Friday, 26 September 2014

Murgi Khichuri

 I had had the chance to meet a renowned scroll painter of Bengal, Swarna Chitrakar, we had spoken about the depiction of Durga in the traditions of Bengal scroll painting. It is a conversation, I hold close to my heart. Swarna and her works were not just examples of superlative creativity, but they said something more about the true essence of Durga Puja. Here's sharing the story, which was not published at the time I had written it, but I am publishing it here, now. Hope you like it. 

Durge Durge tarao Ma go Dukkho binashini
Durjoy Dakshina kali, Nagendranandini,
Chandi Maa’er dosh haath dosh dike shaaje
Tri nayani jolchhey Maa’er kapaler maajhey
the rustic timbre, the lilts and inflection of Swarna Chitrakar’s husky voice, as she lost herself in a refrain in praise of the mother goddess, has a catching effect. Her fingers trace the wavering lines and splashes of vibrant colours on the patachitra scroll rolled out on her lap. The scroll she holds, one she has painted with utmost care, is not just a painting; it is a vivid narrative replete with drama, the splendor of lyrical expressions captured by the flamboyant use of colours — it is a Jadano (rolled)Pat depicting scenes from the Chandi Mangala Kavya, which in turn is an iridescent strand in Bengal’s folk literature, an epical salutation of Ma Chandi, another form of Durga, Devi Mahatmya. The splotch of vermillion and theshankha and pala bangles adorning her wrists may be a misleading, but Swarna Chitrakar is a Muslim by religion and yet it is appalling to witness her crooning ancient Puranic tales, singing tales of the great goddess of the Hindu pantheon. Like Swarna, many of the other patuas, most of them from her village in West Midnapore, are Muslims but Durga plays an important part in their lives and in their art. “Ever since we were little children, we heard tales of the mother Goddess from our fathers and uncles who had heard it from their fathers. The tales of Durga run in out veins linger at the tip of our tongues,” says Swarna.
       Besides, Chandi mangal kabya’s dramatic tales of how Chandi forces Dhanapati, a merchant and staunch worshipper of Lord Shiva, acknowledge her divinity and the travail’s of Dhanapati’s son Srimanta in his quest to earn the benediction of the goddess and rescue his father from the wrath of Chandi, Bengal’s patachitra has captured Durga in a myriad forms. The patua’s of Bengal have explored and largely exhausted the vast repertoire of mythical tales that have Durga, the supreme goddess as the protagonist. “We pain Durga in various forms, sometimes she is seated in a lotus like Mahalakshmi, sometimes she stands formidable with eighteen hands, each carrying a weapon, sometimes she is seen as a gentle mother seated with Ganesha in her arms,’ informs Swarna.
    It is interesting to note howpatachitra is perhaps the earliest predecessor of sliding audio-visual storytelling, in other words cinema. “The patachitra scrolls that depict series of scenes from various mythical tales, accompanied by the musical commentary is among the most ancient forms of entertainment, informative entertainment,” says artist Mrinal Mandal, who has to his credit in-depth engagement with the nuances ofpatachitra, one of his primary interests. Rama’s akal bodhon, which was the genesis of autumnal awakening of the Goddess, the birth of Ganesha from the dirt of Durga’s body, Durga or Parvati’ marriage to Lord Shiva and her journey to Kailash, followed by an entourage of the greatest deities of the Vedic pantheon, and of course the classic scene of Mahishasura Vadh, find expression in bengal’spatachitra. Besides, Durga’s ten avatars, Dashamahavidya — the fearsome Chhinnamasta, blood squirting out of her headless torso as the mother goddess reveals her frightening visage, her self-decapitated head clutched in her fist. Then there is the serene kamala, the hypnotic Bagala, the old ugly widow Dhumavati riding a horseless carriage, the mother as the cosmos as Bhuvaneshwari, Tara, the ocean of knowledge, the supreme Kali with her garland of skulls, Matangi , the fierce Bhairavi and Tripurasundari, she who is the most beautiful in all three worlds.
    It is amazing how Durga is depicted in all her forms and grandeur in humble colours made of anything from turmeric roots to burnt rice, suit from clay ovens and charred clay, all organic mind you, what with the sudden obsession with eco-friendly) and it is all the more interesting to note how Durga is a omnipresent entity in the lives of these patuas, irrespective the boundaries of human constructs like religions, caste and creed. She glows like a sun as the symbol of the oneness of the many and the varied.

It's a pity I cannot find the photographs I had clicked at the time.

Anyway, so Durga Puja is only 3 days away! And boy are we excited. Yes Durga Puja is about ostentatious pandals, mind-boggling light-works, swarming crowds, frightening queues outside restaurants, traffic jam capable of driving you to insanity. Durga Puja is also ablut clandestine romance surreptitious brush of hands, first sight, first love, unrequitted love, heartbreaks and more. And though Durga Puja is not the only time that young love blossoms, (favourable conditions are available all year round), there is something about falling in love at the Puja Mandap. And Durga is about Khichuri! Yes the delicious rice and lentil mashes Bengali's can make a feast out of.  So I am bringing this Puja Ashchhe Series to a close with Khichuri. But this isn't just any khichuri, this one has meat in it. Yes I am obsessed with meats, can't do without them. So here's my version of Murgi/Chicken khichuri. Though I am still going to savour the absolutely vegetarian version of the khichuri on Maha Ashtami.You could use lamb or goat meat too! And from this recipe eliminate the onion, garlic and meat, and you will have a delightful vegetarian version of the Bengali Bhog er Khichuri! 


Chicken - 1 kg
Gobindobhog rice - 200g
Moong Dal - 120 g 
Massor Dal - 100 g
Finely sliced onions - 1 cup packed 
Minced Garlic - 1 tsp 
Grated ginger - 4 tbsp 
Cubed tomatoes - 3 medium sized 
Potatoes (cut in small cubes) - 3 large 
Peas (blanched) - 1 cup 
Turmeric powder - 2 tbsp
Red chili powder - 1 tbsp (heaped)
Asafoetida powder - 1 tsp 
Mustard oil 
Ghee - 50 g 
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste (We add quite a bit, say 4 tbsp for this quantity) 

Whole spices 
Cardamom - 4-5 
Cinnamon stick - 2 inch 
Cloves - 4-5 
Bay leaves- 2
Whole dried red chilies - 4
Whole cumin seeds - 1 tsp 


Wash the rice and lentils together and spread it out on a newspaper to dry out.

Fry the potatoes in mustard oil with a pinch of salt and turmeric powder, until golden and almost done. Keep aside.

In a deep bottomed pan, heat about 4 tbsp mustard oil and three quarters of the ghee.

Add the whole spices and once they begin to splutter add the asafoetida powder.

Once the spices exude their aroma (be very careful after adding asafoeida), add the sliced onions, and fry until a deep golden.

Add the garlic paste and fry for a few more minutes. Now add the chicken, half the grated ginger, turmeric and chili powder and fry until oil separates.

Now add the rice and lentils and fry for about 5-8 minutes. Add warm water and bring to boil. Lower heat cover and sook until rice begins to soften.

Remove cover, add salt, chopped tomatoes, remaining grated ginger, fried potatoes and peas. Cover and cook on medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the rice and lentils are thoroughly cooked. Chicken should be cooked by then.

 The khichuri will be thick, neither too runny, nor absolutely dry. Add sugar and let it simmer for another five minutes uncovered.

Drizzle remaining ghee and remove from heat. Serve hot with chutney on the side.

You could use Basmati is Gobindobhog rice is not available to you. 
In case you are using frozen peas, simply thaw and use. 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Zafrani Golda Chingri and my Durga

 আজ মহালয়া 

Today is the supicious day of Mahalaya, the day the Divine Mother is invoked to descend on earth and establish the power of good over evil.

Mahalaya is very special to me. Has always been. For as long a I remember, (at least 22 of my 27 years on earth) I have always woken up at 3:30 am to listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s arousing recitation of Mahishasura Mardini, aired on All India Radio at 4 am (the audio program was recorded in 1931). For the uninitiated Mahishasura Mardini is a body od slokas and songs that depict the annihilation of demon kinf Mahisasura in the hands of Durga. I for one still feel that child like excitement the night before Mahalaya, looking forward to listen to the radio with Ma and the others, and watch the first light of dawn kiss the night sky. A special dawn it is and one that never fails to leave me overwhelmed with emotions. 

As a child I grew up on  a rich diet of fairytales,  mythology, folklores and more. I feel blessed for that. My grandmother (Dida) was an avid reader, and she had quite a collection of books on mythology, not only Indian mythology, but even Ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology. Every afternoon, Dida would sit on her cushioned chair on the northern balcony and read. On days I would manage to sneek out of my room in the afternoon, I would head straight to Dida and pester her until she would agree to tell me stories. And though she had loads of tales to tell, my favourite ones were the ones about Durga ad her family. I would make her repeat the stories again and again. I did the same thing to one of my aunts who always obliged whenever I demanded a story. But no matter what new tale she tried tempt me with I would want her to repeat the same stories, about Durga.

As a child Durga was a very real part of my life. Durga the goddess, the mother. I did have an extremely imaginitive mind I am told, for which I often landed in trouble, but that’s another story. About Durga, I was so enthralled by this wonder woman, that in my imagination she was an indispensible part of my life. I believed at one point that She especially liked me and knew all about my whereabouts and what it was that I was up to. Eversince I decided that I was one of Durga’s favourite children on earth, my aunt was faced by a real predicament. Now she had to make up stories that featured Durga and me. I knew she was making it up, nonetheless I loved those tales about my adventures with Durga. In them slayed a few demons too, while Durga applauded in awe and gave me a pat on the back.

A few of my friends already know this story, and at the risk of being embarrased I am going to share this with you too. So back then I was in Upper Nursery or Prep. My best friend in school was a boy named Mithun. He was a devotee of Lord Shiva and Devi Durga. He had told me he had special powers given to him by Lord Shiva. I was not happy. A few days later I went to school and asked him,”Guess where I was this weekend (of course I am paraphrasing)? “Where?” he asked. My answer “Mount Kailash”. Mount Kailash is the abode of Lord Shiva, naturally his wife would stay there too. I still remember Mithun’s face when I broke the news. “ I  went on to say I was specially invited and Devi Durga had made me Luchi herself. And the curries were wonderful.” “ I passed the fruits though,” I added. Next day, Mithun’s mother called out to my Mum, when school was over. She requested that my mother tactfully convinces me to confess to Mithun that I had only imagined it all. The thing is Mithun had returned home the day I  had told him of my visit to Mount Kailash, and had thrown such a fit thatit drove his parents crazy. He refused to eat unless he was taken to Mount Kailash. My mother did try to convince me, ha ha, but as far as I am concerned I had already made myself believe that it was all true. Magical but true. I wouldn’t listen. Call me crazy but what is life without a little magic. 

Talking of magic, as I grew up and sobered up, I started looking for magic in two things, books and food. And talking of food, about the recipe I am going to share today. So, my Mahalaya special recipe is yet another prawn dish, this time with jumbo prawns or Golda Chingri, a favourite among us Bengali's. Now, though Hilsa is dubbed the King of fish among us, and though our love for Hilsa is legendary, when it comes to Durga Puja feast, Chingri/prawns have always enjoyed the glory spot, at least at my place. You see by the time Durga Puja arrives the Hilsa season almost comes to an end. You get the best Hilsa during monsoons. Of course you can still buy a good Hilsa at an exorbitant price from one of the bigger fish markets, but my father insists it's not the same. "It isn't tasty enough," he says. So come Durga Puja, Chingri is the delicacy of choice. Of course Bekti (Barramundi) comes a close second. 

So, I had a this sealed pack of saffron I had brought back from my recent trip to Kashmir (though long before the devastating floods hit the beautiful land) and I wanted to put it to use. So, I made my own version of Jumbo prawns cooked with saffron. The recipe calls for some thick coconut milk, cashew nuts, raisins, a few aromatic whole spices and the beautiful Kashmiri kesar/saffron. It looks as good as it tastes. 


Golda chingri/ Jumbo Prawns - 8 
Ginger - 1 inch
Garlic - 2 cloves
Thick coconut milk - 200 ml 
Cashew nuts - 100 g 
Raisins - 50 g 
Whole dried red chilies - 4-5 
Cardamom - 4-5 
Cloves - 4-5 
Cinnamon stick - 1 inch 
Saffron strands - 2 large pinches 
Salt to taste 
Sugar - 1/2 tsp (optional)
Ghee - 2 tbsp + 2 tbsp
Vegetable oil - a few table spoons 
Slivered almonds and saffron strands for garnish


Make a paste of the cashew nuts and raisins together. 

Make a paste of the garlic and ginger together. 

Add the saffron to the coconut milk and keep aside. 

In a pan heat 2 tbsp ghee along with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. 

Smear some salt on the cleaned prawns and lightly fry them. They should just begin to change colour. 

Take out the prawns and keep.

In the same pan, add two tbsp ghee and once it is hot, add the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick. 

Once the whole spices begin to splutter, add the ginger-garlic paste and fry a little, until golden. 

Now add the cashewnut-raisin paste and fry for about 5 minutes of medium hight heat, stirring continuously. 

Once the paste begins to leave the sides of the pan, add the saffron infused coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add half a cup water and cook on medium heat for 6-8 minutes, stirring continuously. 

Once the gray thickens, add the whole red chilies, salt and sugar. Stir and mix well. Now toss in the prawns, carefully stir and mix so that the prawns are laced in the coconut milk gravy. 

Cover and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes or until prawns are cooked through. 

Remove and serve with aromatic rice, like Basmati or Gobindobhog. This should go well with a pilaf too. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Doi Mishti Cupcakes

পুজো আসছে 

A couple of posts ago I had shared a glimpse of the ritual food offering or bhog at a few of Calcutta's illustrious family Pujas. I had also promised to share more about how Durga Puja is celebrated in these private quarters.

Although Durga Puja is deemed as the biggest street festival in this part of the world and notwithstanding the crazy obsession with pandal-hopping pushing through squirming crowds, after all Durga Puja is a very private affair, at least in essence. After all it is the homecoming of our beloved Uma from her husband Shiva's abode. And it is this intimate note that lies beneath the trappings of flamboyant festivity, which touches the heart. And this intimate note can be savoured, not in the showy pandals with their elaborate embellishments, but in the private quarters of some illustrious households of the city, for many of whom Durga Puja remains their connection to an iridiscent past and their bequest, for them to carry into the future.

          It is a lazy Sunday morning. Three weeks before the Durga Puja. The narrow North Kolkata lane is surprisingly quiet – no work-a-day scurry, no groups of garrulous college students flocking road-side tea stalls, no honking rickshaws. Inside the lion gates of the Shovabazaar Rajbari it’s quieter still. The pillared loggia, white with brick red border, runs along the four sides of the central courtyard flooded in golden September sunshine. Not a soul in sight. Three weeks from now the Naat Mandir would be crammed full with people who have travelled from different quarters of the city and from outside too, to witness the fabled Durga Puja at the Shovabazaar Rajbari.
         Once my eyes had become inured to the blazing sun, we spotted a few idols in the making lined up against the wall, mere figurines, the cracks on the desiccated clay prominent. Soon we are ushered in by a lungi-clad man, to meet eighty-year old Arati Deb, our host for the morning. On the way, the man who has been in the service of the Deb family for a long time, points to the Thhakur dalaan where a larger idol of the mother goddess stands in the shadows, streaked by slivers of sunshine.
       Every wall, every façade, from the steep stair well to the balconies and the high-ceilinged hallways, is a reminder to a past of great splendour and extravagance perhaps uninhibited profligacy too. This was where Raja Nabakrishna Deb hosted the Company masters, where famed notch girls of the time awed the guests with the rhythmic wizardry of their feet, where wine flowed unrestrained and music and laughter impregnated the air at all times. This was also where Nabakrishna chose to worship the supreme mother, although it is debatable whether it was the just the question of her benediction that urged his whim. A popular hearsay recounts how Raja had invited Robert Clive to his puja to seek the blessings of the Goddess after the victory of the Battle of Plassey. And Clive’s hesitation to attend the puja on account of being a Christian was assuaged by Nabakrishna’s assuarance. “That can be managed”, he had said.
          Arati Deb, at eighty, betrayed nothing of the growing years. Her age is confirmed only by the large repertoire of anecdotes she has to share and thorough knowledge of the complex rituals that the Maha puja entails. It is her bequest. Of course, there are the tales of freeing the Nilkantha birds, one when Durgas idol left the house and the other when the idol was immersed. Supposedly, the birds were messengers, one of which carried the news of Durga’s departure from earth to Lord Shiva in Kailash while the other returned home with the news of her safe departure. And yes, Arati Deb had also heard that cannons were fired to markMahashandhikkhan the beginning of Shandhi Puja, but that no longer happens. Although, the cannon still lies stock-still at the entrance to the Naat Mandir.

             Animal sacrifice is no longer a ritual of the household, although there was a time when goats were sacrificed. Arati Deb recounts, “Once, years back, it so happened that during the sacrifice, a goat came stumbling upon the feet of Radhakanta Deb, a scion of the family, who was sitting nearby.  He was shaken by the incident; it seemed to him, he said, that the goat was seeking refuge at his feet, as if crying out for pity. From that day onward, animal sacrifice was stopped.” However, symbolic sacrifice of carnal evils is a must. Hence nowadays, sacrifices are made of Magur fish, chhanchi kumro (squash) and sugarcanes. The Rajbari’s Durga pratima (idol) is special too. “The lion at Durga’s feet resembles a steed. You could say it is the combination of the two. The horse, you see, is the symbol of speed, strength and power, the beast of the war field,” explains Arati. I ask her about the other idols, a number of them, I saw on the way and she says, “The idol-makers from Kumartulli stay and make the idols here. That means they have to spend a lot of time here. So we let them make a few more idols here so than they can earn some more money. But I keep worrying about our ancestral moulds for the idols. I hope they don’t make copies of it,” says a concerned Arati.    
    It was quite by chance that I landed in the house opposite the Shovabazaar Naat Mandir, yet another old Calcutta mansion, my curiosity whetted by the sight of idol makers at work. Little did I know that this house, popular in the locality as Ranir Bari, was the residence of yet another bough of the Shovabazaar Raj family. This was where the family of Rajkrishna Deb, the younger son of Naba Krishna Deb. And here too Durga Puja is celebrated the royal way. With Aloke Krishna Deb proved to be quite a raconteur, guiding me through the traditions and elaborate rituals that are an integral part of the Maha Puja, also recalling days of lavish extravagance and abundance when the Brahman priests who performed the puja were endowed with land, cows and gold coins and nothing less than Akbari mohurs were used in the ritual called kanakanjali, in which the goddess considered the daughter of the house clears every debt she owes her parents in a symbolic ritual. “We had kept alive the tradition of freeing the Nilkantha birds for quite sometime unless it was forbidden by the Wildlife Preservation Act. But I have devised a unique way to keep alive the tradition. We make clay models of the Nilkantha bird and immerse with Devi Durga’s idol,” informs Deb with subtle pride. Although cannons are no longer fired during Shandhi Puja, cannon fire has been replaced by gun fire in this quarter of the Raj family.

Again, as was the custom at the time the puja started, when women were essentially purdah-nasheen, Durga too remains behind the purdah. Visitors and devotees have to see the Goddesse’s face through the flimsy chik that covers her face. Another intriguing tradition here is that Durga’s idol is carried to the ghat for immersion on the shoulders of the men of the family. “Hence forth in our family the body of a deceased is never carried on the shoulders as is the Hindu custom. Instead, we carry it on our arms,” informs Aloke Krishna.   

            My next stop was the impressive abode of the Dutt’s on Beadon Street. Interestingly, this lavish house, where Ajoy Dutt and his brother greeted me inside, was called Bholanath Dham – Shiva’s abode, literally. As the Dutt’s informed, for generations they have been staunch worshippers of Lord Shiva. Perhaps, quiet natural for a family that traces their lineage back to Chandradhar Banik, more popular as Chand Saudagar whose unflinching devotion to Shiva and refusal to worship any other deity earned him the wrath of Manasa, the snake goddess. But that’s another story.

However, for the Dutt’s Durga Puja is a much more than a religious obligation. For them it is the homecoming of their daughter Durga or Uma. Here Durga is not worshipped as the fierce, ten-armed Goddess slaying the wicked demon, the symbol of Shakti. Instead, she is still the seven year old Uma who married Shiva and accompanied him to Kailash. And every year when Durga arrives with her four children, she does not leave her husband behind. Shiva too accompanies her, on his favourite ox, the little princess Uma sitting on his lap, and at Bholanath Dham, Shibo-Durga is welcomed and worshipped with great pomp and ceremony. The idol, although made anew every year, the wooden frame is as old as is the puja, over a century.
          Uma is a princess Rajnandini; hence she has to be treated like one,” says Aloke’s Dutt. The bathing ceremony is especially astounding. “Uma is bathed in water collected from 41 different sources,” informs the Dutts, “water from seven seas, seven rivers, first drop of rain, first dew drop, water with lotus pollen, water from Gomukh, water in which you have washed eight metals and so on and so forth,” he adds. This list is not only long but staggering too. Another interesting ritual of the Dutts is Dhunoporano. It is a special ritual in which women sit on the Thhakur dalaan with dhunuchi with burning frankincense in their hands and on their heads, a votive offering, so that the Goddess grants their most desperate wishes.  

        Next destination, the lavish mansion of the Laha’s near Thanthania Kali Bari. Durga Puja at the Laha Bari is a tradition over two centuries old, although not even the family members can recall the exact year of initiation. At Laha Bari too the clay idol of Durga is different from the usual ten-armed, lion riding Goddess one sees in the pandals. Here too Durga sits on Shiva’s lap with her eyes shut. But this clay idol of the mother goddess is over shadowed at least in spirit by the Ashtadhatu idol of the household deity Jai Jai Ma, who is yet another visage of the divine Goddess. Jai Jai Ma journeys from the prayer house to the Thhakur Dalaan with much ceremony and it is only on Bijaya Dashami that she returns to her original seat.
           Many an interesting anecdote and mysterious tale lingers within the walls of the Laha Bari that are also the basis of many an interesting ritual held sacred in the family. Sandhya Laha, who is in-charge of the Puja this year, (since now-a-days, with the extension and segregation of the Laha family, different family units take turns in performing the puja) says, “On Bijaya Dashami, after Jai Jai Ma is taken back to the prayer house and once the idol of Durga leaves the precincts of the house, every door in the house in shut down. No one can leave and neither can anyone enter the house, until news of Durga’s immersion is brought home.” There is an interesting story behind this strange ritual of the Laha family. “According to a family legend, one of our forefathers had had a dream in which our family deity, Jai Jai Ma, that the pomp and festivity with which Durga’s idol is taken for visarjan, tempts her to leave the house and follow them, too. From that day onwards, every door in the house is closed once the idol leaves the gates and is opened only after the family members return after immersion. We knock on the door of the prayer house thrice, asking if Jai Jai Ma is still there and only then open the doors,” informs Sandhya Laha, before she warmly invites me to visit during the pujas, when hundreds of pandal-hoppers and tourists flock to the Laha mansion, for a glimpse of the regal celebrations.
              The tales and recollections of these households are only a small part of the innumerable tales and accounts, some strange, other intriguing that wait to be heard in some of the fabled houses of Calcutta where Devi Durga is worshipped with great splendour, but where she is less a goddess and more a dear daughter. And in these houses every year is spent in eager anticipation of her arrival. It might simply be a grand celebration for an onlooker but for these families it is a very personal affair, one of the heart. And their lives almost pivot around the nine days of Devi Paksh. An outsider can only sigh in awe.

Now about today's recipe. It is another one of my innovations. Now among us Bengali's, the best conclusion for a meal is doi-mishti. Doi, is yoghurt, but this is no ordinary yoghurt. This is Bengal's famous mishti doi, renowned for it divine sweetness and reddish colour. And by mishti, well we refer to the vast assortment of sweetmeats. Usually with mishti doi we would pair sweetmeats made of cottage cheese or chhana as we call it. Doi-mishti is this awesome twosome every Bengali swears by and no traditional festive bengali meal is complete without the two. This time I thought why not make the two one and hence came up with My Doi Mishti cupcakes. A layers of saffron infused sweetened cottage cheese topped with a layer of cardamom infused mishti doi, baked in cup cake molds. Two traditional delicacies = One awesome dessert. Try it.


Milk – 1 litre
Juice  of 2 limes (or I large lime)
Saffron strands – 1 tbsp + more for garnish
Condensed milk – 3 tbsp
Mishti Doi/Sweet curd – 200 g
Crushed crdamom seeds – ¼ tsp
Chopped almonds for garnish 


Bring the milk to a boil. Add the saffron and let the milk boil for a few minutes. The milk will soon begin to acquire colour from the saffron.
Now add the lime juice. The milk will curdle. Keep boiling on a low flame until the water separates and the beautiful saffron tinged cottage cheese/chhana floats up.
Drain the water and tie the channa in a muslin cloth, squeeze out as much water as possible, then hand it up for an hour, to release any remaining water.
Now knead the chhana, pressing it down and forward with the heel of your palm, repeating until it is smooth.
Add condensed milk and mix thoroughly, kneading it further until you have soft doughy mixture.
In a bowl whisk the mishti doi ad crushed crdamom together
Grease four muffin molds with a little vegetable oil.
Fill half the mold with the whisked yoghurt and the remaining half with the chhana mixture.
Bake in a preheated over at 120 degree centigrade for 25-30 minutes.
Cool just a little before unmolding.
Garnigh with saffron strands and chopped almonds and serve as a dessert! 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Mutton Curry Bihari Style - Vishwakarma Puja special

পুজো আসছে 

Today is Vishwakarma Puja. Vishwakarma, the divine architect, or the heavenly engineer. aturally, Vishwakarma is worshipped with great devotion among the professionals in fields related to architecture and engineering. Although to me Vishwakarma Puja is more about flying kites and mutton curry. Moreover, Vishwakarma Puja (it usually falls on the 17th of September, and only rarely a day before or after, depending on the lunaar calendar) also marks the beginning of the Festive season. If Vishwakarma Puja has arrived, Durga Puja cannot be far away.

Our family enterprise deals with electrical construction and engineering, and it goes without saying that Vishwakarma Puja is celebrated with much pomp and ceremony at our factories. The preparations begin days in advance and the Puja is followed by nightlong feasting and carousal among the workers, and there are several hundreds of them.  

Idol of Lord Vishwakarma 
When my grandfather was alive, the entire fmily, including the women and the children would go around visiting the factory sites, joing in the celebration, nowadays only the men go. I wonder when and why the custom changed.  I merely think of mammoth pots of spicy, rich mutton curry and the mounds of pulao and salivate.  Not that I have to miss it though. Because, every year the workers send home insane amounts of mutton curry in huge clay pots and innumerable boxes of sweets. The meat is cooked by the masterchefs among our work force and trust me I havent had such delicious meat elsewhere. And over the years the recipe I believe has been the same, because other than minor distance it tastes the same each year. I have always wondered how they make and it was on my bucket list to try and recreate the mutton curry. This year I was determined to makes the Vishwakarma Puja mutton curry at home.

I aked Rajinder Chacha the other day, Rajinder Chacha has worked in our factories for nerly 4 decades now and is no less than family now. He promised to return with the recipe, but all he did get was a rough outline from one the cooks, a native of Darbhanga, in Bihar, which is alsow here Rajinder chacha hails from. And this mutton curry I have obsessed over turned out to be the simplest mutton curry I have ever cooked. And also the spiciest and delicious! And on this holy day, I proudly present my Vishwakarma Puja Mutton Curry. 

By the way, even though I have replicated the dish and it turned out awesome, I will feast on the mutton curry they send from the site tonight! Yippeee! And this one is so simple you could cook it up for dinner TONIGHT.


Mutton - 1.5 kg
Onions - 6 large
Garlic - 1 whole pod
Ginger - 50 g
Salt to taste
Mustard oil - 3/4 cup
Turmeric powder - 1.5 tsp
Yoghurt (beaten)- 100 g
Whole spices
Coriander - 4 tbsp
Cumin - 3 tbsp
Pepper corns - 3 tbsp
Cardamom - 4-5
Cinnamon - 2-3 inch
Cloves- 4-5
Whole dried red chilies - 3-4


In a grinder add the onions (cut in cubes), garlic, ginger, all the whole spices and 1/4 up water, and grind into a thick paste. It will be slightly grainy from the spices but that's what we want.

Heat mustard oil in a heavy bottomed pan/wok and add the blended mixture and fry on medium heat until oil separates.

Now add the meat and turmeric powder and and continue frying on a medium high flame, stirring continuously until oil separates again.

Now add salt and 200 ml hot water and and mix well. Also add the beaten yoghurt, mix well.

Transfer to a pressure cooker and pressure cook for about 40-45 minutes or until meat is tender. Serve with rotis or plain rice.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Prawn Cutlet: Like none other

পুজো আসছে

 The restlessness of standing on the queu watching people walk away with their oil stained thongas or paper boxes, the smell of fried goodness teasing your nostrils as they pass you by, the patience and perseverence in braving Calcutta’s stifling, humid, heat, wiping your sweaty palms in your handkerchief time and again, while listening to the women in front discuss their mother-in-law issues, the respite at finally reaching the counter and screaming out your order and hearing it echo as the man at the counter shouts it out over his shoulders to the lanky lad standing at the door to the kitchen, the joy of finally holding that flimsy polythene packet with your very own oil stained thonga/paper bag, or the despair of hearing, “Hobe na, shesh hoye gechhe” (Not possible, it is over) – every bonafide Calcuttan has experienced all these emotions mostly in the same sequence, just for the sake of his favourite cutlet or fish fry.

Yes Calcutta’s chop-cutlet culture is stuff of legends and I am no exception when it comes to Calcutta’s renowned chop-cutlet the best of which you will find in hole-in-the-wall eateries tucked in busy, crowded streets. However, mostly when we talk about Calcutta’s chop-cutlets, the cafes and cabins of North and Central Calcutta always claim the limelight. Which is ok, but not quite. I am a South Calcutta girl, which means, and there are reasons, I am different from someone born and brought up in North Calcutta. But that’s another story. In short, we have experienced the city in different ways. To come to the point, I have had to depend on chop-cutlet shops in South Calcutta to satiate my cravings mostly. Yes once in a while, I did have that odd Kabiraji from Mitra Café. And to tell you the truth you do get some gorgeous chop-cutlet in this part of the city too. And my favourite in Campari.

Campari is located in South Calcutta’s most popular shopping area Gariahat, (even te posh malls haven’t been able to dim the glory of Gariahat. It is like the New Market (another legendary calcutta market dating back to the colonial days, Hogg Market) of the South. Campari is not exactly a hole-in-the-wall joint. It is larger. And it even has a few tables inside. There are no chairs. You have to stand around the tables and grab your bite. But to me the place dishes out some of the best deep fried goodies in the city. And my favourite is their Chicken Cutlet, a thick chicken breast fillet, gorgeously spiced, crump coated and fried to perfect. The bone remains attached to the breast fillet, makes it easy to hold the cutley, but I am known the scraple of the crumb coating from that piece of bone too.

I still remember the weekend trip to Gariahat with my parents. My mum went to shop, my dad and I went for the chicken cutlets we would invariably have at the end of the shopping spree. In fact, my dad would be restless all the while my mum stepped in and out of shops, sometimes merely window shopping for hours. He would try to hasten the process, but mum would take her time, chiding him once in a while for his childish behaviour. The real child with them, ME, would be in real distress actually. Those were the longest shopping sprees I’ll ever go on. Finally Mum would be done and I would accompany my mum to the car while Dad would head straight to Campari to get our chicken cutlets and fish rolls. Ma loves their fish rolls more.

And every time Ma would insist that we eat only after reaching home cause we would dirty the car otherwise. Or she would site the need to wash our hands as a reason why we should wait until we got home. My dad complied, but I know he only pretended to. Because he wanted to wolf down those cutlets are fast as I wanted to. And then I would start begging, and Dad would find the perfect excuse to dig in. “Come on,” he would say, “she has been waiting for so long”. On certain days Maa would ask Dad to get the cutlets packed unfried. “We could fry them at home and eat them for dinner, piping hot.” She would say. And my heart would sink.

We do not go on those customary weekend trips to Gariahat anymore, now we go once in a while but mostly to Campari. I still love their chicken cutlets and fish rolls. And while Bangali's love for chop cutlet is perennial, chomping on chop cutlet and fish fry during Durga Pujo is special. And this time I plan to go Cutlet joints hopping rather than pandal hopping. My friend Priyanjali, a journalist with a leading daily in the Capital, is coming down to the city this pujo, and I plan to drag her along. By the way it is her birthday today. So Happy Birthday Priyanjali. Stayed blessed always! 

Now about this post. Yes I am going to share with you my recipe for prawn cutlets. My dad swears by prawn cutlets and I make them often. But this one is a different game altogether. So I started out to make Chingri Paturi, basically prawns marinated with mustard and coconut paste and a few other ingredients, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection. But then obsessed as I am with giving my dish a twist,I was not satisfied. I thought a little, cribbed a lot and finally turned the paturi into cutlets. The result is fabulous. 

Now shapng these cutlets are a bit of a challenge, I have used 6-8 whole prawns. And you would need some patience to get it right. But if I could, you can too. 


Medium sized prawns (cleaned, heads, tails removed) - 750 g 
Coconut paste - 3-4 tbsp 
White mustard paste - 2 tbsp 
Poppy-seed/ khus khus paste - 1 tbsp 
Green chili paste - 1.5 tbsp 
Minced green pepper/ capsicum - 1 medium sized 
Salt to taste
Bread crumbs as required 
Eggs 1+1 
Mustard oil - 4 tbsp 
Vegetable oil for deep frying 


 In a bowl mix the prawns with all ingredients except the eggs, bread crumbs and oil for frying. Keep aside for fifteen minutes. 

Now add one egg to the prawn mixture. And in another bowl whisk the other egg, add a pinch of salt and pepper and keep.

Now tip the bread crumbs onto a large plate or board ad spread out evenly. Place 6-7 prawns on the bed of crumbs in the shape of a cutlet.. Press the prawns together. With your hands scoop up bread crumbs onto the cutlet. press down gently once the cutlet is formed brush of extra crumbs from the top and very gently flip it over. Gently shape and press together the cutlet. 

Now with a brush apply the whisked egg onto the surface of the cutlet and scoop over more bread crumbs for a second coat press together firmly but gently. Turn over and repeat the process. 

Refrigerate the crumbed cutlets for a couple of your. 

Then heat oil in a pan, once smoking hot add one cutlet at a time and fry on medium low flame until crisp and a golden brown. 

Serve with a lime wedge, fresh greens and ketchup.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Kenya Flavours @ Swissotel Kolkata

We had braved a scorching May afternoon in New Delhi to catch a show of The Ghost and the Darkness. I was all of nine and my companions, my cousins M and B, 13 and 8 respectively. My grandfather had accompanied us but all the while the three of us pretended we were on our own. It made us feel like grownups. Besides, it was the first time that I was going to watch a film in the theatre . It felt like a definitive day of my life. My parents have never been the movie-going kinds and prior to that day I had not savoured the bliss of watching a film on the giant screen while chomping on popcorn and siping on chilled Coca Cola. This was back in 1996 and as far as I can remember

At first I had thought the film was a horror flick. My grandfather said, it was about a pair of lions. I was a little disheartened. I loved, still do,  horror films. Anyway, on the way to the threatre, we had gone to Priya Cinema hall in Vasant Vihar, my grandfather gave us a little background information, he told us about the Man Eaters of Tsavo.

Yes the film, starring Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer,  was about the two notorious lions of Tsavo, Kenya, who preyed on the labourers building the Uganda-Mombasa Railway at the end of the nineteenth century. At nine, the film was an overwhelming experience for me and few of the scenes haunted me for nights after. In fact the film is still a favorite, expert verdict notwithstanding. And ever since I have wanted to go to Tsavo. And as I grew up a Kenyan safari has been at the top of my wish list.   

But what I hadn’t much idea about was Kenyan cuisine. And when I, along with fellow members of KFB, received a invite to sample Kenyan cuisne at Swissotel Kolkata Neotia Vista’s Kenyan Food Festival, I was ecstatic. This was one food festival I couldn’t miss.  Chef  Zachary Ngugi Mugori, of FairmontNorfolk, Nairobi has come down all the way from Kenya to introduce Calcutta to the nuances of Kenyan cuisine.

We were at Mayaa, I picked a seat by the glass wall overlooking the marshlands and grazing fields of Rajarhaat, sounds exotic eh. On the table in front of me was an assortment of mouth-watering appetizers. I passed the grilled prawns with mango salsa with a heavy heart, but then there was the absolutely exotic pumpkin leaf wrapped stuffed with sweet pumpkin, goat’s cheese, cinnamon and honey, a subtly flavoured grilled chicken on skewers and piping hot potato croquettes with a green pea centre.  The pumpkin leaf wraps were striking, more so because I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I wasn’t too crazy about them and stopped at one. But the chicken skewers were quite good, in an understated, subtle sort of way. But I went berserk over the potato croquettes. Yes it is strange that I would go to a food festival serving an assortment of exotic Kenyan dishes and wolf down half a dozen potato croquettes, albeit delightfully flavoured and with a beautiful golden brown crust, but for a potato fanatic like me, I simply can’t help it. No reason stands in the way! PC, my friend and fellow blogger whole heartedly shared in my potato plunder. Did that make me feel less guilty? Well…

Since there was no hurry, I chatted a little, clicked a few photographs all in an effort to fortify myself for the buffet across the room. The cynosure of the buffet spread was definitely a whole young goat roasted to perfection. And its lure was irrisistible. But before that there was a delightful spread of salads, a selection of artisan breads and a giant pot of carrot and ginger soup to deal with.  I am not  fan of soups and I had no intention to fill up on it, not after I had caught a glimpse of the meats on offer. So I piled up some bread and a few dollop of butter and proceeded towards the salad.

Now I love salad. But I am a little choosy. I only eat salads that is in breach of the very aim of eating salads. So, I went straight for the Sweet Potato Crispy Bacon salad, drizzled a little of this garlicy dressing on it, reflected for a moment, and went for a second helping right away and made my way to the roasted goat. I am not a pro at carving meat , I am very clumsy, and so for the longest time I stood there, salivating all the while, trying to figure out how to go about it.  At this point, chef Pranay came to my rescue and offered to send the meat over to my table.

At the table there was no stopping me. I slathered obscene amounts of butter on my bread and savoued them with the delightful potato salad, chewing on the crunchy bacon with utmost pleasure. Between mouthfuls of bread and salad, I struggled to hold a meaning conversation with PC. And then the meat arrived, cut in big chunks and drizzled with caramelised jus. The minty roasted meat coated with the delightfully flavourful caramely jus was definitely was definitely one of the highlights of the meal. I craved a second helping but then chided myself. There were several other dishes to go through. And I needed a 
fresh plate.

A fresh plate in hand I sauntered down the table, checking out each dish, debating on which one to try first. I stopped at the Ugali. I knew Ugali, cornmeal cakes that are a staple in his part of Africa. I had read about them and I was looking forward to trying them. Chef Mugori joined me at this point. He stacked a few Ugali cakes on my plate, and on top of it he spooned over some Sukuma Wiki. He took a few steps further down the table to the platter of Kachumbari, a salad made with finely chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumber. The Ugali, chef Magori told me, is savoured through out the country, It is had with meats (grills or stews), milk, fresh or fermented, or milk mixed with animal blood. The Sukuma Wiki, basically collard greens, seasoned and sauteed with onions, loosely translates to “take through the week,” chef Magori said.Its affordable and hence can be had every day of the week. It is the daily food in Kenya. In Calcutta, the chef used spinach to recreate the dish.

I moved on to the meats. There was grilled quail and aubergines, beef medallions served with vegetable in its natural juices, reduced to a flavourful jus and grilled lamb chops served on a bed of fried potatoes in a similar, yet differently flavoured, jus. Chef Mugori was piling my plae with meats whilst talking about the regional versatality of Kenyan cuisine. The spread he had designed had elements from different parts on Kenya. The Nyama Choma, grilled meats are chiefly the bastion of the nomadic Masai tribes who are primarily engaged in aial husbandry, and were continually on the move following their herds wherever they went. Hence they are largely dependent on animal meat which they can grill on open fire in the wilderness. Chef Mugori pointed towards the Bekti fillets in tamarind and coconut sauce and grilled prawns further down the table, “those dishes represent the coastal region of Kenya. Game birds like quail is consumed extensively in the western part of the country. Incidentally, Kenya food also displays elements of Indian cuisine. Indian migration to Kenya began with the transportation of indentured labourers to Kenya during the construction of the Uganda railways (yes the Tsavo connection too) and many of them chose to settle in Kenya. Gradullay the number increased and today Kenya has a sizeable Indian population who have also influenced the country’s cuisine. The Coconut rice, plantains  in a peanut sauce and a flavourful lentil curry were dishes with significant Indian influences chef Magori said.

 Back at my table the amount of food on my plate intimidated me. But this was no time to be inhibited. I chose to dig in. The tender quail meet easily fell of the bone and with a slice of grilled aubergines and dunked in its light, subtly flavoured jus it was nice. Though I wasn’t particularly crazy about it. The beef medallions were cooked just right, soft, a little chewy and oh-so-juicy. It’s natural jus was beautifully caramlised and the grilled vegetables, peppers, Kenyan beans, onions and brocolli added a crunch to the dish. I savoured it with my Ugali and sukuma wiki for that authenticity kick. I had planned to return for the vegetarian dishes, but by the time my plate was polished clean I was gasping for breath. There was the dessert section to sample still, and I decided to give the lentils and plantains a miss. Desserts are important and I was not missing them. 

Chef Magori chose to exhibit Kenyas indigenous fruits  as part of the days desserts. The dessert section comprised sweet potato strudels that were strictly okay, kashata, a deadly sweet and chewy coconut cookie, a shocking green in colour, an assortment of fresh tropical fruits and the best possible conclusion to a delicious meal, a pineapple crumble served with chocolate, vanilla and mango sauces. The pineapple crumble, with its crunchy, crumble outside, and soft, gooey inside is one of the best desserts I have sampled in a long time. I instantly declared it my favourite and despite numerous warnng from my stomach, I took a second helping of. If I go back for a second round of Kenyan goodness, it will be above all for the pineapple crumble. 

Go check it out! 

Festival details
When : Till September 16, 2014, Dinner only
Where: Café Swiss, Swissotel Kolkata Neotia Vista
Pocket pinch: Rs 1600 plus taxes / person.