BOOK REVIEW AND RECIPE FROM
BONG MOM’S COOKBOOK By Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta
Pour yourself a cup of tea, find a cool spot [Delhi is HOT at the moment] and watch, through the window of this charming book, as the Bong Mom goes about her day in her suburban US home. Weekday stories of hectic mornings with two girls to ready for school, and stories of relaxed Sunday mornings with phulko luchi and aloo chorchori. It is not a cookbook but food is the central theme that ties the stories together.
A Bong Mom’s Cookbook could be a glimpse into your own life, more so if you are a foodie, and who isn’t one? I could relate to the anecdotes about childhood summer holidays filled with food memories. Isn’t it amazing how some memories are so clear in our minds? And their associations stay with us forever.
In winter when the first flush of fresh sweet green peas flooded the markets, my Dida would make koraishutir kochuri for those evenings of adda. Making them needed a little preparation. Soon after lunch Dida would climb three flights of stairs to the terrace where the winter sun cast a warm glow. My mother, a couple of aunts, cousins and I would follow. we would spread out coloured maadur and settle down, our feet stretched out on the reed rugs. Sitting there, we would shell the tender peas from their fleshy, pale green pods, biting on their sweetness every now and then. Other mashis would join us. They would passionately discuss Uttam Kumar’s new movie, discuss the third aunt’s daughter-in-law and complain about the peas this year not being as sweet as those in their childhood. I would wander off to perch myself on a stack of loose red bricks and peer over the high railing to watch the busy road below where men on bicycles carried heavenly liquid notun gur in earthen pots and sweet balls of rice crispies, their seller shouting ‘Joynagar er Moa chai…M-o-a’ in a raspy voice. When the cold winds from the north rustled through the glossy leaves of the jackfruit tree in the garden and the shadows from the railing stretched long enough to reach the jar of pickles kept out for sunning, we knew it was time to go down to the warm kitchen.
The book is replete with such recollections and makes you nostalgic about days gone by. Even the mention of the brass pump-stove in her Chhoto Dida’s kitchen made me dreamy eyed! The book also chronicles the process of orienting oneself in a new world, the quintessential immigrant from India, in the landscape of America, the land (or superstore!) of mind-boggling choices. But the resourceful Bengali (as others of similar ilk) soon figure out where to source their Bangla fish. Many amongst us also know all about packing a bag for that first trip to the US – the pressure cooker and spices take precedence over everything else.
It is hard to believe that the Bong Mom started to cook in earnest only after landing in America! As a young professional in Bombay, she lived mostly on cafeteria food with an occasional street food trail that started with a Frankie-roll at Churchgate and ended with warm rabri at Malad. This can only make you miss home food even more and it is only natural that phone calls home got “…gradually…peppered with more recipes than I had ever asked for.”
We also learn that, despite the obvious obsession with fish, Bongs Also Eat Veggies! This chapter contains what I found to be the most hilarious recounting of an episode of mistaken identity which got the Bong Mom and her husband, the H-man, an invitation to the most elaborate Bengali feast when they were still struggling students in the US. As they are chatted up they realise they have been mixed up with an illustrious researcher of nano-porous materials, which they obviously are not. They decide to leave quietly but not before completing the meal, partaking of the last course – mishti – of lyangcha and bhapa doi. The incident and the meal left a lasting impression and pushed the Bong Mom to start her blog.
There is the tongue-in-cheek humor directed at herself and all the food bloggers out there – our passion, bordering on obsession, about taking pictures and the lengths we will go to to style the picture just for the blog.
Beautiful plates, pretty countryside, food set out in a way I have only dared to imagine. A sprig of thyme daintily tucked in, a swirl of cream, a sprinkle of coarse pink salt all done painstakingly to perfection. People eat like that, even with toddlers tugging at their aprons? They have rolled up napkins and beautiful crockery set out on distressed wood tables for a quiet lunch at home? No one actually gulps down dal and rice, licking their fingers and standing by the corner, like me?
Don’t underestimate the H-man either. He makes a mean dhone pata chicken and is the critic to beware of. He has serious observations about what constitues an egg curry. But of course, his mother’s spicy dim kosha is legendary. You will find recipes for both in the book!
Another great thing about the book is that you can start reading from wherever you open the book; the chronology is not central to enjoying the book. In fact, that is how I read it: I was just flipping through and before I knew it, I had gone through about half the book as the TV tried to vie for my attention in vain! If you want to order your own copy of this immensely readable book (and not just for the Bengali recipes), here’s a link to the Flipkart page. I suggest you do it right away! I wish the book had included a recipe index; it would make it so much easier to get to the recipe that you are looking for. For more Bengali recipes (with pictures!) you can always go to the Bong Mom’s blog! You can also download the QR code reader and scan the code on your smartphone from the last page of the book to search through her blog.
PS: I almost forgot! I have two copies of Bong Mom’s Cookbook from the publisher to give away to the readers of A Mad Tea Party! If you would like to enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post; tell me why you would like to have a copy of your own! Two winners will be picked randomly. The giveaway is open to readers in the US and India only (you make up 98% of my readers!). The giveaway is open for two weeks (till June 10th) after which I will pick the winners, who will have a week to get in touch with me.
I picked the mustardy shorshe dharosh to try. It is not for the weak, but if you are like me and like strong tasting foods, give this one a try. I love, love, the spiciness of mustard, and was not overwhelmed by the quantity of mustard in this. If you are chicken (by the way, shorshe chicken is great too – I tried a recipe last month and both the son and I loved it!), then follow Sandeepa’s tip and use just the water from the mustard paste for a more mellow mustard flavour.
(reproduced from Bong Mom’s Cookbook, by Sandeepa Mukherjee Dutta)
To make mustard paste:
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp posto/poppy seeds
2 tbsp fresh grated coconut (optional)
1 tbsp yoghurt
1 tbsp water
4 green chillies
salt to taste
1 tbsp kasundi. If you do not have kasundi, double your mustard paste by using 2 tbsp mustard and 1 tbsp poppy seeds.
1/4 tsp nigella seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
sugar to taste (optional)
2 tbsp mustard oil
(I doubles the recipe for the quantity seen in the pictures.)
Wash the okra and then pat dry. Chop off the head and tail after drying.
Soak mustard and poppy seeds in water for 20 minutes and then make a paste with all ingredients listed under ‘mustard paste’. The paste should be smooth. If more water is needed add a small quantity. Instead of the paste you can also use the readymade mustard powder.
Note: If the pungency of the mustard is too much for you, you can sieve the mustard paste and use the mustardy water, but then you need more of the paste to make enough liquid.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a shallow frying pan. Saute the okra with a sprinkle of turmeric at medium heat. Cover and saute for about 4 minutes till okra is lightly but not fully cooked. Sprinkle salt and remove and keep aside.
Heat another tbsp oil. Temper the oil with nigella seeds. When the seeds start spluttering, lower the heat and add the mustard paste. Cook the paste for a minute at low-medium heat. Add the kasundi. Then add the lightly fried okra. Add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder. Raise the heat and toss everything well together for one more minute.
Now add 4-5 tbsp water and salt to taste and cover the pan. If you have added kasundi be careful with the salt. Let the okra cook in the mustard sauce. If needed add a little more water. The tender okra will cook fast and be done in about 5-6 minutes. Remove the cover and check. The sauce will be thick and clinging to the okra. Add a little sugar and mix nicely. Drizzle a tsp mustard oil and serve hot. Tastes best with white rice.