Friday, April 06, 2007

Charchari - a Bengali Vegetable Mélange

Charchari, according to Wiki is a unique char flavored vegetable dish, found primarily in Bengali Cuisine

Why I resort to Wiki -- because I did not know about the importance of this char flavor and that this is the reason the dish gets its name. Wiki further says -- Just as the vegetables begin to char, a sizzling sound is heard, and the pot is removed from the heat. After a few minutes, the thin charred crust is stirred gently into the dish. No, I don't wait for the sizzling sound, am not that good a bong cook yet. There is little chance of the vegetables charring in my non-stick Kadhai and I would rather not wait to hear the sizzle to get the right amount of charring and have the risk of my vegetables burning away to glory.

For me Charchari has always been a dry vegetable Bengali Dish, where the Charchari is a noun and the particular Vegetable gracing it the adjective. Thus Alu Charchari is a Charchari with Potatoes, Alu-Fulkopi Charchari is a dry dish with Potatoes and Cauliflower, Begun Charchari has Brinjal playing the central character and so on. The method of preparing is more or less the same and the only thing that varies is the vegetable and the spice used for phoron or tempering. It could be Panch Phoran, Black Mustard Seeds, Kalonji.

Interestingly Charchari can also have fish in it, the small fish like Mourala or small Shrimp is sometimes added and with some fish head thrown in the regular Charchari becomes the mouth watering Kata Charchari

However the quintessential Charchari is the PanchMishali Charchari or the Charchari prepared with 5 different veggies. The 5 is a average number not random though, it could be 4 or 6 but definitely not 10 or 2. Nowdays when I or anyone in the family or my friends say Charchari, we always know that the Charchari in question is the "PanchMishali Charchari" and not any of the Single Veggie Charchari. So I guess the name Charchari is now synonymous with the one made of 5 or more different vegetables one and it has gained its present status by its popularity, and health benefits.

Though we would refer to Charchari as a Mixed Vegetable Dish in English, it is not a generic Mixed vegetable Dish i.e a generic mixture of any vegetables would not do. There are some that are absolute must and some that are optional

The Main Actors
Jhinge or Ridge Gourd ~ This is a tender veggie, it releases water on cooking and this aids in cooking the Charchari without any additional water being added
Kumro or Pumpkin ~ This lends its sweetness to the dish and I think also adds that colour
Alu or Poatoes ~ Keeps the dish together by its integrity and solidness.
Begun or Brinjal ~ Gets mushed up easily and its softness lends a tender touch to the Charchari

The Side Players
Shim or Runner beans ~ You could substitute this with string beans or french beans
Mulo or Radish ~ This I guess adds a crunch to the dish, and is my Ma's favorite. She is always trying to add this while I try to avoid
Shojne Data or Drumsticks ~ Tender, Green drumsticks a joy to munch on were my favoroite but they were available only during early summer. The frozen ones here are aged and does not taste that good but I add them sometimes

Care should also be taken while cutting the veggies as all of them go in one pot and are cooked at the same time. So you should try to have some semblance in sizes which they are chopped.

Just like most traditional dishes dishes every Bengali Household has its own way of cooking this Charchari, how else would you compare your Ma's Charchari with your Ma-in-laws. They vary a little around the central theme but do not go off the tangent and add onion and garlic to a charchari and I am yet to see anything like this recipe Wiki refers to here. Nutmeg and Cloves in a charchari, no thanks I would stick to the traditional one.

The recipe here is my Ma’s way of making Charchari. She steams the veggies a little first as that lessens the cooking time or something. Instead of steaming first you can do it all together too. Serve it as a part of a traditional Bengali meal with White Rice for Lunch or Dinner but Lunch is usually the preferred meal to serve and eat Charchari

I am sending this to Anh for this weeks Weekend Herb Blogging -- created by Kalyn of Kalyns Kitchen hosted by Anh of Food Lovers Journey


Charchari - a Bengali Mixed Vegetable Dish

What You Need

Serves about 6-7 people when served with other dishes

Potatoes ~ 2 cups. I used the red potatoes, others work fine
Brinjal ~ 3 cups
Yellow Pumpkin ~ 3 and ½ cup
Ridge Gourd ~ 3 and ½ cup
Shim or Broad Beans ~ 2 cups
Drumsticks ~ 6-7 cut ones (not in pic)
Green Chillies ~ 6-7 slit

Mustard paste ~ 2 tbsp
To make paste: Soak mustard seeds in water and then wet grind to a smooth paste with green chillies and a little salt

Turmeric ~ ½ tsp
Hing or Asafetida ~ ¼ tsp
Panch Phoran ~ 1 tsp

Salt ~ according to taste
Sugar ~ 2 tsp

Canola Oil ~ 6 tbsp. This is an approximate measurment
Mustard Oil ~ 2 tsp

Vadi ~ 8-10 small Bengali vadis are best. I used the Punjabi Vadi found here but the flavor did not go well.

How I Did It

Wash & Chop the veggies in almost equal sizes
In a Kadai put all the veggies with ½ tsp of turmeric and 2 tbsp of mustard paste and cook covered. No need to add water as the Ridge gourd will release water and this will be enough.
Cook till the veggies are done
Heat Oil in a Kadhai/Frying Pan
Temper with Panch Phoron and Hing/Asafetida, Green Chillies and wait till the spices pop
Add the steamed veggies
Sauté and add sugar and salt. Mix well.
Do not stir any more and cook till the water dries out and maybe try hearing the sizzle sound if you would. I just wait for the water to dry and that is absolutely necessary.
Drizzle 1 or 2 tsp of Mustard Oil before you take it off the heat. If you don't have Mustard Oil you can skip this step
Enjoy with White Rice or you can also have it by itself if you wish. A healthy, tasty dish is waiting for you.

With Vadis
If you are using Vadis, fry them brown and keep aside. Crumble them on top of the finished dish. The Punjabi Masale Wadi I found in my Indian Grocery Store lacked the requisite flavor and crunchiness that is required for this dish. The Bengali Dal Vadis or Boris are best for this. The Bengali Vadis are known as Boris and are small sun dried cones of lentil paste, the shapes are like Hershey's Kisses

Note: Remmeber to cut the veggies in similar shapes and sizes.
The other Bengali dish which is also a medley of vegetables is

Trivia: Bengali Bori (Vadis in other parts of India) is made of various types of lentil paste. Usually they are shaped like cones some what like the Hersheys Kisses and sun dried. Making Boris was a art in a Bengali house and was done with the utmost sanctity. The Boris were usually shaped some what like the Hersheys Kisses and there was a lore that if you could make your cone(the pointy thing) sharp, your husband would have a sharp nose. The district of Midnapore is famous for its Goina Bori , Goina meaning jewellery, which are unique for their beautiful designs


  1. Sandeepa, ur description made me all mouth watering :))Guess its lunch time here and I really wish I had that dish with a plate of steaming hot rice!


  2. Sandeepa, we make this combination of mixed vegetable dish without the mustardy element and call it labra which basically means a mishmash of many, and without the fact made it a couple of days ago and was just thinking about posting it.For us charchari is any vegetable with the mustard paste...but not with this combination ...this is only for labras...but I've tasted your type on numerous occasions during our stint in Kolkata and love it...

  3. Sandeepa, great recipe :)Love this dish :) This is similar to the Ghanta we make back home in Orissa, except that Ghanta has a little gravy and we don't add badis to it.
    Instead of the Masala Badi's try the plain, small badi's available at the indian store. They taste much better.

  4. Sandeepa, your charchari recipe reminded me of my moms mix veg ghasi. Lovely dish to add to that is your lovely write up.

  5. Sandeepa, Charchari dish looks great and the lovely description makes it even more tasty. I prefer the dish the way you have it without the char

  6. A veggie lover's delight! I have yet to try Mustard oil in cooking...will have to get it and make this, I love such combinations of flavors.

    have a lovely weekend,

  7. Great write as usual Sandeepa.Cahrchari looks mouthwatering, sounds like Navratan curry:))

    Glad DMC is running well,lot of great discussion there.Loved it.I am off blogging today,see you on Monday.Have a great weekend S!:))

  8. Sandeepa, quintessential bangali vegetable item :-) I am not a big fan of chorchori but your version looks really delicious.

  9. That was one informative post Sandeepa!!!! Its nice to get a peek into some other cultures cuisine!!! :) The pleasures of blogging...... AAAHHH!!!!!!!!

  10. Mishmash
    You are too sweet :)

    Thanks for the info. We too make Labra and it was great to know about your kind of charchari

    Shall try the plain badis. Do you know of a good brand ?

    OH, never heard of Ghasi. Guess every state in India has something similar :)

    I got the green chana today. Hope to make your dish soon

    If you don't want Mustard oil you can skip it. In this dish I use it mainly at the end

    See you after the break

    I never liked Charchari or Shukto but D loves both these dishes and I gradually have taken a liking

    True, I have got to know so much about regional Indian cuisines through Blogs

  11. After reading your blog I realized my lack of knowledge about Bengali food. The names are so different. This dish looks so good.

  12. Thanks for this wonderful write up Sandeepa...I do want to try out different cuisines for the veggies...and kudos to you for popularising vegetarain Bengali stuff too...
    Can you suggest a menu for a vegetarian bengali lunch, from the items you have blogged so far so that I can do it one sunday and call my Bengali friend over...she would be thrilled!

  13. Sandeepa, another great post! I wonder how I pronounce the name... char-cha-ri?

  14. Ah! My own favorite. We make it the same way too (panch phoron and mustard paste), but add some saag/leafy veg to the mix as well.

  15. Sandeepa, I often make this at home, usually to use up the many veggies in the fridge and to avoid having to cook the next two days :)
    I always use potato and brinjal, the panch phoron. The other veggies vary. A great favourite of mine!

  16. Wow Sandeepa, that was such an informative post!!! Each veggy has a specific role in the dish, I never really thought about that concept ever. In Kerala, we have a mixed veg dish called Avial, again a mix of vegetables, I bet there is a function for each and every veg in there too, more food for my thoughts... :)

  17. Thats a delightful preparation, Sandeepa. Loved your description of main actors and side players. Mustard Oil does give a distinct taste to the vegtables. Loved every bit of this post-you sre have a way with words and vegetables :)

  18. charchari looks yumyummy. sandeepa, you are a true bong cook, an authentic one. don't ever fret about that. mustard paste plus mustrd oil. only a true bong cook would do that.

    i'm really warming up to this mustardy business and it's thanks to you.

  19. Shilpa
    Thanks, yeah these everdyay food are not really popular among non-Bongs

    You have to wait till I make the "Chanar Dalna" or a gravy with Paneer which has to be a part of a Bengali meal, if you are serving Vegetarian :)

    Seems you did fine, unless I hear you of course :)

    Oh yours too, even my hubby loves it. I am not that much a fan

    I sure smell a "Bong Conection" at your home. Never have I heard any non-Bong making Charchari. Is "The Hubby" a Bong ? Or else I need to get your autograph :)

    The role of the veggies is something I thought up, meaning they are the Main and the Side players, but the reasoning was my theory and there could be other reasons too

    You are a darling

    Thanks but didn't get "don't ever fret about that." Why would I ?
    I cannot live without eating Bong Food more than 5 days in a row, so someone has to cook it right ?

  20. that was in response to this comment of yours, sandeepa:

    "No, I don't wait for the sizzling sound, am not that good a bong cook yet."

  21. Bee
    Hee, hee, THAT is true. I am really not good yet, I am still on the curve.
    When I was in B'bay at my first job all I could cook is "Egg Curry" and "Cauliflower Curry". That too I would toss the Cauliflower florets from far because I was afraid of the sputtering.

    Recently a friend of those days who was also a classmate was visiting after many years and he was kind of waiting to see my "cauliflower throwing" stunt.

    When I calmly stayed near the oven all the time, cauliflower et al he was amazed ;-) and really appreciated my current culinary skils BUT I myself know I have a whole lot to learn

  22. Sandeepa, your post is incredible! I always admire the way the Indian cook vegies. Always so nice and gotta gave the spices on! :)

  23. Its a new recipe for me. I have not tried mustard paste and mustard oil in cooking at all Sandeepa. I like the part of crushing the vadis at the end. Ur write was good as usual.. a lenghty one though(really patient).

  24. I haven't heard of this type of Bengali dish where the charring technique adds flavor. Very interesting hearing about it. I like the sound of this dish a lot.

  25. Hi Sandeepa,
    This is my first time here! You have a lovely blog.. I have never really had any Bengali food except of course my favorite Jhaal muri :-) Your charchari recipe sounds really easy and delicious. Sounds very similar to a konkani dish with coconut called Ghashi..except we use dal in it.

  26. I found that butternut squash tastes exactly like "kumro" back home - when the pumpkin is not around :) .. amd if you like lau d(n)ata , you can try out the asparagus minus the tips - they taste just like them ...


  27. Sandeepa, I owe you this one and have been meaning to do this for a while -- a big thank you for your blog.
    I have tried out several of your recipes, some with a few variations based on my tastes (sometimes experimental)or on what's available in my fridge.
    They are all great!
    Keep the Bong recipes coming...
    Thanks again!

  28. Thank you, very nice post with every details. wanted to know it because of long time away from bengal

  29. Oh! You are right. Except for the regional variation, this is indeed very much like mezhukkuvarati! Thanks for telling me about this. I will try the traditional charchari too sometime!

  30. Dear sandeepa cheers for the posts. Your recipes are pretty authentic and mouth watering. I want to add that in charchari one of the main player is the cut stems of cauliflower leaves! This gives awesome taste, just like radish.

  31. hi,
    with charchari, i remember a dish with Chalkumro.Any one can try this.Chal kumro with sorse bata....Awesome dish!!!!!!!

  32. i thought this was called panch mishali tarkari. chhachhari is stir fry...

  33. Thanks for the recipe. I used a bag of frozen vegetables (carrots broccoli, cauliflower, beans) and Coldeman's mustard for a shortcut. It turned out really yummy and got two thumbs up from hubby. Btw would you happen to know why everytime i grind brown mustard seed (in a coffee grinder), the curry turns out bitter?

  34. You are sharing creative blog but needed some more information so please provide lot more content. thanks.
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