What is a Ghonto ? In simple words it is a dry vegetable dish cooked in a Bengali Kitchen
But the simplicity ends there. All dry vegetable dishes are NOT Ghonto, ghonto is a mere subset of all possible dry vegetable dishes in the Bengali Kitchen. Incidentally there is also an area of intersection with dry non-veg dishes.
What is the unique feature which binds all ghonto ? No clue, except for use of some common spices. For some strange reason unknown to me, there is BandhaKopi'r Ghonto (a dry Cabbage dish), Lau Ghonto( a dry Bottle Gourd dish), Mulo Ghonto(with radish) but there never is a Dharosh(Okra) Ghonto.
After much brainstorming(yeah I need to storm my brain on such complex matters), it dawned on me that "Ghonto" is derived from the word "Gha(n)ta" in Bengali, which means to mix.While Charchari derived its name from the method of cooking which lets the veggies char a little, I guess Ghonto too derived its name from a cooking method where you basically, mix/stir and cook. So while you wouldn't stir a Charchari much in a Ghonto you would. Following that logic, you would need veggies that can retain their shape even on mixing and so you choose veggies like Cabbage, Bottle Gourd, Radish etc. for your ghonto and not softer ones like Okra. This is just my theory, if you have any idea on the nomenclature, please do share.
For carnivorous bongs, every veggie dish has a non-veg equivalent so though Ghonto is largely a vegetarian dish you also have Muri Ghonto with Fish head and you can add fish head or shrimp even to a BandhaKopi'r Ghonto or a Lau Ghonto.
Again for some strange reason though a Bong will add Fish or Fish head to a very vegetarian dish(as above) they will not even use onion or garlic when cooking the same vegetarian dish sans the fish. So a typical BandhaKopi'r Ghonto or Lau Ghonto or whatever will not have onions or garlic and same is true for any charchari
The recipe I have here is a niramish(veg) BandhaKopi'r Ghonto that my Ma makes. To make it amish(non-veg) she will just add fried shrimp to it or fried pieces of fish head. This is usually served with Rice and Dal for everyday Lunch, with Rotis for Dinner and sometimes with Khichuri in a comunity feast like Picnic etc. You can squirt a little lime juice and have a bowl of it, just by it self too, I like it that way.
I usually don't cook my cabbage to death, I like it crunchy but usually in this dish it is cooked till the cabbage loses all its crunchiness. The hubby says my Cabbage dish reminds him of the cabbage cooked during the neighborhood picnics that he went to as a kid. That doesn't sound like a compliment, I am guessing he says that because my cabbage has a crunch and not because he has bad cabbage memories from the picnics.
BandhaKopi'r Ghonto -- a dry Cabbage dish
Prep: Chop in fine thin pieces 1/2-3/4th of a medium sized cabbage, amounts to about 6-8 cups
Fry 1 cup of peeled & cubed potatoes with a pinch of turmeric. When they are a light gold in color remove and keep aside. They will not be cooked fully at this point.
Add 1 Bay Leaf/Tej Patta, 1 tsp of Whole Cumin Seeds/Jeera and 4 slit green chillies
When the spices tart spluttering add 2 medium sized tomatoes finely chopped
Fry till the tomatoes are all nicely mushed up and there is no raw smell
Add 1/4 cup of grean peas and saute for a minute
Add 1 tsp of Cumin Powder/Jeera Powder, 1 tsp of Corriander Powder/Dhania Powder, 1/4 tsp of Red Chilli Powder and 1-2 tsp of freshly grated Ginger. I usually mix all the above masala in little water to make a thick paste and add it.
Fry the masala till the oil starts separating from the masala. If needed sprinkle water while frying
Add about 6-8 cups of finely chopped cabbage. Add the cabbage gradually and mix well with the masala. Add a little turmeric powder for color. Fry the cabbage with the masala for couple of minutes. The shredded cabbage should be nicely coated with the spices.
Add about 1/4 tsp of Kitchen King masala or any other such masala and salt. The Kitchen King is optional and you can skip it.
Add the fried potatoes, give a good stir and cover and cook
Normally you wouldn't need to add water but check intermittently and give a good stir in between. Add little water if needed for the veggies to cook.
Edited on 12/14/2010: When veggies are almost done, add 1/4-1/2 tsp of sugar. Bengali Bandhakopi is usually on the sweet side and the sugar lends a nice dimension to the dish. Skip if you don't like sweet.
When the veggies are done (according to you) add 1/4-1/2 tsp of Garam masala Powder and 1/4 tsp of ghee
Mix well and you are done
Sometimes I add juice of a quarter lemon and no Ghee, though this is not the usual trend
Trivia:Egyptian pharaohs would eat large quantities of cabbage before a night of drinking as they believed that cabbage consumption would allow them to drink more alcoholic beverages and not feel the effects. This is perhaps why many still consider cabbage with vinegar as a good hangover remedy.