Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Palang Shaak er Ghonto -- spinach 'n' veggies

Palang Shaak er Ghonto
Palang Shaak er Ghonto

Bengali Cuisine is very subtle, understated and not really very popular outside Bengal. Most Indians outside of Bengal think Bengali food is all about fish and sweets. The moment you are introduced as a Bengali to any one who is not, they will tell you "Oh, we love Bengali sweets" and they will wax about "how much they like Roshugulla" with what they think is a Bengali accent but is so not.

I am sure the same thing happens about food from any other region too. All we know globally about Indian food is Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka and Palak Paneer. Extend it a little more and it may include Masala Dosa and Idli. Even we as Indians know very little about food from other regions of our own country. My Indian colleague's will often ask me, so what is it that you Bengalis eat other than Fish ? Yeah, nothing actually, we eat fish and then sweets and then just keep repeating the pattern until we are full or in a state of malnutrition.

Growing up as a Bong kid, I paid little attention to Bengali Food. At that time Bengali food wasn't glamorized, no restaurants except the roadside ones, served a decent Bengali meal. It was solely home food and as a kid you pay little attention to home food.

Truth be told, I became aware and more conscious about Bengali Food only after stepping away from home and the bond grew stronger, the further I went. My friends here in the US are very diligent cooks, the ones who are Bong cook authentic Bengali food and they cook it very well. Their love for the cuisine kind of pushed me to cook more and more of the Bengali Home Food. It wasn't complex, a mix of spices here, a subtle pinch of cumin-coriander there, a dash of mustard oil as a secret ingredient and voila you have a subtly spiced dish with all the taste of all the vegetables in full flavor.

Myth#1: "Despite its uniqueness, Bengali food failed to grow beyond connoisseurs. Short-cuts are frowned upon by purists and innovative improvisations dismissed as unacceptable compromises. Traditional Bengali cuisine is gradually becoming a dying art, kept alive only by Anjan Chatterjee’s chain of restaurants such as Oh! Calcutta, a few other eateries aimed at the diaspora, and caterers who still serve a complete traditional meal at wedding receptions." -- Chandan Mitra in Outlook

Though I agree in parts with the above article in Outlook, I think it is far fetched to say "Traditional Bengali Cuisine" is a dying art. Chandan Mitra wouldn't have said that if he saw my friend here who makes the authentic Chapor Ghonto with Motor dal er Bara or the one who insists her Sundays are not right if she doesn't make Luchi-Begun Bhaja. There is this whole category of modern, educated Bengali women, managing kids, home and work, and yet finding time to cook and serve a Bengali meal to her family, miles away from their own country. So while "Oh!Calcutta" is definitely trying to make Bengali cuisine popular as no other restaurant has done, it is these women who are keeping the cuisine alive.

Myth #2: Bengali cuisine is time-consuming, involves a complex blend of spices, is much more than just fish.-- same article as above

It is much more than fish but every day Bengali food is neither complex nor time consuming, unless all you cook is Maggi 2 minute noodles. It can get elaborate if you intend to go the whole nine yards and prepare a full traditional Bengali meal but you need not do that every day. With a little bit of planning and delegation, cooking everyday Bengali Food is simpler than making Pizza from scratch. If you can just ignore the purists and make your own adaptations, you will have a delicious, balanced meal ready which will serve you far better than the frozen box of Paneer Butter Masala.

This Palang Shaak er Ghonto or Spinach with a medley of vegetables is cooked a little different from my Mom's. Every home has its own little tradition of cooking the exact same dish and so taste of the same dish varies from one home to other.

While my Mom uses dhone-jire-ada bata, this one solely relies on Paanch Phoron and Roasted Cumin powder(Bhaja Jire Guro) to create magic. I had it at a friend's place and liked it very much. D says this tastes more like what was made at his home.

Spinach with other winter vegetables like radish and pumpkin makes it the perfect side for Dal and Rice on a winter afternoon. To make life easier I have used chopped frozen spinach and that doesn't mar the taste any way at all. But I would insist that you use Mustard Oil because that lends a magic touch to this simple preparation


Palang Shaak er Ghonto


Peel and chop two potatoes in cubes.

Chop red radish in half about 1/2 cup

Peel and chop pumpkin about 2 cup

Defrost 2-3 cups of frozen chopped spinach.I just microwave it for a minute. If using fresh spinach, wash --> chop fine

Dry Roast and grind cumin seeds/jeera to make the roasted cumin powder. I usually make this in a large quantity and store.

Start Cooking

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a Kadhai/Saute pan. I use Mustard Oil to cook this dish.

Temper the oil with 1 tsp of Paanch Phoron and 2 cracked Dry Red Chili. You can add 1 small clove of garlic finely minced but sometimes I won't.

When the spices sputter add the potatoes and radish. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp of turmeric on them and saute. Cover and saute so that the veggies cook faster. retaining their flavor and form.

When the potatoes turn a little golden add the chopped pumpkin. Cover and saute till pumpkin softens.

Add the chopped spinach and mix well. Saute everything for a minute. Sprinkle
1 tsp of roasted cumin powder,
salt to taste,
add 2-3 slit green chili/or red chili powder
to taste.
Cover and let the vegetables cook.

When almost done add a little sugar(usually if pumpkin is sweet you can skip sugar) and adjust for seasonings. If needed add a little more of the roasted cumin powder. Add about 1/2 tsp of mustard oil, drizzled from top to bring out the best flavor.

Serve with Rice or just have a bowl of this vegetable medley.

Similar Recipes:

Pui Shaak er Ghonto


  1. I remember my BIL saying, when he was in the hostel and when it was fish, Bengalis were firs tin the que followed by Keralites :-)
    My hubby and daughter loves bengali sweets.
    Love this dish it must be yumm with roties.

  2. A comfort food. Yes Bong = Fish + Sweets:-) LOL... I think Bengal might have the longest list of veggies and dal recipes.. cannot even account for the number of variations... also the way the individual dishes are enjoyed one by one, may be like in no other cuisine.

  3. I had hated palong shaak and every green growing up. Can you believe it, I feel in love with Palong Shaak'er Ghonto on my Aai-Burobhaat lunch. That's how recent my leanings to this home delicacy is!!

  4. Sandeepa, this post was a much needed post, you will see why soon.

    I love the veggie medley you have here.

  5. this looks really yumm Sandeepa, something new for me to try with spinach and radish. I started using panch phoran after seeing it on your blog. My usual cabbage/veggie stir fry transforms into a whole new dish by just that simple addition. And mustard oil, boy, its sooo good. I love it drizzled on my hummus too :D

  6. Hey Sandeepa.. Nice veggies :) I make a leafy vegetable dish in my house at least once every week . Will try this out very soon. Happy cooking! SS

  7. State of malnutrition ... LOL. If only they knew ... just shaak bhaat is one wholesome meal. :-)
    I prefer your version to the ada+dhone+jeere bata. Ektu gorom bhaat ar plain dal er shonge ... aha! :-)

  8. Sandeepa,

    I do think we(Bengali's) eat quite alot of veggies specially leafy variety like laal shaak/kolmi shaak/note shaak/laopatta shaak/kumro patta shaak and many more ..remember there is a ritual of having 14 types of shaak during deepawali may be ...so Bengali's love their fish as well as their veggies.
    I love palong shaker ghonto ..this is slightly different the way I like to cook palong shaker ghonto ..dhone/jeere/garam moshla diye khete besh bhalo lage :)..
    hugs and smiles

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  10. After all Bong should admit they are so special making milk sweet none can beat them :)
    I have seen in my town Bengalis buying lots of papaya (green). I assume you eat or make curry!
    I love the veggie and green combo!

  11. Thanks for getting back to me on the fish. I did not see any shad either in the stores. I will try it with salmon or check with a bengali friend of mine. She also cooks lot of hilsa and wonder where is gets it from.

  12. yep I agree with you. If you say bengali- it is fish & rasgulla, "madrasi" (hate the term -idly-dosa, keral - coconut. We go way beyond all these assumptions.
    The beautiful skin tone that Bengalis have should be enough for people to know you eat healthy foods and not just fish & milk sweets

  13. So right! Someone thought I was Bengali because of my name, and I played along - they asked me to get "Shondesh".

    Being Telugu, from AP, I get "Oh, your food is so spicy, na!" or "we love the 'Avakkai' pickle so much" - and that too, only from the people who have been around a li'l bit. Otherwise we get lumped with the sambars and kinds who think all four south indian states are the same and have no real differences. Someone actually said she thought all south indian languages were the same - how someone from a metro with an MA and a degree in French extra can say that is beyond my comprehension!

  14. Lovely post, and I enjoyed learning about Bengali food.

    Does anyone know what happened to RCI events?

  15. chhotobelay kumRo, jhinge eguloke khadyo hisebe dhortam na. ekhon sonamukh kore khai. amaro bishwas, ei bhalolagata is inversely related to the distance you travel from your home kitchen. shudhu muulota ekhono trouble dichhe. ota bhalolaagate gele bodhoy boyes aarekta joruri variable.

    soja, no-nonsense ranna, kajei bhalo khete hobe. aar chhobigulo o bhoyanok suswadu.

  16. absolutely love the medley of ingredients in this dish!

  17. LOL at the comment state of malnutrition.
    But then I am guilty as charged for I was not aware of differnt bengali dishes either. Of course I knew about Rosaggulla (:-)).

    Anyway it is only after I started blogging and seeing your's. Soma's blog that I got a glimpse of Bengali cuisine, pronouncation etc.

    I liked the shaak and the spices that go along with it, I might try it with potatoes and spinach alone.

  18. So true, San. Mainly due to ignorance, no malice meant. But profiling of another sort, based on region, skin color etc happens way too often still. Sad really.
    The bhaji looks great!

  19. You are true as I harldy find any bengali restaurants in Chennai but come to sweets there were plenty. I am not a big fan of rasagullas (pardon me for the spelling) until I made them at last week. I found a whole lot of difference between the store bougth rubbery ones to the home made soft spongy pillows of goodness. I had made quiet a number of fish dishes from this blog and I adore the simplicity of the spices and the vegetables comin togther yet highlighting the vegeable tastes to the fullest possible. I adore regional indian food than any other food in the world! Hats off Sadeepa to all the Indian women inside or outside India who srive to cook a reginal style meal to their family against all odds!

  20. I love Bengali veggies, and can't agree with u when u say that all people ask for when they get introduced is fish or sweets...esp fish in my case. The fact that u put veggies into anything is an added advantage. I learnt from my mom in law to make something similar with fish head but she calls it a chachda.

  21. "It wasn't complex, a mix of spices here, a subtle pinch of cumin-coriander there, a dash of mustard oil as a secret ingredient and voila "
    That is exactly what i feel is the essence of any cuisine!!have to try vegies ur way.. so u don't make rosogollas? sad! i still remember the best rosogaollas i had from calcutta!sigh.

  22. I just stumbled on your site and will definitely be coming back. I have no experience with Bengali foods. I also like to cook with mustard oil. My grandmother taught me to boil the oil and then to keep and cook with it. Do you do something similar?

  23. HC

    Don't know about Rotis, me loves it with rice


    Yeah isn't that true ?


    Ok same here but for me the love happened much later




    You are one pro with mustard oil, I must say


    Thank you


    Honestly, even I like this version better than the other.


    You are right, they need their non-veg but also the veggies

    1. Though i consider myself as bong as bong can get...i truly started cooking bong food once i lost my ma...I had her write all my favorite recipes in a book... now my most treasured possession...though not all recipes were put down on paper but I must say I do love your blog...all the recipes I have tried are almost the same as mom would cook...amazing...Sanhita

    2. Though i consider myself as bong as bong can get...i truly started cooking bong food once i lost my ma...I had her write all my favorite recipes in a book... now my most treasured possession...though not all recipes were put down on paper but I must say I do love your blog...all the recipes I have tried are almost the same as mom would cook...amazing...Sanhita

  24. Cham

    Now days I think more non-Bongs make those sweets than the Bongs ;-) We do make green papaya sabzi but also bengalis like to think that papaya is good for health and so they will eat it. I hated it.

    Let me know what you found


    Beautiful skin tone ? That again is a myth I think and not universally true, doesn't hold for me at least


    You are right. Most of my Bong friends do not know beyond Idly-Dosa-sambar for south Indian cuisine. In fact I myself cannot distinguish AP cuisine from Karnataka or Tamil Nadu and that after reading so many food blogs


    I was wondering about it too and is there a consolidated list of all the past RCI ?


    jibone shob i korte hoi !!!


    Thank You


    But you need the other veggies :-), come on give a try

  25. Vani

    No, no I never thought of malice. I myself am very ignorant about cuisines from many parts of India.


    I do not like rasgullas much either. You made them at home, WOW


    Yeas, a vegetable mix with fish head is usually called chenchra, the spices might vary

    Do you come to Oak Tree ? Galaxy sweets has some real good sweets. For all my cravings I land up there and they are not even Bengali


    I do not boil the oil but heat it to smoking before I add the spices

  26. What a lovely introduction to Bengali cooking. It's my first time to your blog and I am glad to have found you.

  27. Hello BongMom! I am quite familiar with your blog.. right after I got married to impress my husband I followed your recipe on Luchi with Alu'r Dom, I was not too much into blogging so refrained from my comments! Needless to say it turned out amazing and more than my husband I think I was amazed at my ability to cook! hehe.
    Hopefully next time you can find your way to my blog by yourself!
    Keep bringing the awesome food.

  28. Ha ha! Love how people stereotype regions, cuisines and people :). Your post is so spot on! Having basic traditional Indian meal is NOT difficult, unless you plan on having a chappan bhog every day ;). Personally, it feels a bit stereotypical when the only dish people mention when talking about Punjab is Makai di roti+saryon da saag. Not my place to judge someone's personal preference and may be it indeed is the best culinary thing from Punjab and i know it's very tasty and all that, but still-every cuisine has much more than just one food item, way much more. Food bloggers, like you mentioned, are an important source of the celebration of traditional home-style Indian cuisines.

  29. LOL at "we eat fish and then sweets and then just keep repeating the pattern until we are full or in a state of malnutrition"
    I enjoyed reading this post. It rings so true. Chennai has umpteen Italian and Mexican restaurants and even several Mc D's, but it is only recently that a bong restaurant has been opened here.

  30. WOW! Surprised at the sudden spurt of emotion. My hubby D has a favourite line....."while dining out with veg Indian colleagues abroad, I have a gala time. Because all of them are veg they call for 2-3 veg items, and 1 non veg dish for me. Ha ha I am Bengalee Non Veg eater, so I will polish off my non veg dish, along with a fair share of the dal and veggie. Poor guys.... they are at a loss to understand how can someone be non veg and happily polish off veg food as well"....we are happy polishing any and many varieties of food, since we are proud to be true Bong non veg foodies

  31. My Bengali friends and roomates are totally gaga over sweets and fish.:) Nice to know so much thro' your articles:)

    Spinach n Veggies looks very comforting:)

  32. This looks great! I love anything with panch phoron and veggies, and my husband is an anomalous bong who doesn't like any kind of fish except chingri mach, so we will both love this dish. Thanks!

  33. Shondeepa, that was an informative post. :)
    All I know about Bengali food is through your blog :) And I've got to try one of your fish recipes soon.

  34. I must admit, I had NO CLUE what Bengali food was about until the first time I had dinner at my in-laws home. Not at all what I was expecting, but I'm not sure what I was expecting!

    This dish sounds great! I can't wait to surprise my hubby with it!

  35. Can't agree more with you!Bongs are a whole treasure trove of delectable recipes and a lot more than just 'maach' and 'mishti'!

    By the way,I am quite new to the blogging world and need to let you know that your blog has in a way inspired me to start blogging,as must be the case with many others.Your blog is a delightful read and so are your recipes and the tastefully captured blog photos!Do pay a visit to my blog sometime and let me know if you liked it!

  36. I like this preparation and going to try this soon.searching for something healthy and got it.thanks

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  38. I am not a Bong I am a Gujju... but i first got exposed to Bong food on my trip to Sunderbans.. i realised there is so much more to Bong food than what you normally hear.. Bengal is undoutedly a foodie paradise.. here's something i wrote on my blog.. a quick reference to binging in Bengal :) http://essndee.blogspot.in/2010_01_01_archive.html

    Btw tried your masoor dal today and it was a hit!!

  39. I cooked it exactly as per the recipe and it turned out yummylicious:)


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