Thursday, January 20, 2022

Joynagar er Moa | a winter Bengali treat from Bulbul Majumder

Joynagar Moa

Joynagar er Moa | a winter Bengali treat

Joynagar er Moa is a famous but rustic sweet of Bengal. Made from khoi , kheer and nolen gur, it is a rare winter treat made in the small town of Joynagar about 50 kms from Kolkata. What makes Joynagar er Moa so famous is the Kanakchur Khoi(Bengali: কনকচূড়) ,made from Kanakchur rice, an aromatic variety of rice from West Bengal, India. The popped rice or Khoi prepared from Kanakchur retains that aroma. This Khoi and locally harvested Nalen Gur(Khejur Gur) is used to prepare the Jaynagarer Moa. When one says local and seasonal, Khejur Gur and Joynangarer Moa are the first things that come to my mind! The Joynagar er Moa recipe I have shared here is with ingredients I get here in the US.

A few years back, Baba had sent me these pictures from the local sweet shops in Kolkata which also sell this sweet during winter. This was not the case when I was growing up. You could not just go to a store and buy it. 

In our small, sleepy, town, quiet winter afternoons were frequently nudged out of slumber, by the soulful cries of "Moa chai... Joynagar er Moa" as hawkers from the village, went from home to home, selling this delicacy. The syllables rounded into soft o's and a's morphing into the sweet balls themselves with such potency that we often imitated the "Moa chai...Joynagar er Moa" cries during evening play. They would come on bicycles, loaded with plain white paper boxes tied with yellow or blue strings, the boxes labeled as "Joynagar er Moa" in Bengali scripts. 

There was a certain longing in those cries, a clarion call, it stirred an intense desire within you and even if my Mother was taking a nap I would nudge her that the Joynagar er Moa guy is here. Some of those sellers were authentic, some not. Mother had an uncanny instinct and she would know. After the usual bargaining over price and quality a box was bought. Those plump round balls of khoi and kheer, with raisin at the center and sweetened with  patali aka khejur gur were the treats we looked forward to every winter.

Here is the Joynagar er Moa or rather "Amar Nagar Moa" recipe. Now let me be clear, that the very unique taste of Joynagar er Moa, comes from ingredients(kanakchur khoi and poyra gur (liquid khejur gur))  specific to that area. Since you don't have access to those, yours will be close but never the same. Nothing can beat the taste of quality, local ingredients❤. But the unfortunate ones, living far away, can try to make a close second, or third.

I got this recipe from Bulbul Majumder last year and since then have made it a couple of time. Bulbul who is a Software Engineer by profession and a watercolor artist by passion. She believes that if we wish to achieve something from the heart we can always make it real. She lives on the side of the globe which is far apart from Bengali dishes but her strong wish and her Bengali taste buds inspires her to create the magic in her US kitchen.

Bulbul is an artist par excellence and her paintings are truly mesmerizing. 

When I asked her, when she is feeling low, what is the one thing that makes her happy; her answer as expected was painting. It is a rare gift to have a passion that can bring so much happiness.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Nonta or Jhaal Koraishutir Patishapta - Bengali Crepes

Patishapta | Jhaal Patishapta | Nonta Patishapta

The deluge of Pithe and Patishapta photos on my social media feeds finally got to me. I wasn't feeling exactly inclined to making anything as both my mother and in-laws have been not that well, and my mother, the trooper that she is did not have the energy to make anything for Sankranti.

But then the "hyangla" person in me got the better of me. If I did not make anything for Sankranti, how would I eat at least a patishapta ? It is not that we have a mishti'r dokan across the street selling perfectly rolled patishaptas or doodh puli or roshobora bobbing in syrup. Btw, all this patishapta and pithe being commercially sold is a very recent affair. There used to be pithe utsab etc but never were these found in neon lit glass shelves of mishtanno bhandars. It was always a made-in-the home affair.

So finally, I got my fat behind off the couch and made two kind of stuffing on Thursday night -- the traditional coconut-jaggery stuffing and a savory green peas stuffing. Now the problem with stuffing is, they are so good by themselves that it is hard to wait to make the actual thing that goes around the stuffing. It needs lot of mental strength to not keep eating them.

Now why the green pea savory stuffing? Because my girls are not fond of the sweet coconut jaggery stuffing. On the other hand, they both like the green pea stuffing that goes in a koraishutir kochuri. 

So the easiest workaround to do ek dheel e dui paakhi, is to make the nonta or jhaal patishapta with the same koraishuti filling and the regular sweet patishapta with the coconut-jaggery stuffing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Chirer Pulao | Poha the Bengali way

Chirer Pulao | Poha the Bengali way

Chirer Pulao | Poha the Bengali way

Bengali Chirer Pulao or Chirar Polao is largely similar to a Poha, with small differences like the former does not usually have kari patta, is sweeter and is overall Bong. Made with flattened rice, called chire or poha, the Bengali version is studded with vegetables like potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and sweet peas in winter. Garnished with fried peanuts or cashews, coriander leaves and a squeeze of lime it is a sweet and tart delight, prefect for breakfast.

Food happiness is when your food takes you back to a happy place. It is like a short vacation to a place where you will probably never return to or at least not for now. The few minutes in your mind makes up for it and the warmth of the memories are enough to piggyback on for rest of the day. Like this Chirer Pulao today took me back to my home in the small town that holds a special place in my heart. I will never be able to go back to that home and the sepia toned memories, now colored in my mind, makes it all the more special.

Winter is a season of beauty and fresh vegetables in the plains of Bengal and nowhere else it makes as much as a show as it does in the smaller towns and villages.

 In the small town that we lived, every house or rather quarter/bungalow had a stretch of overgrown lawn in the front and a patio at the back called uthon. The uthon which was usually cemented had a few trees, a koltola (an area for washing clothes and utensils) and a water storage tank called choubachcha, as water supply through the pipes was only twice a day and water had to be collected in large quantity for later use. I loved our uthon with its huge mango tree and spent most of the winter sitting there under the sun with my books.

The front lawn however was a different story. Depending on the interest of the dwellers, the front lawn could be a fully maintained vegetable farm producing everything from potatoes to cauliflowers or a flower garden that could put a prize nursery to shame or even a rectangular badminton lawn.
Unfortunately our front lawn was none of these. It was just a large expanse of green grassy lawn from the gate to the front porch bordered by orange marigolds and shadowed by a huge banyan tree in a corner. The banyan tree took all the attention, praised for shade and breeze in summer and blame for blocking the sun in winter -- oi ashwatha gaach wala bari ta was how our house was identified.

Towards the back of the lawn were a couple of guava trees, and a patch of kitchen garden on the side by the kitchen, tended by my mom. Her kitchen garden in winter boasted mostly of juicy red tomatoes, some carrots and coriander. Not much compared to the huge haul of vegetables that our neighbors would produce. However we did get the occasional cauliflower and potatoes as gifts from the neighbors. 

Even otherwise, vegetables at the nearby haat were as fresh. All local. All organic. Smelling of earth, air, water and manure. I don't know if winter vegetables just tasted better in their texture and taste  but I was way more fond of cauliflower, carrots and sweet peas than the summer veggies of parwal and lauki!

So in winter, Chirer Pulao studded with tiny cauliflower florets, orange jewel like carrot pieces and emerald green sweet peas was a favorite for breakfast or school tiffin.

As far as I go Chirer Pulao is largely similar to a Poha, with small differences like the former does not have kari patta, is sweeter and is overall Bong. The experts may differ. My Mother made chirer pulao with a tadka of cumin seeds and finished it with lime juice and fresh coriander leaves. Sometimes she seasoned it with mustard seeds and curry leaves. It would be a little sweet and tart. That chirer pulao would be studded with crunchy brown fried chinebadam pale on the inside, alu bhaja -- finger length potatoes fried and soft, crunchy florets of cauliflower sautéed to a soft golden brown and luminescent green jewel like sweet pea motorshuti . It was a simple dish, I thought.

The first time I tried to make it on my own in the US, my self-esteem took a good beating. The chirer pulao turned into a chirer khichuri. And it all happened in the split second that I was searching for the mustard seeds while the poha was soaking. I did not know of a term called "mise en place" and I did not know I was using thin poha. It was the wrong kind. The thick poha stands a better chance of holding its own and is the poha of choice for Chirer Pulao.

Having survived that tragedy, I have been making the chirer pualo the way my Mother makes and it is still a favorite. I add more vegetables than the Poha and I also add cooked Oats at times to the same recipe,