Yes, you read that right. Vegetarian fare from Bengal can lay out a spread of almost Chhappan Bhog for you, and they are delicious as well nutritious in peak Indian summers. While most Bengalis have begun following this trend of vegetarianism on Tuesdays and Saturdays, it is still a taboo at our place. A vegetarian meal is often compensated with at least an egg curry. However, living away from Bengal doesn’t give us the choice to go for fish shopping frequently. It is usually purchased on weekends and stored for four to five days which often leads to its depletion by Saturdays. As you must be aware of, mutton is reserved for Sunday afternoons, chicken in arid regions like Pune and Hyderabad is not very appetising in summer and smells awful; that leaves us with the choice of an odd egg. On rare occasions of fridge cleaning days or blistering summery ones, we decide to chuck the egg for a plateful of a cool vegetarian meal.
The ingredients that have a cooling effect in summer cost less and more at the same time. There’s Posto or poppy, every Bengali’s eternal favourite that costs a bomb these days. On the other end of the spectrum is Drumstick or Moringa stems that still come at a very reasonable price. Together they create a soothing plate of Danta Posto. Since poppy has a soporific effect, a mere bowl of posto bata (poppy paste) with chopped onions and green chillies can induce an unmatchable siesta on a sweltering afternoon. Chutneys or tawks are administered and recommended in summer to balance the heat and cool off your guts. Nothing can match a chilled bowl of Aam er jhol, (not a decadent chutney) or green mango in a sweet curry. The cooling effect immediately begins when you gulp down the chilled jhol followed with chunks of succulent tangy green mangoes. While chutneys are more prevalent in winters, this green mango jhol rules the summer. You’ve missed a piece of life if you haven’t had a bowlful of it yet.
The only indulgent item that you can spot on my plate is Papor er torkari (Papad in gravy). Although it sounds much like the Rajasthani Gatte ki sabzi, papor er torkari is am age old Bengali item making its way through the vegetarian Tuesdays and Saturdays. It’s an easy fallback if you run out of veggies in your fridge. I’ve grown up with it and so have most Bengalis. My father was a resident student at Ramkrishna Mission and it was mandatory for them to be fed papor er torkari once a week. There is an absolute vegetarian version without onions and garlic but I have customised it a little to suit my taste.
I will run you through the recipes of these items, and voila!
Posto Bata (Poppy seed paste)
How to –
Soak about 40g of posto in water for 2-3 hours, serves 2. Grind in a blender or grindstone (preferred) to a semi coarse paste. Serve with chopped onions, green chillies and salt. Garninsh with 1t of mustard oil.
Danta Posto (Drumsticks/Moringa in a poppy paste)
Danta (Drumstick/Moringa) – 2 long sticks cut into 2 inch pieces with the green ridged skin peeled
Posto (khuskhus/poppy seeds) – 50 g, soaked for 2 hours and made into a paste in a mixer grinder with 2 green chillies
Potato – 1, cut into long slices
Pumpkin – about 100 g, diced
Turmeric powder, slit green chillies
Salt, sugar, mustard oil
Bori (daal vadi) – optional, fry a handful and set aside
How to –
Heat 1T mustard oil in a wok. Fry the potatoes and pumpkin. Add the Danta later and keep frying. Add 1t salt, 1/2t sugar, 1t turmeric powder, a splash of water and mix well. Add water, slit green chillies, fried bori and let it come to a boil, slow the flame, cover with a lid and let it simmer. When the water has subsided, add the poppy paste, 1/2t mustard oil and simmer till the gravy has thickened.
Serve hot with steamed rice. The gravy should be a thick creamy one.
Papor er torkari (Papad in gravy)
Papad – 10-12, fried
Onions – 1, chopped
Potatoes – 1, diced
Tomatoes – 1, diced
Ginger and garlic – grated
salt, sugar, mustard oil
Turmeric, Red chilli, Jeera, Garam masala powder
How to –
Fry the papads and set aside. Add whole garam masala in the residual oil, followed by onions. Fry the onions, add ginger-garlic, potatoes and tomatoes. Stir homogeneously, add salt, pinch of sugar, turmeric/red chilli/jeera powder, sprinkle little water and fry the spices. Add sufficient water, simmer and cook. When the gravy is reduced, add the fried papads and switch off the heat. Let the papads soak all the gravy, garnish with garam masala powder. Serve hot with steamed rice.
Aam er Jhol (Green Mango in a sweet gravy)
How to –
Peel and slice the green mangoes in large chunks. Heat 1T mustard oil in a wok. Add a pinch of mustard seeds or Panchforon (I prefer the latter), 2 whole red chillies, throw in the diced mangoes and fry a little with salt. Add sufficient water, let it boil and then simmer for a few minutes. Add sugar according to taste, let it melt into a syrupy runny gravy. Garnish with bhaja moshla/roasted jeera powder and serve chilled.
If your insides are burning this summer, try this plate of indulgence and comfort once in a while.
P.S. Excuse the shrunken pieces of Potol Bhaja in the first image, they are totally optional but a very healthy and tasty additive to a lunch plate.
Do try the recipes and let me know if you like them.