A Step by Step Food Guide To Bengalis’ Durga Pujo


Durga pujo is such an event in a Bengali’s life, including mine, that makes us keep gushing and never wishing to pause. It’s that time of the year when the autumn skies are bluest, fluffy white clouds are cotton candiest and most Bengalis are happiest. Every neighbourhood is lit up like it’s Diwali, people wear bright new clothes like it’s Christmas and gorge on great food like it’s Eid. The best of all festivals in India, eh? Setting aside folie de grandeur, let us concentrate on my favourite part – the food. Aided by recent controversies in India, it has probably reached even the unaware that Bengalis live to eat. Even during festivals. Some preached that we should fast. Oh, but then you don’t coach people on what they shoudn’t eat while they’re waiting to cook up a storm in their kitchens during pujo. Bengalis (pardon the generalisation), have an entire menu chalked down from Shoshthi to Dashami and then some post-pujo gluttony too. It is irrelevant digging for the origin of these urban traditions from the past century; we have already embraced them since they induce a happy food-coma and give us a reason to eat well. While you’re gearing up for the next pujo, keep these in consideration and have a balanced yet decadent menu each day.

Shoshthi 

The day pujo officially begins. It is a custom for mothers in West Bengal to observe Shoshthi for the betterment of their children. While some women fast and take only two meals a day excluding rice, others treat themselves to vegetarian delicacies like Luchi-Parota-Chholar Daal-Aloor Dom-Phulkopir Dalna-Payesh-Mishti. I used to wait for Shoshthi as my mother would make piping hot phulko Luchi along with Kumro’r Chhokka and Chholar Daal. The advent of store-bought Paneer in the late ’90s had marred the charm of Shoshthi though. As Paneer began slicing its way through the tedious Chhanar Dalna, I moved towards just the Luchi and let mother enjoy the farce called Paneer torkari.

Luchi – Begun bhaja is all we had this year on Shoshthi

Shoshthi is prevalent mostly in West Bengal and the other Bengalis from the East have their own delectable spread on this occasion. I miss Kumro’r Chhokka as it had been quite frequent while I grew up; have been trying to replicate the one mother used to make but it still lacks something. You can give it a try though.

Ingredients

Til Kumro’r Chhokka – slightly different with roasted sesame seeds

Potatoes – cubed, 1

Pumpkin – cubed, 1 cup

Chhola/Kala Chana (Black gram) – 1/2 cup, soaked & boiled

Ginger – 1/2 inch, grated

Whole garam masala – cardamom, cinnamon, clove

Salt, sugar, mustard oil, whole dried red chilli

Turmeric, red chilli, cumin powder

How to

Heat 1T oil in a wok. Fry the potatoes & pumpkin till golden. Shove them towards the wall of the wok and add the whole garam masala and 1 dried red chilli in the remaining oil. Add the chhola & keep frying a bit more. Add grated ginger, salt, a pinch of sugar, turmeric, red chilli, cumin powder and a splash of water. Mix well, add sufficient water and let cook on simmering heat. The gravy should be thick and not runny. Add 1t ghee and serve hot with Luchi/Parota.

Saptami

The day begins with Kola bou snaan, followed by the daily pujo rituals. Once you polish off the prasad, the official bingeing begins. My Saptami since childhood had a constant companion – homemade Fish Fry made by father for breakfast. If you’ve ever had the Bengali street-food style Fish Fry, you know it’s incomparable. There have been pujos when Fish Fry was replaced with Fish Chop and the lunch menu had homemade Mutton Biriyani in it. Those were the days of bliss when we’d gorge on the rich food, take a good siesta and then venture out pandal-hopping. I will probably do several more stories on Biriyani, so please wait for our recipe there. In the meanwhile, try this easy peasy Fish Fry at home, Calcutta style with salad and Kashundi on the side.

Ingredients

Bhetki fillet & mint

Bhetki (Barramundi) – filleted (about 10 from 1kg)

Onion paste – 3T

Ginger paste – 1T

Lime juice – 2T, along with 1t rind

Green chillies – finely chopped

Coriander/Mint paste – optional, 1t

Salt, breadcrumbs, 1 egg, Sunflower oil to fry

How to

Wash the fillets, pat dry. Marinate them with onion-ginger paste, rub well the lime juice and rind, add the chopped green chillies, store in a box in fridge overnight. Take them out the next morning, let them come to room temperature. Beat egg in a bowl, add 1t water and a pinch of salt. Spread a few T flour on a plate, spread breadcrumbs on another plate. Pick up each fillet, squeeze out the extra liquid from the marinade, rub salt well on both sides, coat them lightly in the flour, then dip them well in the egg batter, finally coat well with breadcrumbs. Deep fry in Sunflower oil and serve with salad and Kashundi.

Pro-tip – Do not add salt in the marinade, it will dry up the fish. And you can coat each fillet and store them in fridge for frying later, it saves time. Just coat them dry with breadcrumbs once before frying. I’ve done this several times and it turns out crispier.

Ashtami 

Ashtami is nearly midway of pujo and many celebrate the Kumari pujo and fast for the Sandhipujo. Most of us fast till the pushpanjali, eat a hearty prasad and Bhog at lunch, comprising of Khichuri, Labra/Kopi’r torkari, Chutney, Payesh and an assortment of Mishti. At my parents’ and in-laws, it’s all the way vegetarian on Ashtami though. The mothers eat Luchi with a different side than what they had on Shoshthi. My father though, never liked and maintained the vegetarian ritual on this occasion. He would prefer his usual Machher Jhol-Bhaat and a spoonful of the Bhoger Khichuri from the para pujo. I, the opportunist as usual, would taste the best of both worlds. Who says No to Luchi anyway! After having lived in about five different cities around the world in the last ten years, I don’t eat vegetarian on Ashtami at all. We have a plain Chicken Curry or any kind of fish at least for one meal on this occasion. What you can do is, cook up a kickass Aloo’r Dom to go with the breakfast or lunch – any meal that has Luchi as the star performer. I have to confess here that I cannot make the good ol’ Niramish Aloo’r Dom, but you can try it easily from recipes available anywhere.

Aloo’r Dom

Ingredients

Potatoes – 4, halved (if medium) or quartered (if large)

Onion – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – grated

Garlic – 2-3 large pods, grated

Tomato – 1, chopped

Green chillies – 3, chopped

Green peas – 1/2 cup, optional

Whole garam masala – cardamom, cinnamon, clove

Salt, sugar, mustard oil, whole dried red chilli

Turmeric, red chilli, cumin, garam masala powder

Coriander – for garnish

How to

Heat 2T oil in a wok. Add a pinch of sugar to the oil and when it browns, add the whole garam masala, dried red chillies and cumin seeds. Add the onion, fry until golden. Add the garlic and potatoes, keep frying. Add grated ginger, tomatoes and green peas. Keep stirring until the tomato softens. Now add salt, a pinch of sugar, turmeric, red chilli, cumin powder and slit green chillies. Add a splash of water, mix everything well, add 2 cups of hot water and let simmer for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Garnish with 1/2t garam masala powder, coriander and serve hot with Luchi/Parota.

Nabami

The ninth day symbolises the penultimate day of celebrations as the goddess is one day away from returning to her heavenly abode. Nabami used to be about animal (goat) sacrifice in the previous century and cooking the meat without onion-garlic to be served among the worshippers. These days it has been replaced by sacrificing Ash Gourd (Chalkumro) but I still hear animal sacrifice practices from a few areas in Bengal. Since we cannot get our hands to the Mohaprasad (‘vegetarian’ meat) from the pujo, we have replaced it with home-cooked glorious Mutton Curry. My father has been conjuring up either Mutton Biriyani or Kosha Mangsho for quite a few pujos now. M has been doing the same if we’re not travelling during Nabami. This year he made a sumptuous Lamb Curry that tasted way better than the Goat meat we get here in Brussels. You can try any of the four Mutton Curry recipes I had already written about, we’ve tried the same on Lamb and it came out quite well.

Lamb curry

If you want to keep Nabami lighter because you gorged on Saptami well enough, cook up an easy Ilish Tel Jhol like I did that is light on the tummy.

Ilish er matha bhaja, daal, Ilish er tel jhol and tomato chutney

Ingredients

Ilish (Hilsa) – 4 medium pieces

Salt, turmeric powder, mustard oil

Green chillies – 4, slit

Nigella seeds (Kalojeera)

Potato – 1/2, long slices, Eggplant – a few cubes

How to

Smear the Ilish pieces with salt, turmeric, keep aside for 15 minutes. Shallow fry in 1T oil and keep aside. Add 1/4t Nigella seeds to the oil, fry the potato and eggplant. Add salt, turmeric powder, green chillies, mix well and add water. Let cook on simmer for five minutes, add the Ilish and turn the flame off. Serve with steamed rice.

Dashami

The ultimate day of pujo brings a little tear into most of us as the lovely festivities come to an end and the wait of another long year begins. It is said that when a married daughter leaves her parents’ place, it is mandatory to feed her fish which is the symbol of abundance, prosperity and ensures longevity of her marital status. To honour the goddess and in hope of prosperity, most households make it a point to eat at least a piece of fish on Dashami. If you can get hold of Ilish, the silver queen of fishes, how better can it be! We had a few fried Ilish this year and scooped up the fish oil to be devoured with steam rice and a green chilli.

Golden fried Ilish

However, the main attraction of Dashami lies in what we call Bijoya. It is a wonderful and soon-to-be-lost tradition of visiting friends and family and celebrate with Nimki, Ghughni, Narkel Naru and other assortment of sweets. There can be no Bijoya without ghughni. I’m a firm believer of Ghughni and think that it is an instant mood-lifter. A good steaming plate of ghughni with salad can get you into great conversation and on a non-stop snacking spree. So, here’s my version of a kickass Ghughni, do try it anytime and especially at Bijoya Dashami next year.

Ghughni

Ingredients

Matar (dried white peas) – 300 g

Onion – 1, chopped

Potato – 1, diced

Tomato – 1, diced

Ginger-garlic paste – 1T

Green chillies – 4-5, chopped

Salt, sugar, mustard oil

Whole garam masala – cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin

Bay leaves (Tej pata) – 2

Turmeric, red chilli, cumin, garam masala powder

Coriander – to garnish

How to

Soak the peas overnight. Pressure cook till soft but firm with a pinch of salt and garam masala. Drain and keep aside. Heat 2T oil in a wok, add cumin seeds, whole garam masala, a pinch of sugar and then the onions. Fry them till golden, add the diced potatoes, keep frying. Add ginger-garlic, mix well and then the diced tomatoes. Cook till the tomatoes are soft, then add salt, turmeric, cumin, red chilli powder, chopped green chillies, a splash of water and mix well. Add the boiled peas, mix for five minutes, then add sufficient water and let cook. When the gravy has thickened, garnish with garam masala powder, coriander, squeeze half a lime and serve hot with salad.

Shubho Bijoya from my family again. Do try the recipes and let me know how they turned out. 

#BanglaKhabar

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