Saraswati Pujo is two days away and a reader sent in a mail asking for the recipe of Labra. Khichuri is an important part of this day for the Bengalis and labra is a mixed veggie dish popular as a side to the Khichuri. Since I never really liked Khichuri all that much, the day did not mean much to me food wise. There were other incentives of course like the sweet & sour kul, visiting the Pujos with friends and not doing any studies since the goddess resided on top of all our school books.
So anyway the main point is khichuri never excited me. Along with khichuri came labra, a mix of all vegetables and tomato chaatni a staple Saraswati Pujo lunch in most Bengali homes, at least the Ghoti homes. The intelligent Bangals of course ate their ilish.
Now I have never made a "Labra". I have made a ghonto, a charchari, a paanch-mishali but not a labra. I didn't even realize that I have never cooked a labra until I got this mail. Bengali mixed vegetable dishes are largely similar with delta differences and it is hard to decide whether you are cooking a ghonto or a labra when you have chopped and put in at least five different vegetables and forgotten whether you added ginger or bhaja masla.
I theoretically had an idea how to cook one though and said so in my mail. I mean five and more vegetables and little or no spice. How difficult can this get ?
But then I had an icky feeling in my stomach. The kind you have while explaining escape velocity to someone. Not that I go around doing such explaining but you know what I mean. Theoretically you know perfectly what escape velocity is but you have never experienced it and you think what if it doesn't work ? What if I run at a speed greater than escape velocity and still am unable to "break free", you think. Agreed NASA has done it but I haven't. So the doubt lingers.
That feeling bothered me for the last two days and finally I chopped up some radish, eggplant, cabbage, potatoes, butternut squash and cooked a "Labra" . The theoretical part was out and I had done the practical experiment which was a good thing because the labra made the husband immensely happy.Such simple joys of nature.
It was easy except for the chopping part but even that wasn't too bad.So essentially labra needs to have some leafy vegetables, usually thick cut cabbage along with firm veggies like potatoes and radish and soft ones like pumpkin and eggplant. As per my knowledge, it also DOES NOT need mustard but some ginger does it good.It tastes really good with Khichuri or some Dal and white rice.
I will try to post the Khichuri recipe which has been in my draft for long. If not make your own and enjoy it with this beautiful vegetable dish with a horrendous name on the 8th.
Labra -- a mixed vegetable dish
Prep: Vegetables are the most important and only ingredient of a Labra. There is very little of other spices involved. So it is important the vegetables you use for this dish are fresh and taste good. Chop the following vegetables in roughly equal sizes and more or less equal proportion
Potato -- 1 large, peeled and chopped along the length
Eggplant ~ 1 Japanese egg plant, chopped in cubes
Radish ~ about 1/2 cop of cubed red radish
Cabbage ~ 1&1/2 cup of chopped cabbage. Cabbage should be chopped not thin but should be little thickly cut
Pumpkin or Butternut Squash(choose one that sweet and not over ripe) ~ 1 cup peeled and cubed. Since I find it difficult to peel a B.Squash, I microwave the squash for about 3 minutes and then peel
Cauliflower -- quarter of a medium sized one
Cauliflower leaves and stalk -- the tender leaves and tip of the stalks.
You can also add vegetables like few cauliflower florets, cauliflower stems and some drumsticks
Note: I have also done labra with broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini etc. All of them work well. Whatever vegetables you use, try to add little pumpkin and potatoes to get the best taste.
Heat White Oil or Mustard Oil in a heavy bottomed deep saucier or Kadhai
Temper the hot oil with a pinch of Hing, 1 tsp of PaanchPhoron and 3 broken dry red chili. When the spices pop add about 1 tsp of minced ginger. Note: You can also add ginger towards the end to get a more gingery flavor.
First add the potatoes. Sprinkle about 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder and saute the potatoes for half a minute.
Add the radish, followed by cauliflower. Saute covered for about 5 minutes and then follow with the eggplant. Saute for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle some water if the veggies tend to stick.Note: Add carrots/cauliflower/broccoli if using. The trick is to add the tougher veggies first followed by the softer and leafy veggies.
Next goes the pumpkin or butternut squash. Mix everything together. If the pumpkin is sweet you don't need to add sugar else add a little sugar towards the end. Cover and cook for next 4-5 minutes
Now add the cabbage or the cauliflower leaves or both. Mix all together and saute for a minute.
Add salt to taste. Add 2-3 slit green chili and a tsp more of grated ginger. Give a good stir. Add little water about say 1/2 cup and cover and cook. Check in between, if more water is needed add more water and cook till veggies are done. Break up some of the potatoes and the pumpkin unevenly with the back of your spatula and give a final mix.The dish should be a little moist and not totally dry.
Let it sit for 30 minutes or more, for all the flavors to come together. Serve with rice and dal or with Khichuri for Pujo.