The Following recipes are taken from "The Calcutta Cook Book: A Treasury of Recipes from Pavement to Palace" by Minakshie Dasgupta.

Borar Jhal

(Lentil Balls in Mustard Sauce)

Serves 4-6

>> Jhal and Jhole are the inseparable twins on a Bengali menu, the one alternating with the other in everyday life. They may be vegetarian or not as pleases the cook.

  • 100 gms split dried lentils (kalali/biuli or masoor)
  • 4 green chillies
  • 1/2 tsp ginger paste
  • a pinch if asafoetida (hing)
  • 1 cup mustard oil
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds (kala jeera)
  • 2 tbsp paste of black and yellow mustard seeds, 2 green chillies, 1 gm salt, 1 tsp sugar mixed with 3 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Soak the black lentils for half an hour, drain and grind them with 2 green chillies, salt, sugar, ginger paste and asafoetida. Whip for 7-10 minutes by hand and for 2 minutes in a blender. Heat one cup mustard oil to smoking in a karai, reduce heat and drop level tablespoonfuls of the batter into it carefully so that they form into balls (boras) as they fry to a golden brown and come to the top of the oil. Remove them with a slotted spoon and leave to drain while you make the sauce.

Pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the wok. heat the oil to smoking and fry the kala jeera until they give out their fragrance. Add the paste mixed in water. After it comes to boil, let it simmer for 10 minutes. Add the boras, mix well with the sauce and remove from the fire. The boras will absorb the sauce, but there should be enough left to eat with rice.


Maachher Polau

(Fish Polau)

Serves 6

>> No one who has lived in Bengal for any length of time has been able to resist the fish in the rivers. Meat polaus have been adapted to fish. This recipe comes from Dr. Sonya Noor whose family lives in Malda, North Bengal, where the Ganga is full of this fish.

  • 1kg of hilsa (but any firm white fish like rui or bhetki will do)
  • 750 gms Basmati rice
  • 1-inch piece of ginger
  • 2 medium onions
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 350 gms yogurt
  • 200 gms ghee
  • 2 green cardomoms
  • 4 cloves
  • 2-inch piece of cinnamon
  • 4 bay leaves
  • hot water
  • 3 cups warm milk
  • 2-3 tsp sugar
  • salt to taste

Cut the fish into half inch thick steaks (10-12 pieces). Wash and semi dry the basmati rice. Grind to a paste the ginger, onions and garlic.

Mix the onion-ginger-garlic paste with half the yogurt and a little salt and marinate the fish for 1 hour. Heat the ghee in a pan until very hot. Reduce heat and fry the green cardamoms,cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves till they are fragrant. Add the fish and marinade and fry for another 3 minutes. Lower heat, add half a cup of hot water and cook for another 7 minutes on moderately high heat. The water should have evaporated and the fish cooked. Remove the fish and set aside. Leave the gravy in the pan. Add rice to the pan and cook on high heat until it changes color. Add 3 cups of hot water and warm milk, sugar, salt and stir well. Let it come to the boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes. The rice should be almost done but still moist. remove the rice and butter the pan well. Layer it with rice and fish alternately beginning and ending with rice. Whip the rest of the yogurt and pour it over the rice. Cover with a tight fitting lid. bake the polau in a preheated oven (300 F, 150 C) oven for 15 minutes.

Sonya says the best part of eating the polau is to scrape the bottom of the pan for the bits which refuse to come out easily!


Monoranjan Pitha

(Little cakes of Semolina and Coconut in Thickened Milk)

Makes 30 pithas

>> Pitha are eaten over the three days of Pitha Parban in mid January. This recipe is from the note book of Renuka Devi Choudhurani, who was a great cook. It is a good example of pitha-making being a leisurely craft as it requires patience, time and skill but the end result is worth it.

  • Half a coconut (ground)
  • 100 gms semolina (sooji)
  • 30 gms dehydrated milk (khoa)
  • 60 gms sugar
  • 1 litre milk
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • green cardomom seed (ground)

Grind half a coconut and mix i well with the semolina, dehydrated milk and sugar. Boil and reduce the milk in a pan to a little more than half the original quantity and allow it to cool. Cook the ground coconut mixture in a wok over moderate heat until it leaves the sides of the wok. Shape into tiny half-moon shaped cakes and place them on a greased plate. Heat the ghee in a frying pan and spread it all over to grease the entire surface of the pan. Fry the pithas a few at a time on very gentle heat, turning them over carefully so that they brown evenly. this is the tricky bit. the oil should not be too deep in the pan and the heat really low. Place them carefully in the thickened milk as you lift them from the pan.

Sprinkle the dish with ground green cardomom seeds.

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