Monday, February 03, 2014

Bengali Mutton Stew -- and a song for Saraswati

Bengali Mutton Stew
Bengali Mutton Stew adapted from Lila Majumdar's Brown Stew

When I was a small child, I did not sing. Rather I assumed that "I cannot sing". It must have been a true assumption since years later when I tried to sing lullaby to my daughters, they protested and later told me to not sing when they are trying to sleep!

However my father, like all fathers, did not believe in my lack of singing talent as a 5 year old. He was a connoisseur of Rabindra Sangeet and though he himself could not sing a single note in key, he made it up by being an ardent listener. Rabindra Sangeet was the only music that played in our house in those days. The few Hindi songs that I heard were either over the neighborhood loudspeaker or on Binaca Geetmala on Bibidh Bharati. The only voices that boomed through our tape recorder was that of Debobroto Biswas, Suchitra Mitra and Kanika.

This overdose of Rabindra Sangeet at home, made me kind of detest Tagore's Songs. Yes, a blasphemy, but honestly I did not get most of the Tagore songs as a child. There were few like "Purano sei diner kotha" and "Aakash bhora surjo tara" which I really liked but most others, played day in and day out sounded monotonic to my ignorant ears.

As a result when my Father wanted me to learn Rabindra Sangeet, as most Bengali Fathers would, I protested. I said "I cannot sing", which might have been true but not something that could not have been worked on with some training. But I steadfastly refused any training and even with an opportunity to learn at Tagore's ChitraBhanu, I did not succumb to the pleasures of learning music. Even at the compulsory music class in school, I mouthed words, keeping my voice low, assuming that I cannot really sing.

Many, many years later, I kind of started appreciating Tagore's songs. I partly understood the words, the poetry and the music or at least I thought I did. My understanding was not even close to my Father's love for Tagore's songs but at least I realized why he might have wanted me to learn Rabindra Sangeet.

So, as most Bengali Mothers are wont to do, I enrolled my daughters in a Bengali music class.

I have always heard that most parents want to fulfill their wishes through their children. I thought it was a selfish thing to want. Now, I know, it is not always so. With their years of trudging through the swirling waters of life, when parents eventually realize what happiness those wishes and trainings could bring, they want to plant a love for that wish in their child's heart. So a parent who dropped out of school makes sure that the offspring gets to finish academics, the one who hardly practiced the piano and wishes she could play music for her own solace persuades her child to practice piano every day and the one who never learned to sing wants her daughters to sing.

It is not that we parents want our children to become like us, we think it will do them good to be what we aren't.

With that wish in my heart, I suggested gaaner school aka music school to my daughters. Of course my father has been subtly suggesting the same all along.I must say that I was lucky enough to find a music teacher in my neighborhood, who is not only fantastic but also knows how to work with kids very well. So once a week, after school, in the evening, she fills my daughter's life with music they don't hear everyday.She teaches them children's songs along with Vedic songs often interspersed with Rabindra Sangeet. The result is that both LS and BS look forward to their Friday Bangla Gaaner school where they go along with little friends they have known since birth.

For this Saraswati pujo, their music teacher has taught them Tagore's "Modhuro Dhwoni Baaje". And when these little kids sing this difficult Bengali song, pronouncing the words just right, my heart is filled with an unknown happiness.

My Dad was in tears hearing their rendition which I had sent him over e-mail.After all they are little kids, growing up far from Tagore's land and probably do not understand meaning of half of the words of this song. Their singing is not perfect but it is beautiful.

For my father, it is probably a wish come true.

Modhuro Dhwoni Baaje by Little Sis

Now back to this very Bengali Mutton Stew which LS loves. BS too loves the stew as long as she does not have to eat the mutton. She is turning into a vegetarian these days. In winter vegetables like carrots and beet makes this the perfect winter stew.

Usually I make the stew this way. But this time I followed the recipe for Leela Majumdar's "Brown Stew" narrated in her inimitable style, from her cookbook which I read more for the comfort it brings than recipes. This is truly the most heart warming soup you can make, with minimal effort on your part. It tastes best with mutton but is good enough with chicken too.

Bengali Mutton Stew

Bengali Mutton Stew


Though the recipe does not suggest, I always marinate my meat. Marinate Mutton/Goat meat in ginger paste, garlic paste, salt and a pinch of turmeric powder. I usually marinate all the mutton I get and then freeze in portions. For this stew I used about 10 piece of that marinated mutton (about 1 lb)

Wash and chop the following vegetables for stew
1 carrot
half of a large beet
2 small red potatoes in halves
about 8-10 string beans
a small portion of green papaya
half of a red onion
As the author says, do not overload this stew with vegetables. The vegetables should be in proportion with the meat you use.


Heat about 1 Tbsp of Vegetable oil in a pressure cooker

Temper the oil with
2 small Tej Patta
2 clove
2 green cradamom
a small stick of cinnamon
10 whole black peppercorns

When the whole spices sputter, add the mutton pieces. The  pieces should be in a single layer and not crowd the pan.
Saute at high heat until the mutton pieces are browned. If the mutton releases water, cook until the water is dried off and the mutton has lost its raw coloring. Take out the mutton and keep aside.

To the same oil, add the onion and fry for 2-3 minutes until onion softens a little.

Add all the other chopped vegetables, sprinkle salt and let the vegetables brown a little. It is not really necessary to fry the vegetables, just gently saute for a few minutes.

Next make a roux by mixing about 1/4th cup of flour mixed in 1/4 Cup Milk + 1/4 Cup Water(whole wheat atta or maida). Pour this and toss the vegetables around. The original recipe had suggested adding the flour along with the mutton but I add it with the vegetables

Now add the browned mutton pieces.

Add about 3-4 cups of water, salt to taste and mix everything with a ladle.

At this point add 2 fat clove of garlic chopped in slices and an inch of ginger grated. Add a tomato if you wish. Let the stew come to a simmer.

Close the pressure cooker. After the first whistle or once the pressure is built up, lower the heat and let the stew cook at low medium heat for about 10 minutes. After that raise the heat and cook for 5-6 more minutes. Switch off and let the pressure cooker release steam naturally.

Once the pressure cooker lid can be opened, carefully open the lid and check if meat is done. If not, you have to close the lid and cook for another 6-8 minutes.

If the meat is done, taste the stew and add freshly cracked black pepper and salt to taste. If the stew looks a bit runny, open the lid and put it on heat again to cook off some of the excess water.

Serve with a dollop of butter and with a piece of crusty bread or rice on the side..

Similar Soups and Stews from my blog:

One more Mutton Stew

Chicken Stew for the Kids -- Chotoder Chicken Stew

Kerala Style Chicken Stew


  1. so beautifully written.
    amar chotobelay khub nach sekhar eche chilo..kokhono puron hoini...bebhechilam meye hole take nach sekhabo..ei bhebe sekhate cheyechilam je hoyto tar madhye diye amar eche ta purno hok.
    Big Sis and Little Sis dujony-e khub lucky je ora gaan sikhche.
    I am following your blog for last 5 years..what I feel, though they live in USA ..they have a very strong bonding with their friends and culture..often too difficult and impossible to pursue.

    1. Tumi ekhono naach ta shikhe nite paro kintu. Ar ora lucky kina jani na, kotodin shikhbe tao jania. Ekhon jokhon shikhche tokhon bhalo lagche, eitukui.

  2. That was so sweetly sung! She has a really beautiful voice. I hope she keeps singing. Wishing her all the very best.

    1. Thank you Poornima :-) Songs always sound sweeter when sung by little kids

  3. There is a similar Keralan version which is finished off with some coconut milk. Really simple and gorgeous, like this one.

    1. Love the Kerala stew. Have one version in my blog too

  4. umm delicious,,,perfect for winter or when it rains,:-)
    happy festival

  5. What a beautifully written post Sandeepa. And your honesty is yes, could be termed as blasphemous. Lila Majumdar has been my favourite author. And listening to your little one, I was beaming with pride (although my Mum, again an ardent fan of Tagore's songs tried to teach my girl 'Ami chini go chini' but not with much success). Please expect an urgent mail from me soon:)

    1. Maybe they will learn and show interest in a few years time. You never know with kids

  6. That's the sweetest voice! It was such a pleasure listening to her, Sandeepa. And reading such a lovely post.
    It's funny how you've mentioned the only two songs that I have in my Rabindrasangeet repertoire - akash bhora and purano shei diner kotha. The two songs that I sing for Chotto-ma, going well against my childhood aversion of Rabindrasangeet :)

    1. Et tu? But you were brought up in Kolkata na ? Can anyone brought up there avoid singing Rabindra Sangeet?

  7. Hello Sandeepa_di,
    As always such a pretty post ... by the way did you remove the song link? I cannot seem to be able to listen to it.
    Acha I had a question for you, ei deshe keu gaan shekhae kina shei khonj khobor pawa-r ki kono easy upae aache na shudhu word of mouth-e? For example, amar area (suffolk county, long island) te keu shekhan kina ki kore khobor pawa jae bolo to?

  8. I love your post and reaaly starts to follow you. Thanks for this informative food guide.

  9. Ei same boi-ta amar kaacheo achhe! Chhotobela theke eta portam, ekhono pori. :)
    -Aishwarya, of a tiny little blog called Aishwarya Eats :)


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