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Bengali Food [split from LA]

The UP Kayasths, e.g. Mathurs, especially those near Delhi, have a VERY elaborate cuisine based upon the Mughal court and modified according to their own set of circumstances. Bengal Kayasthas developed their cooking completely independent of the north Indian Kayasthas with whom they had no social, cultural, linguistic, or marital contacts worthy of note.

The Bengal Kayasthas are as interesting a group being of diffuse identity and incorporating a huge slab of Bengalis in their midst, except for the uppermost Kulin and Maulika branches of east and west Bengal. Same with the Bengali Brahmans and Vaidyas. Each of these have cuisines that have yet to be fully explored, let alone recorded. This mass of homogenization of the past 30 years is sweeping everything away. The modern generation has neither time nor opportunity to learn the old ways, and the landscape of food plants is being completely changed for good.

The food plants and seasonality that I have experienced growing up, and the space required in rural kitchens to prepare the food is gone for ever. This winter, I sent an intern to Nadia district to research the sugar date palm. We were unable to locate th types of cane jaggery that were our staple food in the early 60s. We spoke to old seedsmen and they confirmed several of our most common vegetables were extinct, no seed being found anywhere. Our most treasured bananas were not to be found, being repalced by tissue cultured plants of the Dwarf Cavendish type, once the most expensive, "foreign" variety on the market.

Interestingly, our native varietals of North and South India, for melon, radish, eggplant, tomato and many vegetable crops, exist in their "pure " forms ONLY in the USDA Germplasm banks thanks to seed collecting missions through 1938-49. These have been regularly regrown, but some have been contaminated, especially the melons. Otherwise, we have no other place to go to to recover Indian varietals.

To give just one example, a common saying in Bangala, for "the same old same old" is " the same banana flower stalk, dal vadis, and Moringa greens, and Moringa greens, dal vadis, and banana flower stalk" implying repetiveness. Therefore, these are symbols of such everyday dietary items as to "bore people to death", right? Well, guess what? Today, these things are very rare in the lives of most urbanites! I asked some Dhaka friends and they had rarely tasted such, which used to our staff of life growing up in rural West Bengal! And they are the same age as me. The next generation, rural or urban, east or west Bengal, will find these foods exceedingly alien and bizarre!

Mar 29, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali Food [split from LA]


God bless your hard work and Allah ka shukr it was enjoyed by your family. Nothing to do with me at all.

Now I might have miscommunicated a bit: the initial marinate is seen as crucial, where all the chopped onion tomato, mustard oil, gur, ginger paste, bit of salt, turmeric, chili powder, are all added , and macerated together with the meat. This starts off the unique Bangali flavor, which is very mild and quite typical and distinguishes it a bit from any north Indian . What happens as you will notice is that the ginger is never fried and with the "maakhano" technique of rubbing everything well into the goat meat, elements of the raw ginger and rawish mustard oil taste persist although in faint, slightly mutated form.

As you will now from North Indian cooing, they start with FRYING ginger garlic paste every single time. This is not liked by us. Do you see another friend from the Northern Muslim repertoire but in a form adapted to the Kayastha household? The great zamindars used to have both Muslim bawarchis and excellent European, Maung or Goan chefs, preparing what was called "khana", sumptuous feasts,e very night to entertain the British officials. These were like the 5-star hotel banquets used today to bribe government officials and meant for exactly the same purposes in the days when such facilities were rare. Each zamindar household in Calcutta tried to outdo the other, the great houses of Pathuriaghata, Shyampukur, Fariapukur etc. in North Calcutta were the cynosure of all eyes. They were among the earliest from whom the British had purchased the land for the Fort William, and had included the family of the man who became the soul of the Hare Krishna movement, the Duttas of Hatkhola. Obviously, these families profited enormously by their sagacious alliance! I do wish you could have seen the insides of these fairlylands, even today in a state of utter decay: astonishing Chinese porcelain, carelessly being broken by sweepers and so much that is heartbreaking. But such is the nature of impermanence.

Back to the garlic: the great party or dawat traditions of Muslim cooks would include in their mise, fried onions, fried garlic paste, along with other things. The browned garlic you see is the substitute of the fried garlic paste.

So next time, if you will make this, you can leave out the gur in the marinade, but mash together all the other things, including the raw tomato and onions. That will allows a pool of liquid to collect in the meat and the ginger and other things to work their magic. A true maceration begins, and the whole mess goes into the handi, This is cooked without frying with the bereshta part, the garlic, garam masala and caramel, until the proteinaceous liquid begins to form. I beleieve the fairly long slow cooing allows a complex Maillard reaction to occur. There are several long dissertations on the Maillard reaction suggesting that a LOWER temperature intially allowing the development of the aldehydydes, and the other fractions is important. They suggest that is why adding water to sugar and then caramelizing slowly gives a wider range of flavors. The same is happening here. The sugar + salt is pulling meat juices out in the slow cooing, the raw onions are becoming a soft paste, the bereshta is melting down, and then in the final analysis we are making the Maillard layers appear carefully on the bottom of the pan, and gently incorporating them into the body of the meat, repeatedly.

Now, one more suggestion, if you please. Hold the khuleh haath oil in the beginning: allow the meat to release fat, and not too much oil. In Bengali meat jhols, the beauty is how light they are, and this is THE BASE for a meat jhol/salaan, but is being carried to a deeper bhuna. So when we are going to that level, and the smell becomes really toasty, to prevent sticking as the sticky meat juices create stickiness, it is far better to star adding ghee. Ghee is a tasty addition, and so much healthier than oil, silly nutritionists be ........ When ghee is not cooed to death, it is health-giving and adds inimitable taste to the dish. You might add a pinch of roasted cumin powder to the dish at the end, but not necessary. As you know, working with any recipe a number of times to make it your own is the way to go! Happy eating. And you have to have the good bones from front shank, shoulder, ribs, and neck for this one. Throw in some kidneys and you are good to go.

Mar 29, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali Food [split from LA]

Dear Fatimaji,

For real stone-ground taste, the hard rhizome is soaked in water and pisaoed on the sil-batta or on a stone wetgrinding machine. The next best would be to make a thick slurry with turmeric powder, but if you just put turmeric powder on the washed meat, with chopped tomato, onion, coriander powder, etc. the water in the meat, along with the ginger paste [please make fresh] will be sufficient to blend all these dry spices into the meat as you mix with your hand. This vigorous mixing is very much a part, as it wounds the fibers of the flesh and makes the meat somehow more tasty. You add quite a dollop or more of the mustard oil and mix again. You will smell the fragrane arising and feel the texture under your hands, just as there is change in chapati dough. Of course, the change will be far far less extreme than in the latter! In Bengal, unlike the Malays, we hardly employ fresh turmeric which has a very assertive flavor of its own. When you are comfortable with the taste of this kosha mangsho, do use fresh turmeric and see what changes occur and whether they are to your liking. Use that as a second experiment, when you have this technique under your belt.

Bajia's orma is a great place to try the raw turmeric rhizome. She is a sweetie, in every possible respect, inside and out. She is the greatest!!

English Version : lacks the "khuleh haath se tel dalein"!! Little daughter doesn't know the kickers yet, or does, and keeps mum!


the charming Bajia who otherwise would drive me nuts with her kitchen IS the ideal brahman wife with her cleanliness and caring!!!!!! Watch the oil and her lovely voice and nonchalant remark, khulen haath se dalein!!

Mar 28, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali food - some things I am having difficulty in identifying

We can shift any and all conversations to GourmetIndia.net or Bengal Palm Sugar Organization, which is about Bengal, and Khejur Gur, the only issue that has not divisive element in that torn vast land, as your father will agree. It surmounts every possible creed, caste and religious barrier as no other motif can possibly do. And it is vital if Bengal, and the subcontinent as a whole, is to survive: the palm, that is.

Now, Rarh brahman cooking is NOT the Ur-vegetarian cooking, it is merely another different branch or evolution, or ideation of cooking. What you must realize is that Bengal has had complex histories, complex and powerful races, ethnicities and amazing cross-curennts. No groups can lay claim to any language, religion or any area and say, WE OWN A MONOPOLY of this that or the other. I have long been at pains to teach and disabuse various groups of these grandiose ideas and fall afoul of each group. I hate chauvinisms and use one hard rock to hammer another to smithereens for a reason. I am grateful to the moderators, because even in India, we have so many wrong notions floating around about our food history precisely at the juncture when our foodways, food recipes, food crops and plant wealth are undergoing a devastating omnibus extinction, culturally and physically. It is beyond any description. The Bangladesh countryside [plains] literally has been denuded of any stately ancient trees, the glory of that land! The ONLY grand trees that remain untouched are the few sacred jackfruit and banyan in certain mazhars. Wild biodiversity of Jackfruit, of exceptional value for purposes more than just fruit has be ruthlessly cut down and so is the date palm, the latter to fire kilns. The astonishing destruction of the environment in every possible way is beyond one's capacity to grasp. This is not criticism at all, but from someone who loves deeply the land and the people. It is stunned shock and the destruction respects no artificial border, east or west. Let me put it bluntly. Unless Bdesh or WB engages people like me who want nothing except to give themselves away without recompense, they have not a snowball's chance in hell to survive. We are known to the highest levels of the World Bank, the the Ghaznavis, and so forth, bit the corruption and cynicism is so profound that unless one is making rain for a whole binch of scoundrels nothing is going to move forward. Ask your father about the Clinton Foundation and the NGOs, Yunus, his interest rates and such. I have walked away from a lot of personal advancement because I am irascible beyond description, as the mods well know! This world is very dark, my gracious lady, and south Asia infinitely so. After 1975, and even after 971, what happenned is beyond your comprehension. Go to Aladin's, in LA, enjoy some great greasy food. We have died tilting at windmills. But let us try with you help, and see what happens. We should speak face to face with your father.

The problem with basella in this case is that is is slimy. Slimy is GREAT but not here.

Basella is fantastic with kabocha/acorn squash, daikon/red radish [less hassle if you get washed package 16 oz. nubs x 20 pk case from resto supply, no cutting needed! always go to resto supply for good prices, btw!], baby potatoes [<2 inches, 50 lbs sacks cheapest]. You can make base of onion fried, ginger, panch phoron, tej patta, whatever you want, but then 2 paths: lobster bodies, which are cheap heads of lobsters, very good, fried and added to the pui shaak. Fry the dry vegs, a bit, separately, I am being telegraphic here, will offer full details later. Second path is the use of Fish frames like Halibut, fish head, liver, floats, etc.: maccher tel. Great with buffalo fish, live WINTER carp, get them to take out the fish floats, bhotka, add them in after light frying, plus the liver. Carefully remove gall bladder, if bursts, then whole fish will become bitter: pitto goley jaowa in Bangla! Ha ha, peeps here buy such expensive fish. See, fish dealers have fish scraps, either salmon scraps or white fish scraps for chowder. Those are $1-2 per lb, and never pay more. That is the restaurant price and you are a Bangali! Crab clusters, 2-3 o. on sale cost very very little. These shaheb manush dont eat such phaltu stuff, but we deshis do! They freak out with all the wiggly legs and throw away all the tastiest parts! Some Muslims of course do not eat crab or lobster. But if you do eat shrimp, etc. then you must not throw such wiggly legs away but buy more of these clusters and use them in the pui shaak. the slimy goodness is perfect! Last of all, make some bhaja moshla, with gently roasted panch phoron and some roasted cumin seeds separately. Keep these 2 magic thingies separately. We shall use them for many things. For Bangali chutneys, and also for the final touch on all manner of vegetable and semi-vegetarian messes containing greens.

Next time, we shall start with the simplest GOTA Shiddho: just whole green mung beans, washed. Very gently cooked in a slow cooker with a pinch of baking soda. Add salt to taste. When semi-cooked add WHOLE small eggplant or chinese eggplant, potatoes, whole bunch spinach with roots washed, whole red radishes leaves and all, [wash with a drop of Dawn to release dirt], whole kohl rabi with greens, a nob of ginger, a tejpatta [cassia leaf], some gur or brown sugar to give a faintly sweet edge.

This dish is made and eaten by women on a particular 6th day, which is always reserved by observant women as Sashthi vrata, for the welfare of their children. The point is that women spend an inordinate amount of time, >3 hours each morining, cutting vegetables for the family meals. Just cutting and washing! So, women are not to cut any vegetable that day, to save them time, and also, symbolically not to sever the lives o ftheir children with a sharp object. Hence, all vegetables are kept whole. You need not do so! You can use chard, small white turnips, turnip greens, small kohl rabi, small fingerling potatoes, taro, etc. No oil in it if you noticed, no spices, no nothing. This is real Rarhi brahman cooking.

This dish is eaten luewarm or cool, with steaming rice, preferably converted rice. Du-shiddho chaal in Bengal, twice parboiled i.e. steamed, made in our own farm! A bitter agent is eaten alongside, like young neem leaves fried in oil or ghee, plus a few drops of excellent cow ghee on , and a slice of fresh lime for men, who can cheat and cut a fruit!! This is my favorite food in the world. We used to follow with homemade yoghurt on which was crushed some wonderful jalebis! Really simple, healthy food, if you discount the jalebis!

People have a weird misconception of Indian cooking! Did you see a single chile or any spices anywhere? Salt and sugar, and a bit of ginger, that too not crushed but seethed! This is authentic cooking, offered in millions of households and as many temples and mathas, to this day!

Mar 28, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali food - some things I am having difficulty in identifying

Thank you for your kind response. I hope as time passes, and you have spare time, you will delve into the interesting sociology of the MANY striations of Bengali Muslims themselves. That will reveal to you such fascinating universes [plural] that the prickliness you feel now will fade away into astonishment that such extraordinary diversity of people, food and cultures could be contained within such narrow confines: 86-92 degrees East. Like your honored father, many of us are congenitally enslaved to the history and culture of this land, to its political economy and agricultural ecology. As you might know, the subcontinent is amidst an agricultural crisis about which its denizens and elites seem not to care. Since we have just expended national treasure and lives in Afghanistan-Pakistan, just making matters worse, it is not understood here that Bangladesh, West Bengal and the eastern region is going to explode next and we shall either have to intervene or become non-relevant in the world scene. Just to give you an idea of how absurd the US government sees this area, there are fewer than 84 allegedly fluent "Bangala" speakers employed by the State Department and 384 Urdu/Hindi speakers. Knowing what I do, not a one of those 84 really speak any of the varied dialects, are native-born [for obvious security reasons], have any depth of sophistication in the history and culture and are merely adept at impressing a set of bureaucrats and academic poseurs, with predictable results for our nation. Really terrible things are happening, in Shatkhira, and so many other places, even as we speak.

We can help you get that patali gur. You must in turn tell Americans what palm gur is, and recruit eyes for the Bengal Palm Sugar Organization. They will find Western recipes to be made with gur, well worth their while, I promise you including french toast.

We are not interested in money. We need RESEARCH done on the Date Palm and we are desperate for human resources, good people like you to join their hearts and minds to the staff of 1, me. I have taught doens of Bangaldeshi and others at major universities who exude immeasurable shrewdness and betake themselves to international agencies and do very well, never to return to the mother institutions that initially sponsored them for study abroad, at immense expense in aid money. They do very well for themselves, which is good, but really seem indifferent to anything else, which is not good. Americans do well and love generously to give back when they are successful and this sense of obligation is missing in south Asia. I feel shattered by this attitude, evident in all but a few south Asians, who donate for religious structures of which we have too many, or for newsworthy causes. ZILCH for agriculture. Helen Keller International does spectacular work in Bangladesh, the most useful work that I have come across, and trust me, I spend all my time obsessing over agricultural development.

If you speak Bangala, Smt. Siddika Kabir [recently deceased] and Alpana Habib are two good places to start with on modern East Bengal cooking. Labra, ghonto, charchari, paanch-mishali mean different things for a Rarh brahman, for various East Bengal brahmans and Vaishnavs, and in various different Muslim contexts, because the base flavoring change with the addition and subtraction of onions, garlic and a host of other issues. Many of the dishes you name, like labra, are specifically employed for religious gatherings in Hindu communities and the very large quantities cooked add their own mechanical dynamics. Like rezala and biryani, or T-day turkey, these foods become imbued with a host of associations that are very culture specific. You can understand that in societies where food is both sacred and scarce, nothing about food is not fraught with a lot of significance. We immigrants find it astonishing that America holidays and foods are shorn of religious aura, except for FOOTBALL foods! That is the sole pan-American religious rite that joins all together in a communal gathering, on Superbowl night!

Alpana here is NOT correct because she does not understand Hindu technique, although a fantastic cook in her own right. That is a warning that tiny touches matter when you have not learned your own foods from your own mom! This lovely and good lady cooks the phoron, which actually scorches very easily and needs to be undercooked, too much, a common mistake. Also, where panch phoron is used, garam masala generally is not. Third, where green plantain is used, cauliflower is not. You see, where the small touches give away someone who is cooking her own idiom and one who is not? She is a wonderful sweetheart though.

You know the elongated kochu that OP wanted to learn about? See what fun curly fries we make, long before we had frozen spicy curly fries from the supermarket! People are incredulous when I tell them that Latte orignated in India as the filter coffee of South India. Flavored milk is Indian, coffee being an ancient medieval import into Karnataka by Muslims, allegedly Baba Budan. Filter coffee spread, but diluted with a lot of milk and churned into a frothy sweet hot beverage with a thick head of foam by repeated "throws" from hand to hand. Is that latte or not? No sane adult ever imagined such stuff until they chanced upon this milky monster in the Tamil lands!

Here is another clip, showing a Muslim Rabindra sangeet artist invited to Alpana's show. Sadiq cooks an UR-Hindu labra, i.e vegetables, mixed in correct variety & proportions, cooked in their own juices, no spices, and does a super, super, fantastic job, fit for the finest sacred offering. He learned his job by precise observation, most likely! Avoid pui shaak, use white beet chard, or young spinach, or whole kohl rabi in place of winter melon, greens and all. Leave panch phoron underdone than darkened.

Will get to all your queries one by one. GourmetIndia.net has series of posts on the Foodways of Bengal, cuisine of Rarh gentry, if you are interested in posting!

Don't laugh, 25-30 quart SS rondeaux brazier [with cover] settled over 2 gas burners or 2 electric burners is good for cooking Bengali food. You need large area!


Mar 27, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali food - some things I am having difficulty in identifying

No. bhorta was a Rarhi issue altogether, and a very sensitive one. I wrote a note about and erased it. Let me explain and hope it will help you and those that are interested understand that food, religion and language are very closely linked to identity. Interestingly, these are also continually in flux! So, people, who want to preserve their identities, and kill each other in extraordinary numbers in the region we are speaking about and torment each other to degrees you probably are not quite aware of, do so on the basis of attributes that are continuously changing and disappearing.

The language of food in the East Bengali Muslim dialects is one of the important areas where there is a conscious and very upsetting [ to the Bangalis of the Rarh gentry] to dissociate themselves from the commonly accepted lingua franca by importing words from the North Indian Hindustani/Urdu dialects in the hope that it makes them less "bangali", i.e. close to Hindu roots, and more "Islamic". For example, "jol" [Sanskrit "jala", water] in "standard" or "bhadra" Bangala [that spoken by most or gentlefolk becomes 'paani' in East Bengal Muslim dialect but they cannot understand that the Hindustani "pani" is directly derived from the Sanskrit "pAnIya" [epithet for water!, that which is drunk]. That is how ridiculous it is. So, meat, mamsa, Skt. mAngsho, Beng. becomes "gosht", from Farsi "guSht", and so on. Now, bharta, pronounced , bhurta, like a duh sound is easy enough but these absurd people make it into the bowdleried -awe- sound BHORTA. if you gotta use Hindi, and be "really Islamic" by faint association thereby, pronounce it right and don't be so darned lazy! It is not so difficult and worth it to be really religious, I should think?

There are deeper tensions here, because I come from a border area of WBengal and EBengal, and have seen such horrors in my life as to beggar description. These are not amusing or idle speculations for me, but have dreadful consequences AS WE SPEAK. EVery week I spend hours on the telephone with people in Bdesh and in these border areas working towards useful ends, so again, I am not an idle observer who eats, shoots, and leaves. Go to Bengal Palm Sugar Organization on FBook. I should love any help you can garner for the work we desperately try to do for the very very poorest in both lands. I am a plant scientist, and if you choose to work with us, we can send you to Fiji to bring us back some of the virus cured runnering taro that have been developed by Hawaii and other international efforts. Fiji stores the plantlets in vitro. Britain DFID and Helen Keller International does great work in Bdesh and Nepal and we need practical solutions. British public enthusiastically collects miney to send volunteers to work with sick animals in Nepal. One woman writes, I did not know there were even cats in Nepal, let alone those that needed care. This is how they feel about these countries, that we are alien, and quite less than human. That is why I get a trifle exercised, and write all that I do write. Try to understand why. I have seen literally tens of thousands of people being killed and dying, right on this day, MARCH 25-27 1971, and continuing right through the unceasing rains. I cannot speak about those things here. I am dying, but I sent an English lady to work on the date palms. She gave lectures on what Indians are not doing and sat drinking coffee in expensive confectioners, at Rs.110/cup and spoke about child trafficking. Do you know about date palm sugar? Make it known to all!

Back to the food: you know how dinner parties are very sensitive and important social and bonding rituals in the West. To be invited to a Briton's home is an important signal, is it not? Likewise, in West Bengal, when people are invited to a communal meal, and are asked to sit together, that is a signal honor. It means everyone is being treated as equal, and sharing food together side by side, irrespective of religion, caste and other barriers is a huge honor. Certain rules of etiquette apply, as they do when I go to a dinner at my professor's house with other distinguished guest. I am cognizant of the honor, am I not? So, I do not eat from the back of my plate, when other eat from the right side up, and nor do I ask to be served the first course last and the last course first but follow exactly what the others are doing!

Here is what happens when you invite a Bengali Muslim to a village pankti, a side-by-side communal feast. Hindus all over India will eat with only the shiny green side of the banana leaf, cleany washed facing them so that the midrib is farthest away towards the alley. Now, to ensure that he is being a true Muslim, the invited guest will tuen the leaf upside down and 90degrees around. This is hugely insulting to all others. Next, there will be the demand to eat the dal and rice, last, or be served that again last, implying that all the main courses have been insufficiently generous and require a filler. Such things are simply not done. And this is the RULE when Muslims are invited in mixed company in North and South 24 Parganas, and Nadia districts, where they make up more than 56% of the population, and so are in the majority. Indeed in the areas concerned they are 75% +. We are dealing with very fraught situations, and this BHORTA is not a small issue. The use of non-vegetarian items in the BHORTA, the use of particular species of taboo fish, like Channa spp. has many ramifications which is impossible to explain to someone who has not experienced the intimate connection food, recipes, culture, etc. has with lfe as it is lived on the land. You cannot imagine slaughtering pigs in Pakistan or Iran, can you? Therefore, the culture in which you live has a bearing on what you eat and how you eat things. In West Bengal, in my times, each dawn, push carts laden high with carcasses of cows dripping blood were pulled in open sight through streets to the various markets. Imagine if flensed bodies of dogs, a beloved beast, were carried hither and thither in piles in Great Britain? Margaret Thatcher wrote a sharp letter of denunciation to the Phillippines, which was none of her business! But when Indians open their mouths, they are called fascists, ignorant, etc.! How interesting! Americans can scream bloody murder if traces of horse, a delicious, edible meat is found in burgers! Why? No religious sensibility is offended? Their little Hollywood bubble is burst!

BHORTA is not just BHORTA. It is an extension of BHAATEY and PODA. These are two ritually pure and important food items and indeed courses of the Rarhi diet. A lot could be said about these. But the East Bengali Muslim avoids using these natural terms for a very specific reason so as not to buy into the Hindu religious aura surrounding the purity and hopefully "desecrate" or at least drag into the mundane sphere these food preparations. At this time in history, such understanding is beyond the reach of simple people, because they cannot understand the HAVISHYAANNA origins of the BHAATEY class of foods and their significance. You have to understand the very, very raw wounds that persist on the surface everywhere in Bengal. The destruction of the Ramana Kali Temple is like thr destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a deliberate destruction for no reason in 1971, and no effort to rebuild a site now made into a recreation park.

If you have grown up in a British-Muslim Bengali family, ask the Bengali half how cruelly the food, religion and language all are intertwined, and how this particular day is seared into everyone's memory for reasons that are different for each person. So, no, there was no intention of making fun of you at all. This "bhorta" is a madeleine of a most malign sort; that is all.

Piper chaba is called CHUI or CHOOI in the dialect of Jessore! It is a type of Jhal Paan used also in Bandarban as paan!!!!! Chui twigs of thumb thickness are ground into a woody paste. In the Muslim style, a "nail soup or stone soup" is made, i.e a very rich and delicious base is prepared in which this spicy wood becomes incidental! OIL, lots, has lots of wonderful stone-ground onion paste added to it, and fried to an expert medium doneness. Now you add garlic, if wanted, and ginger paste. Next red chili paste, some turmeric paste, and whatever spices you feel like, coriander etc. varying with the cook. These are kosho-ed, with small additions of water, and heat control, to cook the rawness out, several repeats, and the chui is added after the 2x of the 4x repeat. What you get is a thick, rich oily brown base which is eaten with paanta, or you can make other things with this base. I don't know much about Khulna. I am an Icchamati person, so the concept of border is very labile and funny. If your grandmother is alive ask her about 1971. She and I cannot be too far apart in age and have seen 1961, 65, 70, 71, and all the rest of the history unfold. The funniest thing I have seen is Rick Stein interviewing a young British Bangladeshi Curry House heir sent against his will on a trip to Sylhet, looking out of sorts. Stein asks him about the food & the peevish young man answers that the food is absolute crap here, and he misses the cooking in England!!!! There is A GOD, and that God has a mean sense of humor!!

Sorshe koi maach bhapaa, In England you will be able to grow cucuzzi or lau leaves in abundance, and these have great flavor too. In all sorts of preparations, along with pumpkin leaves. I should love to transfer to you any recipe you would like to learn from West Bengal, including the use of fish livers, innards and fish frames. It appals me that EU makes fishermen throw away small fish that make up 80% of all catches. These are ideal for cooking. So many 1st generation East Bengalis & others live in Britain who would welcome such fish, if they have not grown too posh. In Bangladesh, in my youth, >166 species of fresh water fish were regularly available for sale. Today, no more than 4-8 types reach the market in any quantity, besides the sea fish!

If interested, I will teach you fish fry, fish roll, etc, all Bangali interpretations of English items but nothing like you have ever tasted before. Fish rolls are stuffed with a yummy shrimp filling, beyond good! Breaded and fried of course, which tickles the English heart! maacher chop, maacher kochuri, that has no kochu about its name! Green peas kochuri, delectable beyond words, etymologically derived from the "khacha puri".

Mar 26, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali food - some things I am having difficulty in identifying


Those are meant to be a substitute, but if you look carefully, you will see why they are NOT Amaranthus, as I noted in my post. Amaranthus has a very distinctive vasculature, and cross-section.

However, there are many species and races of Amaranthus, and I cannot say what they are employing as a substitute for notay shaak, dengo danta and the many types of A. hypochondriacus, gangeticus, etc. There are certainly many, many types and species, as you can see in the USDA collections, and also the same applies to lambsquarters, to portulaca and several common greens. Nearly the same but with enough variation. Mustard greens, another huge bag of "almost, but not quite"! Turnip greens, too!

Sweet potatoes are one more area of very specific ethnic preferences: bengalis and biharis have their own very narrow needs and nothing else will do; ditto for pumpkins.

Koreans and Japanese appear just like us in their fussiness for these two vegetables(!!), although geographically they are close together and probably received these introductions from common sources. People can be so interesting, and in the USA, members of the pumpkin and sweet potato family run riot, making our respective deprivations a bit ironic!

So, long story short, danta shaak is a staple for us, and those are something similar but NOT the specific races of laal shaak, dengo, or the notay we know. Perhaps another similar cousin?

In the Rarh country, the word "bhorta" does not exist. That is specifically East Bengal Muslim cooking. Their is a conscious use of pseudo-North Indian terms, like gosht for mangsho [meat], pani for jol [water] and so on, trying to distinguish and separate the Muslim dialect of food and daily life from the Hindu.

Bhorta is east Bengal's grand attempt to pronounce BHURTA! People, if you can pronounce -awe-, is it so impossible to pronounce -uh-? As in duh? Moral: don't fly in aircraft piloted by those who cannot care enough to get their language straight.

The Rarh counterpart for this is BHAATEY, meaning something cooked along with rice, a totally different genre, that means just what it says: various foods, combinations of vegetables and lentil products dropped into the cooking rice at appropriate intervals, and left to steam, with the rice gruel not drained. This type of food is exceptionally important for many reasons, too detailed to go into here.

Fire-roasted vegetables are also significant and ritually so, especially on 2 days a week, but modern Rarhis don't pay any heed to that.

The whole concept of food and cooking was so dramatically different in an orthodox brahman home, from say, what we see now in a Calcutta household, or say the philosophy of food in a reasonably well to -to-do Muslim home in Dhaka, that it is difficult to compare these homes and call them "Bengali" food, although they each represent their own important bit of Bengal. I don't know if this sociological issue is apparent to almost all members of CH, or to only a very few here?

The reason why I get exercised about Bengal is that there are just such an amazing variety of human beings and their food is amazing as well! There was no source of piquancy before chiles arrived, save black pepper, that does not grow well in our subtropical climate, or ginger.S o what did Bengal use? PIPER CHABA, is what! It is actually a substitute for betel leaf, just like the ones the Vietnamese use to wrap their beef thingies in, but hotter. The stems used to be wet-ground and used for "spicy heat".

You are talking about leaves etc. to a person who teaches the subject for decades, with obsessive interest. Ask the colleagues who run away at the very sight of this creature! The Colocasia leaves you mention has so many uses you may not have ever heard! Small rice field fishes, like Puntius and "gutum" are rolled, packed and given a controlled fermentation in these leaves and stored for months. I learned just recently that the traditional sushi in Japan originated as carp-lie river fish being coated in cooked rice and preserved in barrels. Then, the rice is wiped off and more fresh cooked rice applied and stored for a short while, and the cheesy, ripe fish is ready for eating. Well, something close to this happens with the small fish being packed in these taro leaves.

I am sad that no one has bothered to study the amazing chemistry and flavors that are developed by such preservation techniques in a hot wet climate. In a season of surplus, both leaf protein and fish protein appear to be stored for the lean times. How well this is accomplished, needs to be studied.

Lagenaria and Pumpkin leaves are doubled, or the Kochu leaf can be used with great effect: climbing perch is marinated/macerated with mustard paste, and for muslims, onion/garlic paste, and other ground spices. Not too much else for others, and no yoghurt, please! Mustard oil is added, and the leaf packet is tied up like French paper packets and steamed on the cooking parboiled rice until just done. Eaten with the delicious green envelope. Try it with small fish, like whole trout!

Mar 26, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Identifying a fruit?

Tiparee in India, Cape Gooseberry!


Easy to grow in a greenhouse in Germany, in pots.

Suttons, or Thompson & Morgan will have it in UK, and certainly many in Germany too.

Mar 25, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali food - some things I am having difficulty in identifying

The last KOCHU: the fat center mum who has minute, starved babies around her! That type of Colocasia!

Mar 25, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali food - some things I am having difficulty in identifying

Photo 2: I am a plant scientist, working with Colocasia, palms, rice etc. all monocots. I shall be darned if that flower stalk comes from anything to do with a Colocasia. I just cannot see the tips well enough. That structure could come from an overwintered calabrese that Bangladeshis like to chew on, in lieu of Amaranthus, danta. There we call it a no-tay shak and allow it to become tall and fibrous, and maybe they like to let the sprouting broccoli set flowers? People cook chewy stems with shrimp in their shells, prawn heads, fish heads, etc. and like to chew them all one by one, appreciating texture and all the pith! Slow eating, talking, laughing. Like crab boils in the US!

Mar 25, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali food - some things I am having difficulty in identifying

Yes, these are colocasia leaves and are eaten avidly by many groups: Gujaratis, Parsis, Caribbeans, all over eastern India, and all over Asia well beyond my ken.

Gujaratis and Parsis will place well-spiced ground legume pastes, chickpea flour pastes, etc. on the lightly blanched leaves, sometimes double or triple the layers, roll, steam, cut, fry, and cook in so many ways. Very delicious.

There may be sharp crystals of calcium oxalate, called raphides, shaped like microscopic shards of glass in some types of vegetables from the arum family. Blanching and/or cooking them in an acidic base often removes all traces.



Mar 25, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali food - some things I am having difficulty in identifying


The photo in the styrofoam box is of KOCHU-r LOTI.

Kochu, coe-choo, or coe-soo in East Bengal dialect, is Colocasia esculenta, an arum that likes to grow in damp soil. Some types grow in flooded soils, e.g. the Hawaiian taros that make POI.

True taros [there is also the very similar Xanthosoma sagittata with slightly spear or shield shaped leaves] come in a couple of forms, and some in-between ones, because like most humans, they are naughty with their naughty bits.

Some have a fibrous smallish mum surrounded by a ring of plump, glowing pups, which is are the ones that get eaten by us. Makes sense! Mum does not get eaten, small compensation for a hard life!

The other type has a plump mum in the center, surrounded by teeny tiny pups, who DON'T get eaten. Mummy DOES!

Then there are some in-between ones, probably LGBT mums? I don't know!

For our purposes, there are some mums that send out long runners trying to scout out the neighborhood and only after a while turn upwards and unfurl the leaves and occupy their patch of ground, shading out rival plants. So, these spear-like scouts exploring through soft mud are all packed up witht he tender leaves like a tightly rolled-up newspaper, very, very sweet and young, and their midribs and leaf-stalks are as tender as can be.

These long runners belong to runnering types. You have seen some strawberry plant send out long runners, and other varieties don't seem to do so as much. Same here.

Varieties that runner exuberantly are cultivated for their greens. Think ASPARAGUS!!


Mar 25, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali Food [split from LA]


Red pepper paste: if you have good whole pepper like Korean, dry CA, or anything nice and aromatic than hot, or whatever heat you prefer, simply deseed, devein, remove stalk and either steep in boiling water for some hours or just boil for a while. Depending on the variety and other factors, you will get fat, hydrated peppers that you can grind in quantity and freeze. easier on the blender, too, up to a certain point. You can use the water, if it tastes ok. You now have Mexican base, chilaquile base, a sort-of balti base to be made, and fun things to be prepared from this paste including South Indian foods. So, a bit of work here is not just for the meat.

Your Halal butcher, if from Pakistan, will understand gardan, seena, bong, durust [shoulder], chaamp with and w/o bone [how they cut ribs, and putt [ back loin]. Your goat will be a Boer mix, about 60-80 lb liveweight, 30-40 lb dressed, which the Pakistani will call a "dawat weight". Home weight for them is 13-14 kg. If he is Middle Eastern, he still will have a Bangladeshi assistant to help him out with his South Asian customers. That young man will usually be a very sweet guy, much more helpful than anyone else. Generally, we try to avoid the Spanish type of goats from the south and go for the farm-raised ones.

That TV anchor is a low class twit, an abomination. Dechgi gives away his bacground but his demeanour is very offensive if you can read Bangali body language, tone and manner of speaking. Be-aadabi is a bad word in Urdu, and you will find him consistently using "tum" to master chefs, something low-class Bangalis try to do with people they think below their "class" or the "servant class". They are climbers, and understand that they are utterly loathed and proscribed from certain circles, and this is a life sentence. It has nothing to do with birth but character.W e have the mass criminalization of life in India, and you can see it in the face and cockiness of worthless, uneducated creatures like these.

The Bangala language has an interesting distinction between illiterate, nirokkhor, and uneducated, ashikkhito.

The former is extremely benign and gentle in tone, carrying tones of pathos and pathos. It implies a soul who merely happens to be unlettered owing to poverty. The meaning is very clear. Fate has been unkind. It prays to the listener to offer a thought, a prayer for the person in question and not leave without such a benediction. Bangala is exquisitely nuance.

The next word, ashikkhito, is as harsh and plangent with condemnation as the former breathes benediction. It says, here is a person who is aware of what a human being should KNOW but deliberately flouts them for his own selfish ends. He violates RTA, the natural order of things and deserves to be cursed because he violates dharma.

This man is is ashikkhito. he continually humiliates those who are senior to him, not just in age, but also in talent, and in hard work. He thinks that because they are "cooks" and he supposedly a white collar guy, he can "tum" them and they are supposed to "aap" him.

Incidentally, those who are seriously khandani, never use "tum" even with their children or with their spouses, let alone anyone else. Perhaps in the conjugal chamber, but nowhere else, that I can attest. But Fatimaji, you might chance to read a play by Rabindranath titled Jalshaghar. You are seeing the last of a generation or of a culture. When we are gone, an entire class of food, foodways, recipes, knowledge, etc. will just vanish. And that is just a matter of 2 or 3 years more, if that.

Mar 25, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali Food [split from LA]

Namaste Fatimaji,

Being a pedantic bore, please let me fill you on the context which is all-important. I think you will have gathered a little from Chitrita Banerjee's book, and some from what was written in the Rarh threads. Both terms deal with goat meat, just to let the Chowhounds know we are speaking of a dryish preparation. We shall get to "bhunno" qua East Bengal Muslim later, which today means anything you choose, a gravied dish, but with scant gravy, and I shall explain the procedure.

Let us start with the Rarh gentry. Meat was eaten, IF at all, solely as the remnant of a sacrificial goat, which was very young, uncastrate, and therefore extremely tender. No difficulty in it becoming quite tender just being seethed in its own juices, a sort of braise, and there is not a "falling off the bone" preference in this particular case, but the need for a chewiness, not too much though.

The clerical classes were in close contact with the Muslim rulers and were the interface with the rest of the population, in fact. Therefore, these folk were tempted to imitate the foodways and other lifestyles of their bosses, much as similar administrative officials in the 19th and 20th centuries also brought in British and European influences into the BENGALI HOME.

However, these Kayasthas, not being brahmans, could get away with a little, but not too much wobble with their dietary experimentation. So, they went as far as onions, ground on a separate mortar, and on fried onions. Ginger was Kosher already! No garlic, though. Someday, I should offer you an insight into the orthodox brahman itchen, and especially the Vaishnava kitchen, including the Shrivaisnava rules. It fill you all with amazement, since these are strictly adhered to today by some of the most brilliant minds who today are controlling ALL the computer and mathematical advances that are driving the US and world economy. NO kidding here!! No Moringa drumsticks, no Lagenaria, no garam masala, no white eggplants! Much more.

Anyway, the early sacrificial meat was cooked very simply as sacred offering, bhog. Ginger paste, asafetida, fresh cassia leaf, turmeric and gur, salt, some mustard oils, coriander seed paste rubbed in, jeera and peppercorn tadka, and maybe cassia bark too. No chilies etc. Very delicious. NO chilies or foreign veggies in food. I am cooking my food today, and no "foreign" masala or chilies there either!

Cumin seed & black peppercorn, asafetida, cassia leaf, 1 cassia bark tadka, parboiled rice in, turmeric, then parboiled whole green mung beans, salt, sugar, add raw eggplant when appropriate, cook to tenderness. Ready. Eat with kefir. That is real brahman cooking, appropriate for bhog offering with a tulsi leaf on top. Just to let people know what real home cooking might look like. See the same patterns?

Now, the clerks wanted something better! The young goat was macerated with finely ground ginger paste, a thickener of gravy and a tenderizer.Add a tiny amount of coriander seed paste. Pastes definitely do make a difference and I am giving you the originals, so that you can change to your convenience. Turmeric paste, quite a bit, as flavoring too!!! Red pepper paste. Small amount of fresh plum tomato chopped or yoghurt, and small amount red onion small dice, very minute bit salt now, and brown sugar or cane gur, quite a bit [Rarhi food is sweet and your Miansahib will faint!!]. MUSTARD oil, big, big splashes, a major flavoring agent! Vigorously mix and set aside for an hour while you do the following:

Quarter of halve Yukon Gold type potatoes and lightly pan fry and set aside. Prepare Bengali garam masala which is green cardamom, lightly crushed, cassia bark, clove; also a cassia leaf which are tasteless here but a major flavoring there. Sliced onions for our infamous bereshta! Garlic cloves coarsely chopped. Sugar!

When the onions are almost golden, and not too much onion in quantity compared to Mughlai food, say 1 cup bereshta for 1-11/2 g meat from neck, putt, shoulder, shanks, bongs, esophagus, tongue and all the odd bits that scare the daylights out of people that will not accept that beings do not arrive in boneless cubes from their mother's wombs! No raan please, what a waste when you boil it! Your husband will have a hearty laugh when you show him the bit about the esophagus, and gurda, and other unmentionables.

When the onions are turning color,you can quickly caramelize a bit of sugar on the side of the pan. An extra touch. Add the garlic to stop the caramelization and very lightly brown.

No garlic paste because no garlic allowed to be ground on any mortar! So this is a cultural artefact dictating cooking technique!

Push garlic up and fry the garam masala; you can add pinch of cumin seed if you want to vary flavors. Be very careful that garlic remains very light brown, it should not darken and impart a bitter flavor.

Drop in the meat and marinade, and cover. Water will release and should be enough to half cook the meat. How to control the level of heat will depend on what your goat is, breed, age etc.!! Also, what your vessel is! Handi is excellent, Romertop even better for the sondhi aroma. You can take out the "watery mess" and finish carefully on a heavy Allclad or copper clad type pot or sauteuse. The next day is even better as flavors will meld but not really necessary. You can add potatoes or not, really not useful.

Then begins the process of carefully drying up the protein and sugar rich liquid. It will keep caramelizing at the base of the pan and you allow a skin to form, smell for the correct aroma developing, the raw gingery smell gone, and the browing meat aroma developing but not too strongly. You need to balance your experience and control the heat, the quality of the pan and your general awareness at this time.

Gently mix that caramelizing layer in with the liquid, and keep repeating. Do not break up the meat. This is why boneless thigh is bad. It turns dry and powdery. Seena is good, neck is good. Bony fatty pieces with gristle take to this process with delight. Cartilage is a delight to eat with chapatis, and odd bits add textural interest, too, do they not? Imagine biting into the tail, and wondering, Hmm, what could that be? Then, imagine you have invited a very beautiful, polite young American lady, of the ingenue persuasion to try a Bengali meal, and she has just experienced this tail. Imagine her cascade of emotions, from shock, horror, joy, titillation [she cannot identify and has guessed wrong!] she cannot run from the table and continues to eat politely while her face turns from red to ashen to red again. Smile evilly at your spouse. All your hard work has been amply rewarded! God is delighted as well. Suitable entertainment for the Almighty!

OK, back to nice: you need to judge not to overcook and to leave a coating of gravy. The Bangali jhol takes off from a lesser degree of caramelization and just adds boiling water, cup by cup and builds up a light salaan, very thin. Aloo is present there.

Here you just stop at the right point, when the garam masalas begin to smell aromatic and fried. You may have wanted to add a little desi ghee to help with sticking, but not too much as you want the mustard oil, ginger and gur flavors to retain their faint yet distinctive identities. No oniony salads with this one, or suit your tastes. Luchis, jasmine rice or fresh thin chapatis are all good.

Here is the real difference between KOSHA and BHUNNA.

Bhunna in the East Bengal mode kosha-s the masala paste with repeated additions of water. This is something Kashmiri Muslims do as well, and is a characteristic of the Muslim cooking. You will find a very interesting distinction: in true Rarhi fish jhol, the black masala is left almost raw and NEVER subjected to the bhunna type repeated kosha, and the almost-raw flavor is a hallmark, and to get it right is an art. Also, the Hindu cooking eschews in general the kosha of the masalas, and you have seen the adoption of the caramelization technique which a pure borrowing from a particular strand of Islamic cookery. I have emphasized earlier that the Afghans, who arrived the earliest, followed closely by the Turks, who were closely related to the Mughals, firmly eschewed this spicy rich cooking style and their influence also shows up in Hindu Bengali home cookery, modified in characteristically interesting ways, just as "English" cooking has been bowdlerized beyond recognition! I want to show you a fanstastic Scotch eggs made to the Bengali ayastha taste, and now chop house fare. My foster mother was strictly orthodox and would never eat a morsel of what she cooked. I used to eat all this stuff when young but now have become like her, enjoying cooking for others, but unable to touch most restaurant food, or much of this stuff. We become our mothers eventually! Sad, but so true. I copy her styles precisely, though! Been doing it since age 2!

I will add another post later for bhunna with a youtube clip. Kosha does not have too many pasted masala of the cumin coriander type, and you are trying to dry up the juices so that they caramelize with the sugars and smell toasty: a wonderful Maillard that brings out the range of complex Maillard flavors and glazes the meat. If you had some good fat on the meat, you need the fat to remain a bit toothsome so that your teeth enters the membrane surrounding the fat and sort of "crunches" the fat. Ask your husband. It should NOT become custardy in this preparation or it loses its reason for being. Texture manipulation is very important in our cooking. We choose cuts of meat carefully, and use gristle and sinew to good effect. There are "Indian" cookbook authors, very rich and famous, who have no idea of meat cookery. Ask your husband again how carefully animals are fed, exercised, the types of diet, the weight at slaughter, the hours hung, how nives are sharpened, how musulature is understood. I get very upset at the supercilious nature of some chefs who seem to think that none but they understand anything about cookery and good food and only Japanese chefs or this and that can create mystique. We have not even begun to plumb the finer points of meat cookery and sadly one has to have the palates to appreciate what good food is. I dont drink wine, so a 1 penny wine or a million dollar bottle is the same to me. People are strange about Rasika etc. because they have no idea about precise meat cookery. When absolute knaves like Sanghvi become "authorities" on food, I know India is sunk. There a couple of excellent Pakistani TV cooks, 2 or 3 ladies and one Pathan, who are very good. How good technique-wise I can't say, but seem to be good. We should have them here for an extended tour. We shall get to bhunna in a bit if you are not yet sacred off!

A restaurant style kosha; I shall translate if you need:


Moving the onions wounds the epidermis, cells and releases the cell sap, speeds the Maillard, speeds bereshta!!!!!! You see Fatimaji?


Another West Bengal Kosha, a late [note this history, since ground garlic is by now OK!] Hindu dish, but broadcast from Dhaka by a great East Bengali cook, Alpana Habib.

Mar 25, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Bengali Food [split from LA]

Hi apple7blue,

Late picking up your thread. If you feel inclined to study the history of Bengali foodways, as opposed to just the cooking, you can look at the discussions in GournetIndia.net, "Foodways of West Bengal", Cooking of the Rarh Gentry.

First, you have to imagine that Bangabhumi, east and west, is an enormous tract of very diverse land. Western Bengal occupies an area as large as the UK and Banladesh is as large as the state of Iowa or larger, 55K square miles. Western Bengal has more than 80 million people of diverse origins, and Bangladesh, >180 millions, also very racially diverse. Many soils, varied topography, many climates, and settlement patterns, history, conflicts, animosities and hierarchies, all have contributed to dietary differences, preferences and so much more.

The last 50 years have seen epochal changes. The landscape that supported a particular type of settlement pattern, a particular type of agriculture, and which produced a certain basket of goods/produce has been altered beyond recognition. Whole classes of vegetation and vegetables have become commercially unavailable. In Bangladesh, in my childhood, 166 types of freshwater fish were commonly sold in markets; these were pre-pesticides days. Molluscs were included. Today ONLY FOUR types of cultured FOREIGN FISH are to be found in DHAKA markets, in addition to sea fish, that are also being fished out of existence!

Tomatoes, once only a seasonal vegetable available for a few weeks a year in winter, and a sour aromatic delicacy given the name "sour eggplant", is today an indisensable vegetable in the Indian subcontinent. Onion and garlic, shunned in Vaishnav western Bengal, in ALL castes, today are alliums that make or break governments in a trice! There is so much to be written, that I should perhaps take this in parts, if you have the interests. Bangla is one of the most important language groups in the world and it is useful for people here to understand this vital segment of humanity other than as mere animals.

Please do not fall into the facile "ghoti", bangaal, trap. A. It is very insulting, to someone of my age and social extraction. You never use the terms kike, dago, etc, do you? So, NO such epithets please, it is used by street scum and people who are unschooled in proper behavior. Bengal is BANGABHUMI. NO ONE has a monopoly on the name Bangladesh, it belongs to all of Bengal. Western bengal is Rarhdesha and Gauda, eastern bengal is Purva Banga, and let us just leave it at that for a working definition. There is much more to Bengal, which belongs to many more ethnic groups than just the bengalis, and they too have their foods, their cuisines, and their own claims to this beautiful, troubled land.

Understand that so many of the foods I have grown up with are already extinct and cannot ever be revived. This Bhojohari Manna, and Anjan Chatterjee and Co. are somewhat debasing the whole concept of Rarhi cuisine. In such matters, the palates and standards of those old-school people like me, define the standards, sorry to say. I am sure Neogi and Anjan will not be able to gainsay our claims, because the last of us curmudgeons are not unknown. Our families, et.al., our identities, are all known, and there is a tight little group of kolkata rarhi brahmans, kayasthas and vaidyas that used to be the sum of the older society. Sad but true. There is a defined North Kolkata kayastha cuisine, there is a Nadia/south 24 Pargana brahman cuisine, there is a Vaishnava cuisine, there is a cuisine of the brahmana widows, there is a bengali Muslim cuisine of Metiabruz, of the 24 pargana, Hugli peasantry, of Murshidabad, of the Canning, Bashirhat, Nyazhat area, and so forth. It is only ignorance that allows Calcutta journalists with no education writing in Calcutta newspapers to spout forth on topics that they know nothing about.

India is seized by the parvenu, and the among the saddest denouement is the parading of idiocy and ignorance as sagacity and profound knowledge of her traditions, dressed up in shiny suits and absurd dresses that look like clown suits on monkeys.

Mar 25, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Best website to buy tea?


Your wording "for truly premium tea" might give the impression that some of the vendors suggested below have teas LESSER in quality than Harneys. Trust me that this is THE one area that I do not defer to Harneys or any other. I have lived teas, and an uncle was a tea-taster by profession.

Someone else remarked on price, $500/kg for a tea in Hongkong. It is unwise to substitute your own tastebuds and your training and trust in your checkbook. But if snobbery is the criteria, as Harney et.al. appear to have learned too well, then the Makaibari Silver Tips used to be purchased by the Shah of Iran, and at more than $1441/kg WHOLESALE in those days; not available to lesser mortals until that wonderful chap Khomeini got rid of him. Who says we should not erect a monument to K-dear, a quite Confucian gentleman and adorn him with a cup of Makaibari Silvertips as his contribution to posterity.

I am no shill for anyone, but fiercely partisan for my native Darjeeling teas, and I understand the terroir of this estate. Also, I understand the vicious practices of the trading classes who have taken over the older English plantations and they are absolutely Satan's minions. For all sorts of reasons. This planter is not. The teas are organic and biodynamic.

BUT, I challenge Ms. Caroline to try a double-blind test, without allowing herself to be told what the teas are [all Darjeeling of course] : Makaibari Silver Tips, First Flush, Second Flush, and Autumn Flush.

These are in descending order of price. Surprisingly, as with wine, years have their vintages. One may find 2nd Flushes of certain years to be exceedingly winsome, occasionally potent. people must know what they are drinking, how to drink it, and not be affected by snobbery and pretense that is such a large part of the Harneys pitch. I shall put an uncomfortable question to Harneys because I know how the tea trade of India is conducted and this is an open question they can choose to answer or not. It will also put paid to those who claim to understand a lot about "premium quality" in teas!

So, when do Harney's open their Darjeeling tea chests and how long does it take them to sell each one?

A Makaibari Sole Selling Agent in the World, is the ONLY source authorized to sell MAKAIBARI. Makaibari chests are shipped directly to her, not Harneys!

When opened, that tea is exquisite, and the Silver Tips, 1st, & 2nd Flushes need to be consumed ASAP like fine wines. That happens only under the auspices of the Makaibari agent.

You must be joking when you suggest that a jack-of-all trades like Harneys, that opens a chest after chest, and sells in tiny dribbles to many offers "premium teas".

Let me ask you a question: have you ever tasted tea as it a) comes off a drying oven, b) after it has been packed in paper-lined plywood, c) when it reaches the Calcutta auction; d) after shipping, e) after being opened in the UK or the USA? Each interval produces a different tea. Temperature and handling during shipping affects quality, and various ports do, as well. Container shipping on open decks, as opposed to open cargo HOLDS of yore have an effect, and many more minutiae that would bore the tears out of anyone. The bottom line is that you can do a few teas well, but not a whole many lines or things at once.

And, you cannot make silk purses out of sows' ears!! How many quality sashimi restaurants run on one master chef and how many run on the principle of the assembly line?

If people have no personal experience, then how are they able to speak to what is premium tea or what is not? Please pardon my forthrightness. I resent the implication that other sellers are less than premium, merely because some clever salespeople have silver-tipped tongues, but not the real Silver Tips, of Darjeeling!

I personally recommended Silver Tips and Mrs. Anupa Mueller because I know what they sell. Verify my antecedents at Kurseong and Siliguri; I shall offer references. I don't shill. Feel free to contact the vendor or the planter himself. Therefore, my word is unblemished.

So, if the insinuation is made that these vendors are less than the very best in their particular niche, then that allows me to question those that ARE claimed to be the best. I did go to the Harneys site and carefully checked each and every offering. I strongly disagree that their Darjeelings are of premium quality for their price points. I should like to call them out on this issue, if they want to argue the fine distinctions.

They are making fools out of those who are beguiled by price and a sense of false superiority over others, and who know less than nothing about what makes a truly FRESH PREMIUM DARJEELING.

I challenge them to place the dates when they opened the chests for each batch they sell, plus when EACH batch was oven-dried and packed, AND when they were auctioned in India. That would establish a multi-layered time sequence and really put a crimp in the extortionate pricing as well as somewhat supercilious consumers who assume they are buying from premium vendors as opposed to sellers of "lesser quality", who don't show off as much.

Is Poilane's baguette, aged 6 months on the shelf just as good as the one 48 hours old and the one 48 minutes out of the oven? Think this one through!!!

Mar 25, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Make ahead chicken


Gordon Ramsay: Sticky Lemon Chicken served with Champ

You can cook to min 2:59, refrigerate, finish with fresh thyme and reduce the the pan gravy to glaze.

Mar 18, 2014
GTM in Home Cooking

Make ahead chicken



3:31, to the stage before adding mushrooms, olives or artichoke hearts. Refrigerate now.

When reheating go to the stage at minute 4:00 where you add small amount of red wine and reduce a little more to a slightly sticky gravy.

Serve with a dry fettucine: in a bowl place good parm, butter, small qty. VO, toss the hot pasta, serve with chicken.

Mar 17, 2014
GTM in Home Cooking

Really cheap prices for saffron, vanilla beans and porcini from Golden Gate -- is quality OK?

Afaik, Mexican saffron is merely safflower petals, and has nothing at all to do with saffron which comes from the stigma of the crocus plant. You are not using saffron at all.

There are various grades of Spanish saffron, from Select to Coupe, varying in price from $55-70/oz., and even $90/oz. for the unfortunate and unwary customer. Afghan Saffron, which could well be Iranian product in disguise, is around $80/oz. Kashmiri Saffron is of various grades and is difficult to find the better grades in the US.

I don't understand the dynamics of Spanish Saffron, but an EU nation with EU labor laws and other constraints would tend to have very high prices for its farm products, especially when its production is as small as the Spanish saffron crop is when compared to the Iranian. I cannot see the Spanish government subsidizing a minor crop like saffron to the extent it might an important commodity like grape or vegetable, but I could be wrong. Therefore, the Spanish prices make little sense to me, ignorant though I am; unless there is leakage of Iranian material through Spain tot he rest of the world and through Afghanistan as well. Iran sells saffron at $1870-2000/kilogram airfreighted to India [Ahmedabad], to Germany and to Canada. You do the math! There is no embargo on trade with India for all practical purposes, when dealing with items like saffron, asafetida, and dry fruit.

Go here: http://www.saffronexporter.com/ : you will find information about the different terms used for Iranian saffron, i.e. the meaning for Sargol [stigma ends only], Pushal Negin, Pushal and Bunch Saffron.

Mar 16, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Really cheap prices for saffron, vanilla beans and porcini from Golden Gate -- is quality OK?

Vanilla Imports taught me to get out of the Indian practice of dry-roasting the threads and I am GRATEFUL to them!!!!! I learned that there are 3 major chemical fractions, among the MANY hundreds if not thousands, that contribute to saffron color, flavor and aroma respectively. None is helped by the heat of dry roasting but steeping in hot water below scalding temperature, covered, for 2 hours releases the maximum of all three.

Indians do 2 or 3 things not useful to saffron extraction for biryani, quite possibly because they work with saffron with a higher moisture content or with stigmas with a greater length of style attached. I used to use Kashmiri saffron exclusively, from the Government farm at Pampore in the early 70s; both the red and the "ivory" grades, so I have some experience of these types.

1) I have no idea why some in India use a highly acidic [lime juice +water] or slightly alkaline [milk] to extract saffron, but the Kashmir saffron can have bitter overtone when used with a free hand! I think adding lime juice or milk/cream to the rice immediately after adding the saffron extract works just fine, as is also a valid traditional technique for dum biryani; it does not interfere with the saffron extraction, which is done in water.

2) Dry toasting, especially as there is little temperature control and one can distinctly smell the volatiles evaporating. I now realie that if you can smell something, it means that at least some fraction of the precious chemicals have migrated from the already tiny pinch of stigmas in the hot pan to my nose! Why should I waste even that bit of precious substance, is my way of thinking? The toasty flavor actually does nothing for the saffron unlike in other spices, if the saffron is of excellent quality, and dry, not musty. In India, people did not have refrigerators, and the threads pull in moisture from the air, and become damp and musty and really do require that preliminary toasting in the plains. Is that necessary in the dessicating environment of a freezer or even a refrigerator? I should like to understand this point better!

Mar 16, 2014
GTM in General Topics

Really cheap prices for saffron, vanilla beans and porcini from Golden Gate -- is quality OK?

I purchased Iranian saffron from Vanilla Imports way back when it was $35/oz. Wish I had bought several ounces and frozen them. I still have some from 2001, frozen, and it is still excellent, attenuated, but does its job. I am from India and we use saffron in multiple ways, as a flavoring in hot milky drinks as hot chocolate is used here, in flavoring a number of sweet dishes, in savory dishes, in flavoring warm water for religious rituals, etc. So, saffron is even more significant to an orthodox Indian in a cultural sense than it is to a MODERN Iranian for whom it is relegated to only a food item, robbed of its previous sacred status that remains in the Indian and Tibetan traditions.

So, saffron is an emotive issue! I have not used Spanish saffron and cannot speak to its quality, but note that Khanapakana.com is having a sale on Spanish saffron 1 oz at $70; Amazon sells the same brand through the same vendor at $90/oz, so go to the primary vendor and get the discounted price. Vanilla Imports is offering the Afghan variety at $80/oz plus shipping. I am not familiar with the Afghan quality either, but would be tempted to try it.

An interesting experiment might be for 4 Chowhounds to split the costs of 2 ounces of the Spanish and Afghan saffron and share 1/4 oz of each variety just to compare quality. If the threads are places in GLASS baby food jars and capped tightly, and stored in the freezer, they should last for 7 years without much problem. I don't know if the saffron sold in the markets of the UAE are Iranian and what grading systems and pricing obtains there, or what saffron is sold in Pakistan.

Perhaps some of our readers could enlighten us? I am sure some of the saffron sold in Pakistan should be of very high quality and brought in directly from Iran, and perhaps even grown in the country?

Mar 12, 2014
GTM in General Topics

How many people really use shallots? I generally don't.

Shallots are an interesting subject because not all "shallots" are created equal! "Onions and Other Vegetable Alliums" by J.L. Brewster offers an excellent overview of the complex world of shallots.

Much of what is sold as shallot is infinitely mixed up with ONION, Allium cepa, genetics. This is especially true of a) the red shallots, b) those sold as seed by Dutch companies, and c) the famed banana shallots of France. While it is fashionable to claim a botanical "ascalonicum" for them, in fact this is not really true.

There appears to be 3 broad lines of descent in the Onion family:

Allium vavilovii and the cepa stream : the "onions"

Allium psekemense/ oschanini stream : the grey shallots, which also have some amount of the onion genome mixed in

Allium altaicum stream: the Asian scallions [and almost 138 other species ]

This is a rough and dirty scheme, not a taxonomically accurate summation. It is meant to promote discussion into the topic of shallots!

My question is: We find 2 types of shallots on sale. The small, round Asian type in Oriental markets, and the larger, elongated type in supermarkets.

Quite obviously, the latter is the product of Dutch genetics and has CONSIDERABLE ALLIUM CEPA in its genome, it is more than half onion, unlike the gray shallot, which has just a modest amount [<1/3 of total] of the cepa chromosomes mixed in.

Bourdain et al. are kidding themselves when they speak of the "special flavor" of shallots that are currently available. So does Gordon Ramsay, when he speaks of the "banana shallots" of Normandy. Those are Allium cepa, almost all the way through. A rose by any other name.

YES, true French red shallots WOULD taste different from ONIONS, as would TRUE GRAY SHALLOTS.

But the monsters available today in the supermarkets are more onion than true shallots. Super-Chefs are kidding themselves if they can taste X, Y, Z! Where do they think the SIZE comes from?

So, where can we find true gray shallots for sale, for culinary use? I should be grateful to be guided to a reliable source in the US. Thanks in advance.

Feb 17, 2014
GTM in Home Cooking

Cooking from SLOW COOKER Cookbooks

May I ask if you have objections to eating bone-in meat? It makes for succulence and adds depth to the stew. I am left puzzled by the penchant for boneless meat, because it completely destroys the "reason for being" for meat, given my cultural roots. Not trying to impose any ideas, but just trying to think my way through this "strange" predilection I have never gotten used to after more than 36 years in this country. More me boneless = no taste at all, no attached fat = no taste at all, either!! Indian cooking teachers who advise cubes of trimmed lamb leg for "curry", to which "water" is added, have not the slightest idea of either North Indian meat cookery. They know about social networking for sure, and being Jack the Lad about town, but not about lamb cookery! Just in case folks were going to attempt such a recipe and come up with powdery, crumbly, dry meat in their slow cookers.

Jan 07, 2014
GTM in Home Cooking

Confessions of a stuffing junkie

Did add a whole lot of celery, onions, Minor's chicken base derived broth and dried sage leaves from fresh home grown. You are right, the Streit's experiment was not a success! Other than freshness which definitely was a concern, the product itself might need a bit more reworking? The texture is indifferent, and this from someone who is very fond of regular matzoh in any guise.

For me Thanksgiving is complete with just Pepperidge Farm stuffing with celery, onions and poultry seasoning, good gravy, Ocean Spray cranberry sauce, and a baked potato [even microwaved is fine]. Very ho-hum, but I like it that way.

Dec 01, 2013
GTM in Home Cooking

Typical American Thanksgiving meal: All show, no substance.


That Jellied can of Ocean Spray, both kinds, the smooth with the rough, means Thanksgiving for me, a transplant to these shores!

Depending on how many vegetarians are coming, and how big the gathering is going to be, I don't know the right thing to do. Should the host be expected to extend him/herself to cook a rather special dish for a lone guest or two out of 20, or should the vegetarian understand that ahimsa includes being compassionate towards the needs of the many and very harried hosts, and place her own needs on the backburner?

Perhaps mentally make Thanksgiving a fast day, BUT a feast of the spirit, allowing the needs of the many to take precedence over one's own for a day?

Nov 29, 2013
GTM in Home Cooking

Confessions of a stuffing junkie

This year, I experimented with Streit's whole wheat farfale (spelling?) a kosher product used as stuffing or baking outside a bird. It was marginally acceptable, as cooked according to package directions, substituting olive oil for chicken fat.

There was a musty smell, which could have been the product, or just could have been an older package sitting too long on the grocery shelf.

Perhaps turkey drippings might have improved things, or the Southern can of cream soup?

Nov 29, 2013
GTM in Home Cooking

Confessions of a stuffing junkie

Your mentioning potatoes in stuffing reminded me of India; I had never seen bread stuffing until I came to this country. Roast chicken and fresh killed turkey are quite popular in certain circles in Calcutta, at least in my time in the early 60s. However, "roast" meant braised, and stuffing always followed the same formula.

Potatoes, skin on or off, cut into small dice.
Fresh green beans, ditto.
Nantes type carrot, ditto.
Green peas, wash under water if frozen.
Giblets, liver, chopped.
Onion, minced.
Salt, pepper, healthy slug of L&P Worcestershire sauce.
Tiny pinches of clove, cassia bark, green cardamom, and roasted powdered cumin, IF giblets etc. in finished stuffing smell too strong.

Sweat minced onions in butter & oil. Add veg. except green peas, if frozen. Add giblets, S & P, sauce, and raisins, cook until barely tender, including the peas somewhere here. All of these will cook again. You may add a pinch of sugar to balance taste, and minute pinches of the spices if smell too strong. All the turkeys and such were raised on open range, and quite gamey.

Cool and stuff bird which is trussed and browned in oil/butter, then removed. In same fat, sweat minced onions in proportion to weight until begin to change color, add small qty. minced garlic and bay leaf, peppercorns, and celery leaves or Calcutta parsley stems, a dash or 3 of the L & P, salt.

Some might caramelize sugar before adding the minced onions or add a bit of caramel water, but with a very light hand. This is braised under a tight dough seal. Sometimes peeled sauteed potatoes are cooked along with this so-called roast.

After it is done, the gravy is reduced to demi-glace or even to a glaze and reconstituted with additions of boiling water, to get a specific taste, but care must be taken not too take this too far as an unpleasant overcooked, bitter note will take over everything.

Served with dinner rolls, butter, and often a composed salad of tender-firm cooked beet, ditto cauliflower, other fresh vegetables, sometimes dressed with home-made mayonnaise.

Nov 28, 2013
GTM in Home Cooking

Not enough Turkey!!!

Ha ha, thanks much to both of you, Sunshine and Sushiqueen. Have a super T-day. I wonder if an expert confit maker would like to experiment once, take one for the team?

1. Pure olive or pomace oil is cheaper than duck fat? Sometimes?

2. You can make oil-poached fingerling potatoes with the residual oil. Poach vegetables in the oil, in a warm vinaigrette a la Nico Ladenis, and use it to paoch fish as well, then use part of it warm on salad dressings [frisee, poached egg?]

3. More uses for the residual oil than duck fat?

4. Waterfowl will honk when you pass, and be your BFF? Sort of, at least?

5. Might turn out to taste really, really good? The ultimate criterion?

Rick Stein has a great sweet-sour red cabbage braised in the oven to accompany confit duck; enjoy!


Nov 28, 2013
GTM in Home Cooking

Spices for vegetarian lentil soup?

Hi BluPlateSpec,

This may be taking you off on a slightly different direction but being faithful to your original idea of remaining vegetarian, low in calories, full of vegetables, and based on healthful, low-glygemic index. I am interpolating the last, as a personal concern. However, I am drawing from an Indian tradition, that may not suit your taste, or may be overly fussy.

Dalma is a "dal" preparation from Odisha, that uses dal, primarily split and hulled pigeon peas, Cajanus cajan. I like to experiment with a mix of split red lentils, yellow split mung beans [lightly dry-roasted in a pan, then washed], split yellow Indian chick peas [very low Glycemic Index & Load], and washed split pigeon peas [called arhar or tuvar dal in Indian groceries]. You could substitute split green peas or just use split red lentils and split chick peas. A bit of baking soda makes the dals soften and "melt" faster.

The vegtables in this case should be added by their order of softening, INTO the cooking dal, which should be covered ( slightly ajar) and at a brisk simmer. What you choose to add is your choice. Perhaps parsnips & carrots togetner or celeriac may not be a good thing, pulling the flavors away towards a Germanic direction. Green beans, Daikon radishes cut in thick sticks, fresh stalks of collards or kale [add leaves a bit later], kohl rabi, rutabaga, many types of true yams and tropical roots, winter melon, acorn squash with skin on, big chunks of cauliflower stalks [the pedicels or flower stalks holding the florets], the middle stems of cabbage cores trimmed of hard parts, fresh moringa drumsticks, tender YOUNG plantains, and so many more things.

Skim the scum of the dals, and add a little turmeric powder. Cook a bit and only now start adding each lot of veggies in turn. Carefully time each veggie to not overcook because you will be adding either just a couple of types, or many, as per your tastes. When they are 3/4 done you will add some good quality powdered asafetida, not something many Western cooks are used to. This is important in Indian vegetarian cooking, where onion and garlic are abjured. There are dalmas where these are used, but I am giving you a pure veg. style.

Next comes grated fresh ginger, into the pot, quite a bit, but use sound judgment!

Then drop in fresh grated coconut, either made yourself, or more conveniently the stuff made by Goya and frozen in flat packets. Available in many ordinary groceries, and thus convenient. There are some Asian brands, that seem to be very expensive.

Next add dark brown sugar, or unsulfured molasses, NOT blackstrap. Even dark maple syrup is excellent. There should be the faintest hint of sweetness.

Seasalt, and should not overpower or fight the sweetness, which is very unpleasant. You fortunately do not like much salt!!

Finally, the tempering. Good Indian cow ghee is the norm here, but clarified butter will do. NOT butter which will turn into hazelnut butter and burn. You heat the ghee until it shimmers but never to smoking point. Add a decent quantity of cumin SEED, so that they can swim around, sizzle and release aroma. Right at the peak moment, before they have the chance to turn from the very light golden to any darker shade, drop the whole shebang into your dal, which should be hot. Cover immediately, simmer for a couple of minutes, serve with a wedge of fresh lime.

This is pure vegetarian food, and authentic, of a general type served in homes where a good number of Indians live. Not the pattern of the stuff served in restaurants.

Do you recognize that it originates from a time before there were chiles, tomatoes, potatoes and such in India? These are the dishes preserved in brahman homes, and regularly eaten and served as votive offerings.

Another very typical dish from Bengal and my favorite, eaten together with bitter, newly emerging fried neem leaves!

Whole green mung beans: you can use a large slow cooker. What goes in are whole vegetables such as [wash well!] bunches of red radish,l leaves and all, bunches of spinach, including roots [a delicacy in Bengal], Chewy stems of flowering radish [e.g. rattail], whole baby eggplant or use oriental eggplant whole [they will shrink], whole baby potatoes like fingerlings. This was a dish meant to help mothers NOT work in the kitchen, so not cutting of anything, which takes hours of work in Bengal, and also some symbolic reasons, not useful to go into here. Our mung beans were slightly different and more sapid than the ones found in Chinese groceries for sprouting, but those will have to do. You can add a knob or two of root ginger, lightly crushed, a cassia leaf or two, or a bay leaf, and later on, seasalt and brown sugar or cane jaggery. The dish makes its own flavor,and is eaten with steaming converted rice, and a drop of hot ghee, or cultured butter, a wedge of lime, plus some bitters, like boiled mashed bitter melon, or neem leaves.

These are some truly authentic dishes of Bengal and neighboring Odisha, using legumes in very healthful ways, chockful of vegetables that include their roots, which are also extremely nutrient-rich.

At the risk of going way off-topic [sincere apologies!], just wanted to offer a glimpse REALLY authentic home cooking from India, using legumes and vegetables. Do you see a pattern: NO OIL, NO SPICE? What do restaurants serve, and some food writers explain to the world?

However, I must commend Ammini Ramachandran's "Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts", one of the finest books on authentic Indian cuisines from the home, and from a particular region and community. Try looking it up. Very, very healthful. I have zero interests here except absolute admiration. This is how real Indian cookbooks should be written, by real, not pseudo, experts.

I can write down literally scores of recipes from the repertore of Rarhi Brahman cooking that will show you a cuisine that does not use much of these for its daily fare. At least the traditional orthodox fare! Just so that you know that I am not cherry picking!

[They WILL taste bland to palates not used to them, though, but ambrosial to those who have grown up with them. It is really funny to read some Indian sites on food and cooking. An Indian expatriate in France complains, the food here tastes of nothing and is not worth eating!!!! He has lived there for years, and has never outgrown his small- town roots!]

Nov 28, 2013
GTM in Home Cooking

Spices for vegetarian lentil soup?

Slices of Hunter extra sharp Cabot $4/lb on sale in our neck of the woods when we are lucky, on the side, along with the ripe avocado slices, with hot chapati, are my wife's contribution to Indian and American fusion! Very amaing just by itself, and worth making fresh hot chapatis as a real health food! Sometimes we get the Jalapeno Jack Cabot too!! yay!

Halloumi, fried slices, on the side: expensive luxury, but if you find it an occasional treat, that is wonderful.

Paneer slices, ditto.

The avocado and/or cheese should remain constant, as a side to the lentils IHOP! It adds a certain something that lentil soup alone lacks. For vegetarians, especially.

Happy eating, friends.

Nov 27, 2013
GTM in Home Cooking