Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shubho Bijoya'r Priti o Shubhechcha

Bijoya Greetings to all my Readers

Durga Pujo in our area

So there Durga Pujo is over and this is how we wish each other on Bijoya Dashami, the tenth day of Durga Pujo, the day the Goddess supposedly returns to her abode in Kailash. To accommodate the laid back Bongs, Bijoya is not restricted to one day alone. You get time till Kali Puja to wish your fellow bongs "Shubho Bijoya".

In the US, Ma Durga does not go home, she just goes back to the basement until next year. So we are not allowed to put sindoor on her, instead there is an alias, the Ghot

The day of Bijoya Dashami, you bid adieu to Ma Durga, offering her sweets and sindoor after the symbolic Bisarjan is over. The mere mortals, mostly women, are allowed to touch the Goddess's idol on this day to shower their love & respect and they do so with full enthusiasm. Married women smear sindoor on Ma Durga's forehead as well as on each other's and it becomes a mini Holi with only red color.
Strangely though our highest respect is for the female power, Shakti, women play only menial roles during the actual 5 days of Pujo. I have never seen a female priestess doing arati or the actual puja ceremony, women are mostly on the periphery. The only day they are allowed to touch the Goddess is after the Bisarjan on Dashami.

No pandal hopping, one is enough

Back home from the mandap you touch your elder's feet, embrace your peers, bless the little ones and then do what Bengalis love most. Eat. You eat sweets and nimkis and naru's, you eat more to forget the sorrow of Durga's as well as your vacation being over. But then you can't just restrict it to one day, can you ? No. So you apply for a few more days of leave and then each of those days morning and evening you set out to pay respect to all your elderly relatives in town. Maybe you have no contact with them throughout the year but You must do Bijoya so you hail a taxi and go. But before that you make a chart maybe be an excel sheet, you order relatives by their cooking skills and start by visiting the ones whose naru's have achieved world fame, saving the ones with hard naru's and watery ghugni's for the last.

Ma Durga, we had a lovely Pujo. Big Sis S thoroughly enjoyed herself. Baby A was not at her best but that's ok. The bhog was good, the weather on Nabami bad.The red in my hair from sindoor khela is still there, I need to shampoo better. Come back next year, till then have a blast.

By the time your palate abhors any more Naru or nimki it is almost Kali Pujo, officially Bijoya is over, the last relative in your list may as well throw the hardened naru to hit you hard.Now is the time to bit adieu, to wrap up all your festive spirit and revel in the luxury that at last Pujo is over. But wait, isn't Pujo coming again, yeah next year, asche bochor abar hobey.

More Pujo Reads:

Narkel Naru for Durga Pujo

2007 Durga Pujo

2007 Shubho Bijoya

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Narkel Naru for Durga Pujo

Aaj Shoshthi. The Sixth day of Navratri and the beginning of Durga Puja. Strangely this Pujo, I do not miss home much. And I should have.

Even AnandaMela or Desh does not excite me much this year. I did not even book an online copy. Anyway it is only "Sirshendu" and "Bani Basu" that is worth a read, maybe I will borrow later I say to myself.

Instead I pine for a lost childhood, a childhood resplendent with glamor, light, excitement and happiness of Pujo. I miss the fervor, the excitement which would begin early with the colorful print ad of the annual Pujo Shankhya AnandoMela and would go on late after Lakshmi Pujo lingering on till Diwali. I miss the last minute packing, the new clothes, the bite of my new black ballerina, the jostling crowd, the blaring sounds, the pujo-pujo gondho... Or maybe I don't.I sometimes think I have just glamorized the whole thing and put layers of brighter colors over a faded sepia print. But I cannot deny the excitement, the wait, waiting for Pujo.

I try to enjoy Pujo here, for sake of myself, for my daughters. To let them know where their parents came from, where their roots lie. I buy them new clothes, I save clothes bought at "Back to school" sale to be worn during Pujo. It doesn't really matter much, clothes and shoes are necessities bought year round, new clothes for them does not herald Pujo.

We try go to the mandap(the place where Durga Pujo is being held) almost every day, back from work we deck up in finest silks and chiffon and are at the mandap late for the anjali but in time for dinner. The dhup-dhuno, the flowers, the Mother's glistening face enchants the little ones, they play round the mandap with their friends like we did.
If it is an extremely busy day like today we visit the Krishna Temple nearby instead. There Navratri celebrations are at a crescendo and in midst of Lalita Sahasranama chants I feel contented. Back home we string up twinkling Christmas lights on the porch, pick flowers to offer to the tiny idols sitting on my Puja shelf and light a lamp.

I cannot pass on to my daughters the pleasure of waiting for all those months for Durga Pujo, they will not know the excitement that Pujo can bring but I can redefine Pujo for them and that is what I do.

Maybe in the process I also redefine home. Maybe I am home this pujo.

And in my own way I make some sweets for Shoshthi. These were sweets which were actually made at Dashami, after the immersion, to sweeten lives and memories. These were Narkel Narus, two kinds. Gure'r Naru, the ones made with jaggery, deep brown in shade and Chini'r Naru, the pristine white ones made of sugar. I never like the gur'er naru much, with a little incompetence on the cook's side, these would be as hard as marbles. I preferred the white chini'r naru and this is what I make, late in the night after everyone goes to bed.

I cannot afford to grate a coconut, I have no time and the frozen MTR brand works just as fine for me. Unlike my Ma who uses whole milk and reduces it painstakingly, I use condensed milk and evaporated milk, cuts my cooking time by half. Rituals need not be so hard that we loathe & forget them, it is better to find easier means to enjoy them instead.

I am done in time for bed and an early start tomorrow. And yet I have a batch of narus which I will take as offerings to the goddess tomorrow. Narus, sweet, decadent and delicious, the perfect beginning to 5 days of Durga Pujo.

Edited to Add: And though it took me more than 30 mins to make these, it shouldn't have. I am slow and I kept the heat at low-medium, which stupid cook keeps heat at low to medium when they are cooking for a party. The better ones can do this under 30 and so these Narkel Narus join the Express Indian Party @ Anita's.
I am also sending the first pic to Heirloom:CLICK. The recipe is age old, the shortcuts are not.

Happy Durga Pujo

Get this recipe in my Book coming out soon. Check this blog for further updates. 


Narkel Naru/ Coconut Laddoo

You Need

Shredded Coconut -- slightly more than 3 cups. I have used the frozen MTR brand, you can grate and use fresh coconut. When using frozen thaw before use

Sugar -- 1 cup

Evaporated Milk -- approx. 2 cups. If using Whole Milk, you need to reduce 4 cups of milk to 2 cups

Condensed Milk -- 1/4 cup. You can skip this and increase sugar but I prefer this How I Do It

In a heavy bottomed deep pan mix the shredded coconut and sugar with hand thoroughly

Put the pan on low heat and then stir for 4-5 minutes. The sugar will melt and mix with coconut and the coconut will be lightly roasted

Add about 2 cups of evaporated milk and 1/4 cup of Condensed Milk to the above. Add some cardamom seeds. Note: If you need more or less sweet, taste and adjust accordingly

Mix it all together and at low to medium heat cook with frequent stirring till the coconut is cooked. Keep stirring till the milk almost dries up and the coconut mix comes out clean from the sides. You will know by the slight change in color and the fact that the mix will no longer stick to the pan. Don't dry it too much, else you cannot make the balls. Note: When you think it is almost done, test it out by trying to make a ball that stays. Approx time to reach this stage - 30-40 mins at medium heat

Take the pan off the heat and cool slightly. When mix is still warm to touch, make balls by rolling between your palms

Store in an air tight container. I usually refrigerate but my Ma used to keep it out.

Similar Reads:

My '07 Pujo Post

More on Pujo and Pujo Shankhya

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shaak Ghonto -- Greens with Vegggies

Only in New York

This summer we went to NYC a lot. Ok, actually only twice over two months but that is "lot" by us country bumpkins standard.

On our last visit we went to the Children's Museum (CMOM). I had a whole lot of expectations, very few of which were met eventually.

As a child I used to love the Nehru Children's Museum & Birla Technology Museum in Calcutta. At each of our annual winter visits to the city, my Baba would take me and maybe a cousin or two to the museum, the zoo, the planetarium and the RBI building. Don't ask me why RBI, I vaguely remember it had an escalator which we loved to ride.

Those museums were a delight to visit. I am speaking of late seventies/early 80's and even then these museums were set up with recording studios where you could record your antics and then watch them on the tele, with voice activated doors which would open when you hollered "hello" and many such things.

This museum(the CMOM) sadly had very little to offer over all of its four floors. The second floor was for some reason totally devoted to Dora and Diego and that too with a lot of pieces missing. There were things like fire truck and mail van but not much hands on stuff.The basement was a little interesting and they do have workshops which might be good. But for a half day visit we didn't get to do any workshops. Does anyone know any interesting Children museum in NY-NJ-PA area ?

The girls had fun though. The littlest one was just happy to toddle all around the place and to pick & poke at all sorts of random objects. The older one was happy too, doing largely nothing and running around the little one. As I saw they were mainly glad to move about unrestrained, throw stuff around and make a mess without their Mom hollering "Clean up"

And boy, was I happy to be home, back to our little green patch in the suburb. It is official, I don't like a city, at least not for an extended period of time. I imagine myself being happy and content in a farm in some remote corner of the planet (ok a farm with all amenities & cheap labor), maybe it is just an idyllic dream , who knows.

For now the little veggie patch will do, where we , D has spent enough energy, money and carbon footprint to grow exactly one zucchini, plentiful squash blossoms, loads of cherry tomatoes and 20 okra to be precise. Oh and lets not forget pui saag/shaak or pohi greens or malabar spinach which have been totally paisa vasool (worth the money). Planting the stalks (as suggested by Soma), resulted in fast climbing stalks of tender, fresh, glistening pohi greens. They looked so pretty that we didn't even want to cut them down.

With these greens I made a saag/shaak ghonto. My Ma would do this with spinach and call it palang shaak er ghonto (spinach cooked with a medley of vegetables). I thought "Why not Pui". For the Palak saag er ghonto my Ma used a spice paste which she called dhone-jire-ada bata (whole corriander-whole cumin-ginger paste). Actually she used this particular paste for a lot of stuff.

Early morning, her kitchen help would sit on the kitchen floor with the shil-nora, a flat pock-marked square black slab of stone and on it would make pastes of all kinds of spices. As she moved the mortar on the flat piece, her bangles tinkled and made music with the jarring noise of the stones. Deftly she would sprinkle some water, gather the spices with her fingertips and roll the mortar until a smooth amalgamation of spices was born.

The sharp smell of the fresh spices and the the jarring noise of stone hitting stone closely followed by the milder, sweeter flavor of tea marked the beginning of a new day back home.

This forgotten paste is what I used for this ghonto, a simple mix of vegetables and greens, the flavors of the veggies only lightly enhanced by subtle touch of spices. And I forgot this dish also goes to dear blog friend Indosungod's Chard Challenge.


Shaak er Ghonto


Make the dhone-jire-ada bata. This is basically a paste of whole cumin, whole coriander and fresh ginger. My Ma's kitchen help used to make this using the shil-nora, the flavor would be very intense and the color a dark ugly shade of brown

I make it this way. In my mortar I add 1/2 tsp of Cumin powder, 1/2 tsp of Corriander powder and 1 tbsp of grated ginger. Then I make a smooth wet paste of the above with the aid of little water. The flavor is not as intense but will do

Chop Potatoes, Pumpkin and Zucchini in almost similar sized cubes. I had 1 cup of each. You can also add brinjal and radish

Wash and clean and then chop the greens. Spinach works very well for this recipe but I have used Pui Saag or Pohi greens. I had about 500 gm of the greens

Start Cooking

Heat Mustard Oil in a Kadhai/Frying Pan. White oil will work too though Anita might not agree

Chaunk/Temper with 1 tsp of Paanch Phoron and 3 Dry Red Chili

When you see the spices dancing around, add 1 cup of cubed potato. Saute with less than 1/4 tsp of turmeric for couple of minutes.

Add the zucchini (~ 1 cup), saute again for couple of minutes and follow suit with the pumpkin(~ 1 cup)

Add the dhone-jire-ada bata and saute for 3-4 minutes. If you like it spicy add a little red chili powder now

Add the chopped pui saag (pohi greens) or spinach and give a good stir. Add salt to taste

The greens especially the pohi will release a lot of water which you want to dry out. Also the veggies will get cooked in this water. Keep cooking with intermittent stirring till the water has all evaporated into thin air and the veggies are cooked

Taste and adjust for seasoning. If the pumpkin is sweet you don't need to add any extra sugar, else a little sugar will enhance the taste

Similar Recipes:
Pui-Chingri -- Pohi Greens with Shrimp

Shubho Mahalaya to all my readers

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Oven Roasted Tomato Soup -- Indian Ishtyle

First day of new school. Bus at 7:30. Too much excitement. Up since 4' in the morning.

Novelty wears off in two days time. Now 6:30 in the morning on a weekday is not a good time to be at our home. There is so much drama that HBO would cower down in shame and the pimply Dish Network guy with the Indian name would never ever call me again saying "Auntie, we at dish network have a great deal".

Ever day and I really mean this, I intend to get up at dark and sneak out before even the clock says 6:30. I really don't want to get caught into the early morning melodrama. The Dad could handle this better I think, he has done this through the last 3 years of pre-school. But to become the Saint Mom is my current short term career goal, so I stay put.

I am up way before 6, cajoling and then shouting at the 5 year old to get up. I am chirping brightly about how the new school is going to be so much fun while the 5 year old clearly thinks otherwise. She misses her pre-school which was way more fun by her standard. I am trying to make b'fast interesting which she refuses to touch and thwarts my attempts at creative lunch making by asking me just pack a sandwich.

Going at this rate my sainthood is highly jeopardized, the Vatican will not even peruse my resume if I am packing sandwiches with nothing but chicken nugget in them.

Back home to compensate that lunch with a healthy dinner and also use up the bounty of cherry tomatoes, I device a Oven Roasted Tomato Soup. The bold flavor of garlic and sweet scent of tomatoes roasting in the oven is enough to make me feel happy and uplift my spirits.
I decide to go the Indian route and spice up the Tomato soup with some whole cumin and then as a last minute whim add a little of my Red Masoor Dal (Red Lentil). With garlic chives and coriander snipped from the herb pot, the soup definitely tastes tantalizing.

"It is the best Tomato soup we have ever had", says the hungry Dad

"Why is the Tomato Soup orange, I want a red tomato soup", says the 5 year old

The glare and 15 minutes later she says, " It is yummy", while she mops up the dregs with the last piece of bread !!!


Oven Roasted Tomato Soup

In an aluminum pouch throw together 30-35 cherry tomatoes, 4-5 cloves of garlic, salt and ground black pepper. Drizzle liberally and I mean liberally with olive oil. Put in the oven at 400F for an hour, In my toaster oven it took an hour and then I had it on broil

Heat a deep bottomed pan or a soup pot

Pour Olive oil, this time don't go over the top

Add 1/4 tsp of cumin and when it sizzles add some finely chopped white onion. Saute with a sprinkle of sugar till onion turns a light shade 0f brown

Add the roasted tomatoes & garlic

Add organic vegetable stock and then about 1/3 cup of washed Red Lentils (Red Masoor Dal)

Add salt to taste and let the soup come to a boil. Cook till the lentil is fully cooked

Add fresh herbs of your choice. Definitely coriander and I also added some garlic chives

Cool and puree in a blender

You don't need to strain. Serve with crackers or bread