Bengali cuisine, with many uniques, has also got the uniqueness of having quite a few recipe styles. Styles which yield food that is nothing short of being heavenly (at least for the millions of Bengalis out there in the world). These styles, or better called success formulas, whether applied on the most expensive fish or more humble vegetables, or even the lowly peels, skins and scales of the expensive produce, always and always end up resulting in something delicious. Agreeably not always the most appealing to look at, but always definitely and certainly finger-licking-good.
Talking about peels & skins of vegetables and scales & bones of fish, these were once the humble household special. But owing to their immense flavour-fulness they gradually became favourites across strata in society, though always more favoured by women of the homes. Talking about classes again, brings forward yet another unique fact about the bengali culture - there is a remarkable similarity in the eating styles across social strata; meaning as long as they can afford it everyone in Bengal eats fish and meat, irrespective of their caste.
Coming back to recipe styles, there are some 24 (that I know of), that I am listing below. Each entry is a different class of recipe and produces different dishes basis the ingredients chosen. So here they are, in order of their probable appearance in a typical bengali meal:-
Bhate or Sheddho - Means steamed with rice. It is typically any vegetable, such as potatoes, beans, pumpkins, bitter gourd, okra or even dal, first boiled whole and then mashed and seasoned with mustard oil or ghee, salt and green chillies (and sometimes even some chopped onions). Traditionally the vegetables are placed on top of the rice when it is being cooked. And get steamed as the rice cooks. The rice here is typically cooked in a pot. Quite a clever thing to do; saves a lot of fuel. And the sugars of the rice make the veggies taste even better.
Pora - The word literally means charred. Vegetables are wrapped in banana leaves and roasted over a wood, charcoal or coal fire, and more often now over a gas flame. Some vegetables with skin such as brinjals, are put directly on the flame or coals. The roasted vegetable is then mixed with onions, oil and spices.
Bhaja - Anything fried, by itself. Is normally eaten with dal.
|Kumro Phooler Bora|
Bora - These are croquettes made of veggies, fish roe, and sometimes even spices like Poppy seeds. These are normally mixed up with gram flour, or all purpose flour, or sometimes wheat flour along with onions, green chillies, chopped ginger and sometimes a sprinkling of nigella seeds. Kumro phool and pata (pumpkin blossoms and leaves) make for very unique and loved variants of this recipe style.
Shukto - It is a mix of vegetables with an emphasis to the bitterness, a preparation where instead of hiding the bitterness , it is the taste around which the dish evolves. The bitter taste is said to be good for cleansing the palate and also for letting the digestive juices flow.
Chorchori - Usually a vegetable dish with one or more varieties of vegetables cut into longish strips, sometimes with the stalks of leafy greens added, all lightly seasoned with spices like mustard or poppy seeds and flavoured with a phoron (tempering spice). The head and bone of large fish like bhetki or chitol can be made into a chochchori called kata chochchori.
Chechki - Tiny pieces of one or more vegetable or, sometimes even the peels (of potatoes, bottle gourd, pumpkin or pointed gourd/parwal for example), usually flavoured with paanch-phoron (a special mix of fenugreek, fennel, mustard, nigella and celery seeds) or whole mustard seeds or black cumin. Chopped onion and garlic are sometimes used, but hardly any ground spices.
Chanchra - A combination dish made with different vegetables, portions of fish head and fish oil or its entrails.
Ghonto - Different complementary vegetables (like cabbage, green peas, potatoes or banana blossom, coconut, chickpeas) are chopped or finely grated and cooked with both a phoron and ground spices. Boris (or dried pellets of ground dal) are often added to the ghonto. Ghee is commonly added at the end. Non-vegetarian ghontos are also made, with fish or fish heads added to vegetables. The famous muri-ghonto is made with fish heads cooked in a fine variety of rice.
Torkari - A general term often used in Bengal the way ‘curry’ is used in English or ‘sabzi’ in Hindi. The word actually means uncooked garden vegetables. From this it was a natural extension to mean cooked vegetables or even fish and vegetables cooked together.
Paturi - Typically fish, seasoned with a mix of mustard, coconut, green chillies and turmeric, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed or roasted over a charcoal fire. This style has now been adapted to create mouth-watering variations with minced chicken, meat and cottage cheese.
Dalna - Mixed vegetables (especially pointed gourd and cauliflower along with potatoes) or eggs, cooked in medium thick gravy seasoned with ground spices, especially gorom moshla and a touch of ghee. Dhokar Dalna (made with Chana Dal cakes) is a specialty that sits in a soft corner in almost every bengali heart, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike.
Jhol - A light fish or vegetable stew seasoned with ground spices like ginger, cumin, coriander, chili, and turmeric with pieces of fish and longitudinal slices of vegetables floating in it. The gravy is thin yet extremely flavourful. Whole green chillies are usually added at the end and green coriander leaves are used to season for extra taste. This term is also used to refer to any type of stew in meat, fish or vegetable dishes.
Jhal - Literally meaning, 'hot'. A great favourite in primarily West Bengali households (even today bengalis divide themselves food-wise into ‘Ghotis’ from West Bengal and ‘Bangals’ from East Bengal, which is now Bangladesh). This is made with fish or shrimp or crab, first lightly fried and then cooked in a light sauce of ground red chilli or ground mustard and a flavouring of paanch-phoron, or black cumin. Being dry, it is often eaten with a little bit of dal poured over the rice.
Kalia - A very rich preparation of fish, meat or vegetables using a lot of oil and ghee with a sauce usually based on ground ginger and onion paste and gorom moshla.
Kosha - Usually a slow cooking method that gives the most velvety gravy. Is an onion, ginger-garlic, yoghurt, ground spices and gorom moshla based dish made primarily with animal proteins, sometimes boiled eggs and even vegetables like potatoes, cauliflower, unripened jackfruit, etc. However, the first thing that comes to mind is the ‘Kosha Mangsho’ (the bengali special rich mutton gravy), a specialty for all occasions and festivities.
Bhuna - A term of Urdu origin, and applies to meat cooked in spices for a long time without water. The spices are slow-cooked in oil (bhunno). The spices first absorb the oil, and when fully cooked release the oil again.
Bhapa - Fish or vegetables steamed with oil and spices. A classic steaming technique is to pour it all in a tightly closed box and cook it in a double boiler method.
Korma - Another term of Urdu origin literally meaning braised with onions. In this style meat or chicken cooked in a mild onion and yogurt sauce with ghee.
Khichudi - Rice mixed with moong dal or masoor dal and vegetables, and in some cases, boiled or fried eggs. Usually cooked with minimal use of spices and turmeric powder. It is a specialty that is loved whenever there is a pujo happening. Also on very rainy days bengalis do tend to favour eating khichudi with some bhaja preferably Ilish maach bhaja.
Polau - Or pulao. Fragrant dish of rice with ghee, spices and small pieces of vegetables. While long grained basmati is more often used now, some aromatic short grained varieties, especially the Gobindobhog, were traditionally used and make the most delectable polaus.
Biriyani - The Awadhi variant that comes with a special addition of large chunks of potatoes and boiled eggs. While mainly cooked with lamb, chicken and beef (in Bangladesh and Muslim homes), new adaptations with various fishes are also done and loved.
Ombol/Tok - A sour dish made either with several vegetables or with fish, the sourness being produced by the addition of tamarind pulp or lime juice.
Chatni - Usually saved for the last, just before the Misti Doi and sweets are served. Bengali Chatnis are usually more sweet in taste and are served with papad. They are normally tempered with mustard seeds or paanch phoron and would normally be made of tomatoes, mangoes (both green and the ripe ones), dates, pineapples, aam papad, raisins, etc, sometimes individually and at times with a few of these ingredients together. The 'plastic chatni' made of unripened papaya is an all time party special.
|Kaancha Aamer Chatni|
The clan of sweets is obviously not covered here. Because that is a different realm altogether and requires a lot of information collection again. So saving it for a later post, some other time.