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
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.
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 Shukto
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