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.
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.
Pui Shaak er Ghonto