I believe in minimalistic cooking. Often times, or rather most of the time simple is flavoursome, tasty, nutritious and brings out the individuality of each ingredient. Not to mention that the ingredients are easily available and wouldn’t involve spending your time scurrying to gourmet shops across town.
Here are 2 recipes from today’s lunch.
Phulkopi Dal – Cauliflower & potato in a lentil based gravy
This recipe is a traditional recipe from East Bengal and an all-time family favourite. These are treasured recipes almost lost in time. This was taught & passed on by my mother-in-law. Being from the other side of the divide – West Bengal – this wasn’t something I had tasted before. For all those non bengali’s who have spent a lot of time on Bengali food blogs, this would be a familiar terminology. Hopefully, one of these days we should be able to write about the culinary differences in the two cultures, but here is a very quick lowdown
But we digress. Let us come back to the dish.
Moong Dal – 1 cup
Cauliflower – 6-7 florets cut in large pieces
Potato – 1 large
Ginger paste – 1 tsp
Red Chilli paste – 1 tsp or as per taste
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Cumin Powder – 1 tsp
Mustard oil – 4 tablespoon
Ghee – 1 tsp
Sugar – ½ tsp
Salt – to taste
Cinnamon -1 stick
Cardamom – 2
In a medium sized pan, lightly roast the moong dal till it emits a nutty aroma and turns golden. Wash the dal, add double the amount of water (2 cups), a pinch of turmeric, half teaspoon of salt and simmer till the dal is thoroughly cooked. You can use a pressure cooker or cook in a saucepan. If cooking in a saucepan, remove the scum from time to time. The dal should be soft but not mushy.
Mustard oil has a pungent, nutty taste and is the traditionally preferred cooking medium in most Bengali kitchens. It is highly recommended to use this oil if you want to give your dish an authentic touch. Usually all grocery stores across India would stock tetra packs of mustard oil. Those who don’t find it need not fret, the usual cooking oil would add just enough flavour to your dish.
While the dal is simmering, heat a kadai and pour about 2 tablespoon of mustard oil. Heat till smoking hot, reduce the heat and put in cauliflower florets. Cover and cook till half done. Remove from the kadai and lightly fry the potatoes. Keep aside.
In the same pan add some more oil, cinnamon and cardamom seeds. Let them crackle and add red chilli paste, ginger paste, cumin powder and sauté for 1 min.
I usually soak a handful of dried red chillies in water for half an hour and then grind in the blender along with a dash of vinegar and a drop of oil. This gives it a tangy pickled flavour and elongates the preservation period. Add a dollop of this paste to anything be it soups, noodles, curries and it works like magic.
Put in the half cooked cauliflower and potatoes, toss around for a while till the masala percolates into the veggies. Add sugar (this dish is a tad sweeter than the usual dal recipes) and salt to taste. Pour in the cooked dal, 2 ladles at a time. Stir well. Repeat the process till the vegetables cook thoroughly and the dal is reduces to a thick consistency. Add a teaspoon of ghee for added flavouring.
If served with rice, this can be diluted with a little bit of water. Always remember to add in lukewarm or hot water while cooking.
Variation: You can add green peas (either fresh or frozen). This needs to be added after the pastes are sautéed. The lustrous green colour of peas adds vibrancy to the dish. I didn’t have them stocked up and therefore ommited them.
Serve with parathas, rotis or even kachori.
This was an experimental recipe that worked particularly well. I had a bowl of prawns lying in front of me and no time in hand to put a dish out on the table. Prawns are incredibly versatile and easy to incorporate into any recipe giving any dish a supreme flavour. Jo Bruce in his masterclass talks about how prawns can be adapted to suit any palate.
Just in case you were wondering why I chose to call it ‘Coconut shrimps’ yet talk about prawns. Here’s an article from cookthink
which talks about the difference between the two species of crustaceans. Both can be used interchangeably in the culinary context. I prefer referring to the smaller crustaceans as ‘shrimps’ and the larger variety as ‘prawns’. Though in bengali cuisine, its simpler and to eradicate any confusion the lexicon sticks to ‘chingri’.
This is a 5 min recipe and a cross between the ‘bhapa’- steamed chingri and the chingri malai curry.
Chingri (prawn/shrimps) – 10-15 cleaned and deveined
Onion – 1 large
Ginger paste– 1 teaspoon heaped
Garlic paste – 1 teaspoon
Tomato – 1 small
Grated coconut– 2 Tablespoon
Red chilli paste – to taste
Turmeric – ½ teaspoon
Sugar – 2 teaspoon
Salt – to taste
Mustard Oil – 2 tablespoon
Wash and marinate the prawns in salt for 2-3 mins. Put all the ingredients (including 1 tablespoon of mustard oil) in a blender except the chingri. Heat remaining mustard oil till smoking hot, reduce flame and pour in the chingri with masala mixture. On a medium heat cover the pan and cook for 5 mins. It will have a moist yet fried texture due to the oil released from the coconut and oil. Serve with rice.
The sweetness of the dish compliments the flavours of the coconut and hotness of the chillies.
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