Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the tag “Bengali cuisine”

Nostalgic Egg and Vegetable Noodles

Bengalis have their quaint idiosyncrasies. We often get ridiculed for the ‘monkey caps’ in October or our love for Boroline (it IS a magic ointment, I swear) and of course the abundant respect for fish. Among all things, there has to have been that one moment when a Bengali child brought homemade Chinese to school which would be shared during a lunch break.
I don’t know much about other places but in Calcutta, one could buy these ‘Classic’ noodles from any shop. The maida (flour) noodles came in red coloured pouches which were about Rs 10 for a packet. When the tiffin boxes would be opened, a smell of homemade Chinese would engulf the air. With lots of vegetables of course, the noodles would be tossed with a dash of soy and vinegar and we would be very happy with that. The boxes would be passed around so all could take a bite. The days we felt rich, we would buy heavenly greasy noodles from the school canteen and share among us.
Recently, I had this craving for homemade noodles. As I searched the stocked shelves, I came across this red packet which instantly reminded me of school days and tiffin boxes. There was no question of not making them. But just to compensate for all the empty carbs, my fridge foraging led me to find lots of greens!

Ingredients
1 packet noodles (Use any sort – glass/rice/wheat/flour/egg)
1 egg (whisked)
1 carrot (julienne)
1 onion (sliced)
2 cloves garlic (smashed)
1 inch ginger (sliced)
1 capsicum (chopped fine)
1 bok choy (shredded)
3 button mushrooms (chopped)
1 small broccoli (chopped)
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbs dark soy
1 tbs chilly vinegar
1 tbs oyster sauce
Salt to taste

Favourite from the school days in Calcutta. Pix credit: Barnik Bardhan

Favourite from the school days in Calcutta.
Pix credit: Barnik Bardhan

– Cook the noodles according to packet instructions. Drain and keep aside. Toss with a bit of oil to keep from sticking
– Heat 1 tsp sesame oil. Cook the egg tossing it about in the wok. When done, take out of wok and shred into small pieces
– Heat the remaining oil. Add the onion, ginger and garlic. Saute till fragrant
– Add the carrot, capsicum, mushrooms and bok choy.
– When the vegetables are slightly soft , coated well with the oil, add the vinegar, soy and oyster sauce.
– At last, add the shredded egg.
– Mix well and serve hot

A long view!

A long view!

Delicious dinner

Delicious dinner

PS: Best accompanied with a book, eating in bed!

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Of Comfort Food and Nostalgia

What is comfort food? The phrase means different things to different people but to me it simply means the aroma of home cooked food. Simple and delicious, food I’ve grown up eating and crave from time to time. After a bad or good day, its the longing for something familiar, craving for something nostalgic.

I left home a while ago and though I go back at least twice in a year, the days I crave for comfort food most are when I’m ill. When I’m lying in bed sipping warm tea with honey, my mind searches for childhood memories, tastes I imbibed during my younger days, the tastes I long for…

The past week I had a long phone conversation with my mother. We discussed everything under the sun. From films to posters, music to theater, Bengali food to Kerala’s famous beef curry. I kept telling her how much I was missing home food. I guess it was one of those days when I wasn’t well and things weren’t going the way I had planned. So she told me, “Make something you like.” That’s when the idea struck.

So for the past few days I’ve been cooking my comfort food. I was surprised to find that though I love experimenting with every cuisine I can lay my hands on, what I end up cooking when I’m low is Indian food from various parts of the country but with a twist conceptualised by my mother.

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Bread Upma from school
A very close friend used to bring this concoction to school almost thrice a week for tiffin. The aroma of the spices mixed with bread pieces left us wanting more every time. I remember I asked my mother to ask T’s mother how to make it. And since that day in class 3, my mother makes it when I’m home and hungry! The flavour combination is so delicious that when its being cooked, you can smell it from the other room. Tangy and crisp, spicy and yet subtle the textures just leaves you wanting more. It’s so simple to recreate that the whole process barely takes 15 minutes!

Bread, spices and a whole lot of flavour

Bread, spices and a whole lot of flavour

A closer view!

A closer view!

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Chirer pulao, Bong style
In English we would call it fried flaked rice stirred in with vegetables and spices. Chire (poha) is eaten all over India but every region uses it differently. My mom makes it the way her mother used to. It has little pieces of potato and onion and tomato softened to perfection with whole spices (cinnamon, cloves and cardamom). It’s slightly sweet and you serve it hot with a good scattering of chopped coriander. I love this. It gives me a feeling of home every time I make it. It light, delicate and filling, a perfect breakfast dish.

Perfect with morning tea

Perfect with morning tea

Chire, potatoes, onions and tomatoes - delicious!

Chire, potatoes, onions and tomatoes – delicious!

The quintessential Bengali lunch
I’ve said before that we didn’t eat a lot of Bengali food on a regular basis growing up but on occasions just some fluffy rice, potato fry and yellow dal is all you needed to have a great day. I just added my version of an egg curry along with it made with tomatoes and yoghurt. On occasions when I really crave comfort food, I turn to this simple home-style lunch to get me through the day.

Yummy lunch! Lentils, potato fry and egg curry!

Yummy lunch! Lentils, potato fry and egg curry!

A plate of homemade Bengali food

A plate of homemade Bengali food


What do you eat when you crave something comforting?

The fishy tale

Bengalis love their food. And their fish. Well most of them anyway.

I never did quite develop a taste for river or sea water fish till the time I actually left home. Till then, I would make a face (at times) when fish in various curries or fried options were presented for lunch or dinner. But it was only after I began fending for myself did I realise, ‘hey, it’s not too bad after all.’ Why you ask. First, it has magical properties I tell you. After a lot of over eating if you stick to fish for a couple of days, people keep asking ‘have you lost weight?’ Well, it could be metabolism, but hey don’t puncture my bubble. Second, its fast and easy to cook. It takes less than half the time when cooking meat or even chicken. In curries, pan fried or deep fried, it takes only minutes to have a simple yet tasty dinner on the table.

Jokes about Bengalis and their love of fish is found everywhere, on all types of social media to bedtime stories. In fact, their deep understanding of the fish transcends all boundaries. Even epic romances turn pale in comparison. Even friends living abroad ask me for fish recipes thinking I know all about the slimy creatures. Honestly, I don’t.

Fish markets are really not my cup of tea. I would rather prefer going to a grocery store and buying a pack of frozen goodness than get up early in the morning just to get the freshest piece of fish for dinner. I remember the Sunday ritual with my father. He would go to the market, I would tag along just for the ice cream treat at the end of it all. He had a routine. First the non edible items, then the veggies, next came the meat and at the end of it all the fish. Back then, I was clueless. Looking at the various fish stalls, I couldn’t make out a Hilsa from a Rohu. The one thing I did understand were prawns. Delicious and rich in flavour, you really can’t go wrong cooking them. (To my dismay when I found out they were crustaceans during a biology class, I was heartbroken. I thought I finally found a type of fish I liked!) 

I’m yet to come across a cuisine which does not use prawns, lobsters or shrimps. Be it Mexican, French or Thai, prawns are prevalent but flavours change. One day you have them coated in garlic butter, the next in black pepper sauce. 

Bengalis love them prawns. And they have devised a fantastic way to way to eat them in the form of a malai curry with steaming rice. Now, my mother makes a mean prawn malai curry with raving reviews. Craving the creamy, coconutty prawn dish but without actually wanting to go through all the processes, every time I try a short cut. To be honest, it doesn’t actually turn out to be an authentic malai curry but comes pretty darn close to it!

How the Malai Curry is made:

In a very small yet compact herb chopper (a life saver from crying while chopping onions) put in one big onion, three cloves of garlic, an inch of garlic and two green chillies. After a quick blitz, add the mixture to a pan with heated vegetable oil (four tablespoons). Add in a bay leaf too if you like the smell. Once the mixture is well sauteed, add a table spoon each of turmeric, coriander powder and cumin powder. Once spices have been cooked, add in 200 ml of coconut milk. Add a tea spoon of sugar and salt at this stage. (Sometimes I even add a chopped tomato at this stage just to experiment). Once the gravy is slightly thick, add in 250 grams of de-veined prawns or shrimps as per what you like. If you’re in the mood for a richer taste, add about 100ml of cream. I always use chopped coriander as a garnish once the prawns are cooked to perfection which takes about 10 minutes. I used a handful of curry leaves instead of coriander this time and it tasted just as good!

Try it with steaming rice and you won’t be disappointed.

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