Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bengali Shukto

A traditional Bengali meal encompasses 5 - 6 courses with a bitter tasting vegetable to begin and a sweet dessert to end with. An array of culinary delights including dal-fries, vegetable curry, fish, chicken are served in between, in that order. Back home, my mother still prepares 6-7 items daily for a lunch as opposed to our finishing the same job with maximum 2 items here.


Shukto is a concoction of assorted seasonal vegetables with the taste of bitter gourd predominating the flavour. I never ate Shukto at home because of my eternal dislike for vegetables with anything bitter-tasting topping the list of my dislike. As might be norm with marriage, we leave behind many of our bad habits and adopt new good habits. Learning to eat vegetables is one of the good habits I have picked up post wedding. In fact, I have stopped turning up my nose at bitter gourd, though I am yet to develop a liking for it. Shukto is my husband's favourite vegetable dish and over last 4 years he has told many a time how he misses the shukto cooked by his mother. So with intent to fulfil his craving, I have learnt to cook shukto at last and often prepare it during the weekends. Needless to say, I love it too because if you can cook it properly, the dish definitely exudes a rich taste. No doubt why it has made its entry into the menu of many wedding ceremonies.




Preparation time: 20 minutes                        Cooking time: 20-30 minutes

Ingredients:

ü  1 potato of large size (cut into cubes)

ü  5-6 Sojne data or drumsticks (cut into 2" length)

ü  1 small sized brinjal (roughly chopped)

ü  Half the amount of a medium sized papaya (roughly chopped)

ü  1 bitter gourd of medium size (cut into semi-circular shapes)

ü  1 medium sized raw green banana (roughly chopped)

ü  1/2 cup of milk

ü  2 tbsp poppy seeds paste

ü  2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds paste

ü  1 tbsp ginger paste

ü  1/2 tsp panch phoron (a mix of five spices including fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, nigella seeds and black mustard seeds in equal measure)

ü  1 bay leaf

ü  2 dry red chillies

ü  1 tsp bhaja masala (dry roast 1 tsp cumin seeds and 1 dry red chilli. Grind them into powder in a blender)

ü  White oil for cooking

ü  Ghee (optional)

ü  Lentil Vadi (as per need)

ü  Salt to taste

ü  2 tsp sugar

Note: Traditionally this dish is cooked with a generous amount of ghee, but in order to skimp on ghee, I cooked the dish entirely in white oil and lastly just to add the flavour drizzled a bit of ghee on top.

 Method:

1) Brown the vadis and keep aside.

2) Heat oil in a wok. When smoke comes out add panch phoron, bay leaf and 2 dry red chillies. When they begin to crackle, add the vegetables one after another - papaya, potato, bitter gourd, drumsticks, brinjal and raw banana, in that order. Fry the vegetables lightly.


3) Add poppy seeds paste, ginger paste, 1/2 cup of milk and mustard seeds paste. Stir around and cook covered on medium heat. If the mixture gets dry, add little water to keep the moist in. (Shukto is not usually gravy based, but you may add water to keep a little gravy in it if you want the dish to be more moist.)

4) When the vegetables are all cooked through, add salt,sugar and ghee. Simmer for 1 minute.

5) Just before taking the dish off the flame, sprinkle bhaja masala on top and add the fried vadis in. Stir in to mix properly.

6) Serve hot with rice.

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