Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Narkel Moshla Potol -- moving up

Yesterday was LS's "moving up ceremony". Moving up to where? To Kindergarten from September.

As we, the parents, sat in tiny chairs waiting for the pre-kindergartners to begin the show they had been working on all these days, the owner of the school said she hoped there were enough tissue boxes for everyone.

Most parents went "awww" and "sniff sniff" on cue.
I scoffed. Silently.
Really dude, these are 4 year old. 4yr olds are supposed to turn 5 and go onto bigger schools.
That is Nature. And I am the ever cynical Mom.



And then all the little children came in , dressed in their best summer clothes, shiny and neat and stood in rows. Their earnestness was infectious and they all looked so darn cute. And there was this one little boy who, the minute he got onto the stage, hollered "Mommy", then "Daddy". He laughed. We all laughed. No idea what the parents did. They were at the far end of the room. I looked tentatively at my almost 5 yr old. She smiled. Not a bold smile but "Yeah okay, good to see you if not great" kind of smile. I was a bit afraid as she had previously suggested that we sit somewhere at the back rows but as luck and hyper-parents would have it we were right there at the front.

Once the show started the kids came into their element and forgot all "Mommy-Daddy". They sang loud and clear shaking legs, hips, hand, head. And then when it all ended, I felt a teeny-tiny lump at the throat.

Not because LS would be a Kindergartner soon but because our ties with this pre-school comes to an end. BS had started here almost 7yrs back when the school was new in our neighborhood and stayed on through Kindergarten. The owner, the teachers, the building had grown familiar. And so without a thought we had started LS in the same pre-school almost 2 yrs ago.

Now we won't really have any reasons to drive into their parking lot to drop-off a bawling child who eventually turns into a happy skipping one by end of school year.  There won't be morning throw-ups in the car and face-to-face chats with the teacher every day. We don't have to carry the blankets and pillows back every Friday remembering to wash and return next week. We will be onto bigger things come Fall when LS will ride the yellow school bus to school and nap-time at school will be a tale of the past.

Wait, actually that will be only a half-day school and she will have less school time than now. So she will be actually spending more time at home. And we won't even have to pay half the pay-check for it. And I can use that half of the pay-check to buy me a Le Creuset, actually many Le Creusets and God-willing even a Vitamix. On retrospect, the deal doesn't sound that bad. Kindergarten, we think we are ready.



That said, I made this Narkel Moshla Potol. The coconut-masla paste made here is the kind my Ma used to stuff the potol for Potol er Dolma.

But stuffing Potol to make Potol er Dolma is not my cup of tea. Not my bottle of beer either but anyway I don't drink beer. I think it involves all that tying with twine part. No, not the beer, silly. The Potol er Dolma. Remember how afraid I am of twines ? If not twine, there must be something really difficult that needs to be done to lock the potol after stuffing. So anyway, I always feel this is the easy way out where the stuffing is actually outside the potol. So I end up doing it this way at least once in the potol season. It does help that it also tastes very good.


Some more plug-in about the book. The book is now available across stores in India. If you do not see it in a store like Crossword, Landmark etc., leave me the store location and I will try to check behind the scenes. The book is also available at Amazon.in which I think has a Free delivery, so check that option. Folks in US, book is now on Amazon. You can order now and get the book by mid or end July.
There is also a giveaway for folks in India at "My Diverse Kitchen", a fabulous blog in its own rights. So even if you don't win the giveaway you only gain by visiting her.
More reviews on book here

Narkel Moshla Potol

Buy Potol. Also known as Parwal or Pointed Gourd. More here.

Wash and peel the skin in stripes. Then chop in half along the length.  I started with about 10 patol.

Heat  1 tsp of Oil

Add
few methi seeds
1 tbsp peeled, chopped ginger
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Fennel seeds
1 tsp Coriander seeds
4 Laung
1/2 cup of grated coconut

Roast the spices until you get a warm spicy smell. Cool and put everything in the blender jar.

Add 1/2 cup yogurt and 4 green chillies. Make a smooth paste

Now heat some more oil(~3 tbsp) in saute pan.

Fry the potol with salt and turmeric till they are yellow with some brown spots. Remove and keep aside

Season the oil with 2 cardamom and 1 tej patta

Add coconut-masala paste.

Add salt, 1/2 tsp kashmiri Mirch and little Turmeric powder. With sprinkle of water fry the masala at low heat till oil seeps from edges

Next add the fried potol and mix with the masala. Add couple more green chillies if you want.

Add about 1 cup of water, sugar to taste, cover and cook till potol is done. Now remove cover and dry off any excess water. The gravy should cling to the patol, "makho-makho" as we say in Bengal.

Serve with luchi, parota or rice

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Stuffed Mushroom in the Oven

Sometimes I think I am desperate to put every thing I see on my blog.

Lovely things. Things that I could have admired, soaked in their beauty and just let them live in my memory. But no, I want them to be here, to share with you all.

Like say this cute red tubewell at an arboretum I had refused to visit.




Or this Father's Day gift that the girls made. The gift coupon idea was from Pinterest and we  added some chocolates.




Or even these simple stuffed mushrooms. Very easy. Very good.

After devouring delicious lobster filled mushrooms at friend B's place, I have been on the lookout for an opportunity to make them. However I never bought the lobster and crab meat she had used as stuffing. But I had the mushrooms, so I went vegetarian. They were very easy to make and really, truly delicious. Now, I did not follow any set recipe and you can go creative with what you put in those mushrooms. This is how I did it.



Buy a box of portabella mushrooms or white button mushrooms

Pull out the stems. Pop.

Now give them a good rinse. Pat them dry. To was or not to wash a mushroom is a quandary I am always in.

In a frying pan heat 2 tsp of Olive oil. To the oil add 2 clove of garlic finely chopped. Saute till you get the beautiful aroma of garlic.
Now add the mushroom caps to the pan and toss them around. Sprinkle some salt on them. Sprinkle some other spices like pepper powder, or cajun spices etc. Take your pick. Make sure that you coat the 'rooms with oil. Just couple of minutes is fine.

Take them out along with the garlic and place them stem side up on a baking dish.

Now comes the being creative part.

The things I put in each of the mushroom cap
finely chopped red onion
finely chopped green onion
bread crumbs
finely chopped herbs (basil/parsley)
Then I put some cheese on each of the caps.

You can do your own thing with the stuffing. Totally. 

Next I drizzle them lightly with some more olive oil.

Pop in the oven at 350F for 15mins or until cheese melts.

That is it you are done. Ready to eat.


Now a little plug in about the book. Here are some more reviews that the book received. Most have been very positive. Sure there was one which said that the anecdotes are unremarkable and the book was under-edited and overwritten, and I have decided to rectify that by leading a Paris Hilton-esque life in my next birth. I will throw in a dash of Kardashian sisters too and some adventure at Atapuerca. Till then this is my life.

There is also a Giveaway at "My Diverse Kitchen" and at "Women's Web" so join if you haven't got the book yet. More reviews, details interviews on the Book Page.

Review at blog FinelyChopped

"For a first time writer, Sandeepa manages to smartly carry her personalised, light, irony smacked style of writing competently through the book. It is possible for such books to become too culturally referenced and specific and for the humour to become stale after a while. Sandeepa adeptly avoids that leaving us with quite a pleasant read."

For the full review visit "When a Blog becomes a Book" -- FinelyChopped

Review at Spice Scribe

"In comparison to those spartan tomes, ‘Bong Mom’s Cookbook’ is shahi kulfi. So rich that a single spoonful is too much and a whole bucket is nowhere near enough. I wanted to feast on Sandeepa’s family tales until I felt thoroughly sick, groaning on the floor with a stomach ache and an ice-cream headache. But no matter how hard I tried to ration the words like rainbow sprinkles, my tub runneth empty only too quickly."

For the full review visit "The Spice Scribe"

Review and Giveaway at blog My Diverse Kitchen

"The book started on that note and just went on getting more enjoyable to read as I turned page after page. And if you’re thinking of asking, “Why would you read a cookbook?” here’s the answer. Sandeepa’s book is more than just a cookbook. Sure, there is a lot of traditional authentic Bengali food that has been cooked by the older generation of women in her family, and Sandeepa’s recipes make them easy to cook in a modern kitchen. She also weaves stories of her childhood which are invariably connected to food to gives us glimpses of a lifestyle where people had time to cook and savour the simple pleasures of everyday life."

For the full review and Giveaway "My Diverse Kitchen"



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Friday, June 14, 2013

Bhetki Macher Kalia Jhol and story of Jamai Shoshthi

Bhetki Macher Jhol

Tomorrow, today Friday is Jamai Shoshthi.  My Ma had called last week and then again yesterday night, lamenting the fact that she will not be there to feed her jamai--son-in-law-- a rich sumptuous meal on the day. Staying far away, she is robbed of this pleasure most years.

If I am honest, neither the jamai nor me miss it all that much. Going on a cooking frenzy, on a hot humid summer day of Jaishtha to feed the son-in-law delicacies ranging from kathal to ilish and golda chingri to lyangra aam and then having to eat it all dressed in bong fineries aka kurta pajama is not our idea of fun. We would rather have aloo-posto and musur dal on such sweltering hot days.And I will not even go into the modern woman's pet peeve about why a special day for son-in-law but not daughter-in-law.

Though the day has gained popularity as the day that the Ma-in-law cooks, feeds and pampers the son-in-law, I wanted to find a deeper meaning to the day. How did it all start ? Surely feeding the son-law good food could have been shelved to a cooler day in winter. And why ? What was the really important idea behind all this ? It is nice knowing about traditions even when you don't observe them to the fullest.

I didn't have much idea and so asked around and got fascinating tales about the day from where else but the blog's FaceBook page. Surprising thing is when I started the ball rolling, instead of my Ma it was Baba who recalled the shoshthi tales from his own childhood.So what I am going to tell you now is a panorama of how the day is celebrated across many Bengali homes. The traditions vary, the methods change, the celebrations are adapted to suit the changing time but running deep through all of them is the same theme -- celebration of life, of children.

It all began with Maa Shoshthi, one of the many goddesses in the Hindu Mythology whose chief job was that of an "guradian angel", looking after children's health and wellness. I have talked about her in this post on Gota Sheddho which is celebrated on Sheetol Shoshthi. Now Maa Shoshthi is also the goddess of fertility, a gynecologist and pediatrician rolled into one. This special role ensures that she is invoked and prayed to several times of the year, each occasion being given a different name and thus having a significance particular to that season. So there is Sheetol Shoshthi in Spring, Aranya Shoshthi or Jamai Shoshthi in summer, Neel Shoshthi in autumn and maybe some more.

Fruits of summer like Jamun

On the sixth day of Shukla Paksha(waxing phase of the moon) in the month of Jaishtha is celebrated the fabled Jamai Shoshthi and the lesser known Aranya Shoshthi or Shontan Shoshthi.This usually falls around mid June every year.

The Aranya Shosthi or as some call it ShontanShoshthi was done by the mothers and grandmothers solely for the well being of their children. As per my Baba's description, this is how his grandmother would celebrate the day (in his own words):
"One mid size branch with leaves from a jackfruit tree, would be dug in a raised platform(bedi) in the backyard(uthon).2/6/12 little typical type figurines(putul) made of rice flour(chaler guro) & coloured yellow with turmeric would be placed on the platform along with all types of seasonal fruits like mangoes, lychee, jamun, jackfruit. There would also be hand fans for each child (Haat pakha made of palm leaves) dotted with turmeric and a bunch of Durba grass tied on the handle of fan with yellow thread; and a piece of new garment for each child.
After that my grandmother would read the broto kotha, with all mothers & children present there. After the prayers, the mothers would use the fan  to sprinkle drops of water on each child(pakha diye joler chite), tie a yellow thread on their wrist and give them fruits and new clothes. At some other houses on this day instead of Jack fruit branch, banana tree would be use for Sashthi pujo."

The king of the season Mangoes


Baba thinks that since the son-in-law is also regarded as one's offspring via marriage, he is an important part of the day and is fed well.

However I think this explanation is more apt about how Jamai Shoshthi came into being. In those days and even now, soon after marriage, the bride is under family pressure to bear an offspring preferably male. Since Maa Shoshthi is also an IVF specialist, the girls' parents felt that sending her a prayer might ensure a child and thus a happy married life for their darling girl. Since the son-in-law was  held as a respected figure in those days(unlike the ones today who call their Ma-in-law Kakima and eat chinese on jamai shoshthi) and a prime contributor to the equation , a meal for him could only mean dishes cooked from best offerings of the season.


Ingredients for the Macher Jhol

With all that asking around in FB that I did, Shakuntala, who is a reader and now a friend, shared memories of her shoshthi along with more ritualistic nuances as observed in her home. She very kindly allowed me to post account of her day here:
"On the day of shoshthi her Ma, Aunt and Didu shower and collect some chul-dhowa jol(water droplets from washed hair) in bowls, and make little cloth purses of durba( grass with three tips), karamcha and rice grain. They then get busy in the kitchen, making mowa, kheer and narkel naru.  Her Mami then makes a Ma Shoshthi idol with moyda/chaler guro paste, and paint eyes and nose and mouth and hair and a red bindi. The kids(Shakuntala and her siblings) make a dozen of her chhanapona idols, and giggle on their ungodlike appearance. They also make the cat-idol -- Ma Shoshthi's pet, complete with a curled tail and stiff whiskers.They then sit Ma Shoshthi down on a piri, puts her children and her cat around her, and stick a kathaler daal as a background, to make things sylvan. 

Pilsuj-prodeep, shonkho-conch shell, ghonta--the brass bell and other paraphernalia are brought down from Thakurghor; sandal paste is made, flowers overflow from the big copper pushpo patro, and wisps of dhup-smoke carry that special pujo-fragrance to every part of the house.
Shaukuntala says, the pujo is the least time-consuming action of this day and instead time is spent on prepping cotton thread dipped in turmeric, picking durba, arranging noibidyo and making the piece de resistance - bana. What is a bana? Take a kathalpata(jackfruit leaf), trim its top and bottom end, put a little bit of everything on it (aam lichu kalojam doi kheer mishti kauner chal) and voila! you have a bana! They come in two versions - with kathal, and without kathal. And you have to eat the whole thing at one go. No, not the leaf, but the contents of the leaf. The taste? Hamin ast!

After they arrange the stacks of bana, light more dhup, make a lot of noise with kashorghonta and shonkho, they sit down in a semi circle, and Mami starts to recite pNachali. After the littany, Didu fans her children with her special haatpakha, and sprinkles water on their heads with the koromcha-dhaan putli (which has a long tuft of  durba for this express purpose) then we present our collective heads to be fanned and sprinkled with water as well.

Ma, Mami, Didu chant "katlo katlo mashir sari, tobu boli shaat shaat, katlo katlo pishir naak tobu boli shaat shaat " thus letting us know that today is the day of permissiveness, today we can do no sin. Of course, being good kids, we never put that to test."

Isn't her recounting of the day beautiful ? To read more about her description of the day visit her blog

 


Back to the day, I did not cook anything special. This recipe of Bhetki Macher Jhol is from another day. I have repeated the same recipe with salmon many times. Also with local fish like trout or bass. Rui is a good choice too.With salmon, I don't fry the fillet but add them to the cooked masala and poach them in the gravy.

But I did do a short Shoshthi Pujo where I offered 5 fruits on a hand fan, fanned sprinkles of water and tied yellow thread on the girls' wrist and gave them new clothes.Only I did not have a hand fan, so I pretended that the Japanese wall decor fan was one.  Also could not find the spool of thread and so put turmeric-yogurt dots on the daughters' forehead. Then BS got  a yellow thread from her jewellery making kit which we used to tie on the wrist. You see, I love rituals when I can totally twist them to my liking and pretend that I am upholding the Bengali cultural heritage. At least that way, I get to hear interesting stories.




Bhetki Maacher Jhol

Prep

Bhetki Maach -- 4 steak pieces
You can use any other fish like rui, katla etc. Today I even did the same gravy with salmon
Rub the cleaned pieces of fish with turmeric, salt and then keep aside for 20 minutes. Shallow fry in oil. Mustard oil preferred but vegetable oil will do.
I got a fryer recently and deep fried the fish but shallow frying works fine.

Make the onion paste and ginger-garlic paste
Onion -- 1 medium grind to paste, about 3 heaped tbsp of paste used
Ginger-Garlic paste -- approx. 1 tbsp of paste, made with 4 fat clove of garlic and 1" ginger

Chop the potatoes if using
Potatoes -- 2 small ones, chopped in halves or quarters

Puree 1 medium ripe and juicy tomato to make about 1/2 cup of pureed tomato

Start Cooking

Heat Mustard Oil to smoking.

Fry the potatoes with sprinkle of turmeric till golden brown. Remove and keep aside. You can aslo skip the potatoes if you so wish.

Temper the same Oil with
1" thin stick of cinnamon
2 TejPata
2 green cardamom
1 black cardamom
4 clove
 

Alternately you could skip the whole garam masala and temper with 2 tej pata and 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
Note: Usually the whole garam masala phoron is used for a Kaalia and the cumin seeds-tejpata phoron is used for a jhol.

Next add about 1/2 tsp sugar followed by the onion paste. Fry the onion paste for 3-4 minutes

Now add the ginger-garlic paste and continue frying till raw smell of onion is gone. Sprinkle water in between if you see the masala sticking.

Next goes in the pureed tomato. Sprinkle some salt, a little turmeric powder and fry the tomato.



Throw in 4-5 slit green chillies if you want the heat.

Make a thick paste of
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp Red Chilli powder
in a tsp of water.

Add to the frying pan and fry till you see oil separating from the masala.

Now add the fried potatoes, mix with the spices and then add a cup of warm water

Add salt to taste. Cover and let the gravy simmer and then come to a boil.

Once the potatoes are cooked, taste the gravy and make adjustments. Sprinkle a pinch of garam masala if you wish but depends on how rich you want it to be.


Slowly add fried fish to the gravy and simmer for few more minutes.

Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with rice.


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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Bharela Baingan -- Eggplants stuffed with Peanut masala

This bharela baingan or stuffed eggplant is our Gujarati Auntie's recipe.

BharelaBaigan1

The Aunty who is the current babysitter but babies not being babies anymore who also helps me a little with housework. She makes some of her vegetarian Gujarati dishes and we are sold. Kadhi has always featured in my comfort food list, right there with alu posto-musurir dal and Thai red curry and now there is Lobia jostling for space with Cholar Dal and begun shorshe with a Gujju style stuffed eggplant.

So Aunty is going on leave and all the husband-man has to say is
"Did you learn to make the stuffed eggplant from her?"
"What about the bhindi kadhi ?"

While all I can think of is "folding the laundry", a chore which is not my idea of entertainment and which I had successfully palmed off to her while she watched "Ghar ghar ki Kahani" or something similar called "Punarvivaha".

It will be a while that Auntie will be gone and I might not really need to hire her or any babysitter by the time she comes back. I would have loved to hire a "laundry folder" though.

BharelaBaigan2

Several years back when I arrived in this country(the US of A) we lived in an apartment which did not have an in-apartment laundry. Those days most apartments had a laundry in the basement to be shared by say several residents. In our case it was 4(or maybe 8) -- each block had 4 apartments and there was one laundry in the basement for the 4 of us.The laundry had two pairs of washer and dryer, each coin operated.

I had come from a land of ample sunshine, clothes lines, house helps and colorful washing machines that were just catching up.  My parents did not have a washing machine then. We, the newly married, had bought one for our Bangalore home and only because it was part of a deal which included a TV and refrigerator. That all of those three worked given the deal price now seems amazing to me.

We kept the washing machine and the dryer unit in the verandah. On the washing days, the house help would drag it to the bathroom, fit the pipe to the faucet and wash the clothes there. The clothes were then set out to dry on clotheslines which spanned the length of the verandah. The dryer did a shoddy job and was never used. I think we used it as a soiled clothes hamper. The next day, it was the "same Amma" who folded the dried clothes now crisp and crackling like  microwaved Papad and kept aside the set  to send to the istiri wallah for ironing.

BharelaBaigan3

Compared to that, doing laundry in a dungeon type basement, in humongous washing machines which worked only when 4 quarters were placed correctly in their slot was very exciting. I don't know about you but even until a few years back, the act of pushing a coin through a slot was mighty exciting to me. The only part I was finicky about was using the same machine to wash my floral shirt which neighbor in Apt# 11 2D had used for his Tommy underpants.The first few washes, I spent 4 extra quarters and 30 minutes to run a light rinse in an empty washing machine. Only after the machine was cleansed did I do my laundry. That habit did not last long though. Arranging for several quarters on weekends became increasingly difficult.

Back then even the part about folding the laundry did not seem too bad. I was in love with Bounce Fabric softeners and smelling "mountain breeze", whatever it was, in the folds of warm cottons from the dryer gave me a lot of pleasure.

Gradually however I started losing interest in washing machines and their slotti-ness. I also became lax with folding clothes. The husband-man who shared the job also seemed to lose interest in folding. When we moved to our own home with our very own laundry room, after BS was born, I found renewed interest in the washing part and ran multiple loads -- children, white, non-white, children white, children colored. It was a joy to walk few steps on the same floor and run a wash.

The folding however loomed large as the monster to be avoided. The futility of the act -- of folding something which has to be unfolded to be used -- stared me in the face. I started using the spare bedroom as a dumping ground for dried clothes.I found that putting clothes out of the dryer and immediately onto hangers saves ironing as well as folding. I found that watching "Everybody Loves Raymond" while folding tiny onesies reduced the pain a little.

I found all loopholes to avoid folding or to make it bearable.

BharelaBaigan5

So after LS was born and I was hiring babysitters, I sneakily put in the "laundry folding" as a requirement. However M Didi who was with us until last year was as averse to folding as me and often had  her excuses to not do so. I would grudgingly trudge along, folding a t-shirt and trying to find a sock pair, roping in BS for whom it was more exciting.

It all changed and I was finally totally free of "folding" when K Auntie started her job. She gladly folded the clothes while I cooked dinner. I couldn't have asked for anything better.

My days of happiness are now numbered though and I have to go back to my dull job soon. I might just dump the dried clothes in the spare bedroom again. If you are visiting me, please call a week ahead.Yes, I need all that time to fold.

BharelaBaigan6

But at least I have learned to make the Gujarati style Bharela Baingan -- eggplant stuffed with spicy peanut and besan. I love regional Indian cuisine and I am so glad that I learned this gem. It is really good. Also way simpler than it sounds. If you know me, you would know, I don't cook complex meals and I don't like folding clothes. So if I am doing a stuffed eggplant, it must be easy.

I totally freaked the poor lady out by taking pictures of eggplants in every step of their life but this recipe is worth all that and more.

Before going onto the recipe, let me just tell you that the book, "Bong Mom's Cookbook" is getting great reviews and if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you already know that. The book is now available on Amazon at a great price and also on Flipkart. More on the book page





Bharela Baingan -- peanut masala stuffed Eggplant

At the very beginning go to the nearest grocery store and get the small round eggplants. Buy 10 small round eggplants

Wash them well and dry them

Next trim the stem of the eggplants and slit them crosswise at the bottom. The slits should not separate the eggplant and it should be joined at the base

Next, take 1/2 cup of peanuts, the ones without skin, dry roast them for about 4 mins at medium heat. Cool and then powder coarsely in your spice grinder.

Make a paste of
4 hot green chillies
1" ginger
3 fat clove of garlic

Now in a wide mouthed bowl put
3/4 cup Besan/Chickpea Flour/Gram Flour
the peanut powder
2 tbsp Coriander powder/Dhaniya powder
3/4 tbsp Kashmiri Mirch
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
salt
the ginger-garlic-chilli paste you made
2 tbsp oil

Mix well with your fingers till you get a moist crumbly stuffing mix. Taste to see if anything is missing and adjust accordingly.

Again using your fingers stuff each eggplant with this spiced-gram flour stuffing mix. Press them down so that they reach all the way to the bottom. There should be some stuffing left

Arrange all the stuffed eggplants on a microwave safe plate. Sprinkle with the stuffing that is left. Drizzle 1 tbsp of oil. Cover with a perforated MW cover or a cling wrap with perforation. Put in the microwave and cook for about 8 mins. At the end of this the eggplants will look soft and kind of settled down. They are almost cooked by now.

Next heat some more oil in a frying pan, say about 1tbsp. Temper the oil with 1/4th tsp of cumin seeds. When the spices pop, gently put in all the part-cooked eggplants and their stuffing. Toss gently and then cover. Cook till done

Serve with chapati for best effect.

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