Beyond maach and mangsho, there exist boundless numbers of Bengali dishes focused on vegetables. With a rise in the number of people choosing to be vegan -- or, at least, people who are trying to eat vegan as much as possible -- more and more people are finding out the rich greens-side of Bengali cooking. These dishes command a repertoire of culinary know-how and also the knowledge of the vegetables that are available throughout Bangladesh. On Pohela Boishakh, it might be the best opportunity this year to celebrate with a vegan twist in our quarantine hosting; let the bhorta, shak, rice dishes and vegetable curries pleasantly satisfy you with piquant flavours. Given that we are still social distancing this April 14, I shall keep this article friendly towards the current shopping limitations.
This was a dish I had at my Aunt Lisa’s house. I took a large helping of this rice dish (which looked like khichuri) and dived into it with some bhorta! I was surprised at the tangy taste and instantly fell in love. This recipe -- although not the exact one -- I’ve prepared through trial and error. It does not taste exactly like my aunt’s, but is still delicious.
• 2 cups rice (kali jira)
• 3 cups water
• 2 small or 1 large unripe mangoes, grated
• 1⁄2 tsp black mustard seeds
• 1⁄2 cup freshly grated coconut
• 2-4 dry red chillies
• 1⁄2 tsp of asafoetida powder (hing)
• 1 tbsp oil
• 1 tsp of mustard seeds
• 1 tsp of split white Bengal gram
• A handful of fresh curry leaves
• 4 dry red chilies
Method for cooking the rice:
It’s good practice to rinse your rice in a strainer before cooking. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it will rinse off any dusty starch on the surface of the rice along with any leftover chaff or stray particles. (Note: Some kinds of rice have more starchy coating than others) Measure the rice and the water. For most kinds of rice, use a 1:2 ratio of rice to water. Measure a half cup of uncooked rice per person and scale this ratio up or down depending on how much you’re making. Some rice varieties will need a little less or a little more water as it cooks, so check the package for specific instructions. Bring the water to boil in a saucepan. Rice expands as it cooks, so use a saucepan large enough to accommodate. Add the rice. When the water has come to a boil, stir in the rice, salt, and butter (if using), and bring it back to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook. Put a lid on the pot and turn the heat down to low. Don’t take off the lid while the rice is cooking -- this lets the steam out and affects the cooking time.
Method for the mango:
Grind together: 1/5 cup of grated mango, 11⁄2 tsp black mustard seeds, 1⁄2 cup fresh grated coconut, 2-4 dry red chilies, asafoetida powder. You can find grated coconut in the freezer section of your local superstore. You will need to add a few tablespoons of water to get the blender going. You should end up with a tangy, raw mango chutney with a mustardy kick to it.
This step adds another layer of flavour and texture to the rice. To a tablespoon of hot oil, add 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds and 1 tablespoon of split white Bengal gram. When the mustard seeds turn pale gray and pop explosively (step back, or find a handy cover), add a handful of fresh curry leaves. Add the remainder of the grated mango. Add the ground mango chutney and continue cooking on low heat for about 5 minutes until it is no longer raw. Season with salt and turmeric. Let cool.
Assembling the mango rice:
Mix the chutney gently into the rice, taking care not to mash the delicate grains in the process. I find my fingers work best for this. Be patient, working the mixture together so that no pockets of plain rice remain. Use a sprinkling of sesame or other oil if the mix looks dry. Add roasted peanuts, additional coconut if you feel extravagant (I did) and a sprinkling of coarse sugar to balance the tartness of the mango.
Abba’s lal shak
This is the vegan version of a dish my father made at my sister’s holud. It will take you quite a lot of time and effort to prepare it, but it will be one of the dishes that you relish and put on a dinner table time and again. It is a beautiful way to elevate the humble lal shak.
• 1kg lal shak
• 500g coconut cream
• 150g raw peanuts
• 1 tsp turmeric powder
• 2 tsp cumin seeds
• 10 green chilies, chopped
• 1 tsp sugar
• 3 tbsp coconut oil
• 5 tsp salt
• 250g boot er daal/split chickpea
• Take three separate bowls. Soak 150g daal in the first one, 100g dal in the second, and peanuts in the third bowl. Soak overnight.
• Next morning/afternoon, peal the red skin off the peanut, and boil them until slightly tender. Pound half the peanuts (75g) until half broken.
• Grind the remaining half of the peanuts (75g) into a fine paste. Reserve both the prepared peanuts in separate bowls. Set aside.
• Boil the dals (150g + 100g) separately until tender; grind the 100g portion to a fine paste. Set aside.
• Pound the remaining dal (150g) into half broken pieces. Set aside.
• In a mixing bowl, combine the following: peanut paste, daal paste, coconut cream, turmeric powder, green chili, sugar, and salt. Set aside.
• Rinse the shak and chop them along with the shak-stems into small segments.
• Heat a pot (deghchi), throw in the lal shak along with water clinging to them, cover with a lid and cook until shak has wilted.
• Partially mash the shak with a potato masher or back of a glass, pulverizing a portion of the shak into a coarse paste.
• To the shak now stir in: half broken peanuts and half broken daal. Mix up to merge the ingredients and cook for a minute.
• Pour in the coconut cream mixture and mix again, bring the shak to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.
• Heat the coconut oil in a small saucepan, toss in the cumin and cook undisturbed until they stop sizzling. Pour the oil along with the cumin over the shak and fold in, and serve.
There always needs to be a very comforting potato dish on the table, in my opinion. Something you can nibble on between lokmas of curry mixed and smashed rice. This recipe is that of one of my childhood beloved dishes my mother would make.
• 1⁄2 cup sabudana/sago pearls/tapioca
pearls soaked overnight, water
• 1 cup potatoes pre-boiled, water
• 1⁄2 inch ginger
• 2 green chilies
• 1⁄4 cup fresh coriander leaves
• Salt to taste
• 1⁄4 tsp cumin seeds
• Refined oil to shallow fry
• Sabudana/tapioca pearls/sago pearls -- in order to cook them, they are required to be soaked overnight or for six hours at least. 1⁄2 cup of sago should be soaked in 1⁄2 cup of water. Use the same cup for both the measurements, and you will never get it wrong! Next morning, press a single sago pearl between two fingers and it should be soft and squishy, but not sticky.
• Potatoes -- boiled potatoes act as a binding agent for these chops. You can simply boil a couple of potatoes
in very little water and allow them to drain over a sieve in order to remove maximum moisture.
• Finely chop the green chilies and fresh coriander leaves.
• Mash the potatoes and sabudana pearls together. Mix rest of the ingredients and mash up well.
• Divide the entire mix into six equal parts, and roll and pat them into chops or cutlets.
• Heat refined oil in a pan, enough to shallow fry the chops.
• Fry the chops till they turn golden and crisp. Drain them out on a paper towel or napkin to soak the extra oil. Serve hot and absolutely do not cover to keep them crispy!
Kale orange salad
This is obviously not a Bengali recipe or vegetable, yet I urge you to try this incredibly fresh, colorful and vibrant salad. Kale contains fiber, antioxidants, calcium, vitamins C and K, iron, and a wide range of other nutrients that can help prevent various health problems. It is salad that was made up & tried on my family today; needless to say that loved it! I got my kale, cucumber & cherry tomatoes from Farm Fresh Organics -- they have a website (farmfreshorganics.com.bd) and deliver the very next day.
• 2 malta, cut into segments
• 250g kale
• 2 medium onions, thin slices
• 120g cherry tomatoes, halved
• 3 cucumbers, sliced
• 1 green apple, thin slices
• 11⁄2 tsp olive oil
• 1 tsp salt
Salad dressing ingredients:
• 1/3 cup olive oil
• 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
• 1 tbsp honey
• Salt to taste
• 21⁄2 tsp pepper
• Add all of the ingredients to a small bowl
and whisk together.
• After washing and drying the kale, place it into a bowl.
• Massage the kale with 11⁄2 tsp olive oil and one tea spoon salt to break down the tough cell structure and give the kale a softer texture.
• Add all the ingredients into the bowl.
• Add the three tablespoons of the dressing and mix with hand. It should be sweet, tart and savory. If it needs more dressing, add bit by bit and see what works for you.
Deshi chickpea crepes
These savory chickpea crepes are gluten-free and vegan, and have an incredible flavor. Crepes can be a bit of a pain to cook, and you do need patience. I use a crepe pan to make these. But, you can use a small shallow fry pan if that’s what you have. Keep the heat on medium-low and grease the pan between each crepe for the best results. This recipe makes six crepes.
• 1 1/4 cups (300ml) lukewarm water
• 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for
• 1 cup (125g) besan (gram flour) or chickpea
(garbanzo bean) flour (see note)
• 3/4 teaspoon salt, or add to taste
• 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
• 1 teaspoon onion, minced
• 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
• 1/8 teaspoon red chili powder
• 1/8 teaspoon black salt
• 1/2 cup (19g) firmly packed fresh cilantro
leaves, roughly chopped
• Pour the water and oil into a bowl, and then add the flour and the dry ingredients, except the cilantro. Mix just until the mixture is combined with no lumps. Add the cilantro leaves, and mix.
• Transfer the batter to a jug, and let the batter sit for 10 to 15 minutes to thicken slightly.
• Using a paper towel, very lightly coat an eight inch (20cm) nonstick crepe pan or frying pan with about 1/2 teaspoon of oil. Heat the pan over low to medium-low heat, depending on your stove. Lift the pan off the heat and pour in a scant 1⁄3 cup (75ml) of the batter, quickly swirling the pan to allow the mixture to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. (I swirl the batter twice over the edges so that they don’t get too thin and crispy.) Return the pan to the heat and cook the crepe for about two minutes, until bubbles form on the top and the sides lift easily from the pan. Gently flip the crepe with a spatula and cook for about one more minute, until lightly browned. Transfer the crepe to a plate. Repeat this process with the remaining batter, lightly greasing the pan with paper towel between each crepe. Stack the finished crepes on top of each other so that they soften and remain pliable.
Corn kofta curry
There isn’t much to say about some dishes expect that they are an absolutely DELIGHT!
• 2 tins of sweet corn
• 1 tbsp minced garlic
• 1 green chili, finely chopped
• 2 tbsp corn starch/rice flour
• 1/8 cup bread crumbs (optional)
• Salt to season
• Oil for frying the koftas (or pan roast)
• Spinach curry ingredients:
• 3 cups spinach leaves
• 1/2 cup sliced onions
• 1 tbsp minced garlic
• 1 tbsp minced ginger
• 2-3 green chilies (adjust quantity to suit
• 1/4 cup coconut milk
• 1 tbsp + 1 tsp oil
• Red chili powder for garnish
• Firstly, use a food processor to coarsely crush corn kernels. Use a sieve to drain off the excess corn milk. Do not overdo this step, or it could turn the corn dry and mealy.
• Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan and add the chopped garlic and green chilies that are meant for making the koftas.
• Sauté for about a minute, and add the crushed corn.
• Mix and cook. As the corn begins to dry up, add salt and corn starch/rice flour and mix well.
• Continue cooking until the corn becomes a moldable mixture. Set aside and let it cool
• Meanwhile, heat a teaspoon of oil in another pan. Add the garlic, ginger, green chilies, and onion and sauté till the onions turn translucent.
• Reduce the heat to low and add the washed spinach leaves.
• Cook for a minute until the leaves wilt and turn the heat off. Set aside and let it cool.
• Going back to the corn mixture, take a small amount and check if you are able to mold it
into a ball. While it will not be as sturdy as a potato ball, it should be able to retain shape. If not, add some bread crumbs to make the mixture stiff.
• Now make ping pong ball sized balls with the corn mixture.
• Make a thin paste of the remaining corn starch and water.
• Heat oil for deep frying the koftas. Coat the corn balls with the thin corn starch paste and drop them slowly, one at a time into the hot oil.
• Do not overcrowd the oil. Once the koftas turn golden, take them out of the oil with a slotted spoon onto some paper towels (to drain excess oil, if any).
• Continue the frying process for all the corn balls.
• Using a blender, make a smooth puree of the cooked spinach leaves.
• Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan. Add cumin and allow it to crackle. Add a pinch of garam masala into the oil and the spinach puree.
• Add salt and mix well. Add some water if required to adjust the consistency of the curry.
• Add the coconut milk, mix well and turn the heat off.
• Dunk the koftas in to the curry, mix to coat the koftas with the curry.
• Cover and let it rest for not more than 10-15 minutes before serving. This is to ensure that the koftas absorb the curry but do not break while serving them.