 minutes or until tindora is cooked and soft, checking and stirring once every 3-4 minutes. This can be done in stove top as well, but I used MW.
  3. Once its cooked, heat oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds and once it crackles, add the hing. Add the cooked tindora and the spice powders, jaggery and salt. Sprinkle water if its too dry.
  4. Cover and cook for 4-5 minutes for the flavors to mingle. Stir in between and add more water to avoid sticking to the pan.  Do a taste test, adjust seasonings if required. Serve.

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Ingredients for Panha:

  • Raw mango                   :    1, peeled and chopped
  • Sugar                               :   1/4 cup
  • Cardamom powder  : 1/2 tsp

Method:

  1. Cook the raw mango with half cup of water. I did this in the Microwave.
  2. Once its cooked and has cooled down, puree it in the mixer with sugar. Strain.
  3. Add cardamom powder and mix. When ready to serve, in a glass tumbler, take about 2-3 tbsp of this concentrate.
  4. Add cool water and bring it to the brim. Serve chilled.

The jalebi and the sev used for tomato curry is store bought. Everything else was made at home.

I have made kadhi multiple times, but other than that I am cooking most of them for the first time. Surprisingly, I found that the dishes weren’t all that different from our typical South Indian cooking. There was no coconut used, but the side dishes were cooked with chili powder and coriander powder. Not too much of masalas or unheard of exotic spices!

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Sadya – B&W Wednesday

Sadya, the traditional feast of Kerala. Featuring the dishes here. You can read more about Sadya here.

The potato curry and mango slices are not usually part of the sadya, but I have added them anyway.

Also, some items like pickle, sharkara varatti, inji curry, pappadam was not in the menu that day.

My mother in law prepared this entire set, with me doing sort of an assistant job.

The dishes are served in a banana leaf traditionally.

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