"If we did a A-Z of Bengali Cuisine, what dish would you choose to start with A?"
There was a huge response of about 78-77 answers and guess what ? The winner was Aloo Posto, as I had feverishly hoped.Please God, please, let the folks say Aloo Posto and then I can have one more reason to cook and eat it. Not that eating Posto needs any reason or season but it is always nice to have some validation.
|This Posto is made with potatoes and other vegetables. The traditional Aloo posto has only potatoes|
Now "Aloo Posto" or Posto with Potatoes is actually a dish of posto or poppy seeds where the aloo (potato) is simply a qualifying adjective. This posto in Bengali cuisine is so versatile that we could do a whole A-Z of Posto with Aloo Posto, Begun Posto....Zucchini Posto and not even so much as glance at any other dish.But still the general consensus was that "A for Aloo Posto" is uniquely Bengali and even though there might be a North Indian aloor dom or a Mexican Mango Chaatni, there could never ever be an Aloo Posto that spoke anything but Bangla.
Given the season and abundance of green mangoes, coming a very very close second in this poll was Aamer Tauk which I have blogged about in Aamer Chaatni or Ambol and Aamer Chaatni Version 2
The other A dishes that make a Bengali proud
Aloor Dom Niramish
Aloo Seddho or Aloo Bhaate
Aam Doi and Aam Kheer keeping in mind the mango season
Aloo posto was one of my very first dish on this blog some eight long years back. A lot of water has flown in the Ganges and Hudson since then but this dish is still a favorite in my home and heart.
"Posto or Poppy Seed is an oilseed obtained from opium poppy. The seeds are harvested from dried seed pods and have no narcotic effect. Posto or the dried white poppy seeds are hugely popular in Bengal. It was actually the food of the people of Rarh, the "land of red soil" on the westernmost corner of West Bengal. More so for the people of Bankura and Birbhum district in this area. This region has a very dry and hot climate and they believe posto has the effect of a coolant and protects them against the heat. In the days when there was no restriction in cultivating Indian poppy and farmers in this area grew poppy in abundance, the posto seeds became an integral part of their diet. A mid morning meal of posto and bhaat protected the farmers from the searing, dry heat as they worked in the open fields.
But the reason why they started growing posto or poppy seeds goes back to the 18th-19th century when the last Bengali Nawab was dethroned by the British East India company. The East India company found that opium generated huge profit not only in local markets but also in China. Thus started the Indian Opium trade. The conditions in Birbhum-Bankura area were probably most suitable for poppy cultivation and the reason why the British colonists forced farmers in that area of Bengal to grow mostly poppy on all available agricultural lands. It was natural that farmers in those areas had little choice but to incorporate posto, the dried poppy seeds a by-product of the crop, in a suitable form in their daily meal. They ground the dried seeds to a nutty flavored paste(posto bata) which they had either raw with some seasonings(kaancha posto bata) or cooked with whatever little vegetable they could avail of. Little did they know that a dish invented out of necessity would one day be representative of Bengal."
Posto was mostly cooked in my home during the summer months keeping its cooling properties in mind and so it felt perfectly the right dish for a sunny, warm day in May today.
Soak 1/4th Cup of White Poppy seeds in water for 10-15 minutes. Next strain the water and then wet grind the seeds in a grinder with little splashes of water. Ideally the seeds would be ground on a flat block of stone called shil-nora. The grinding should ensue a creamy white paste.
Alternately, you can also dry grind the seeds to a fine powder in a spice grinder. mix water with the powder to make the creamy paste.
Peel and chop 1 large potato in small cubes.
Heat 2 tbsp Mustard Oil in a kadhai
When the oil is smoking hot, temper the oil with
3/4th tsp of Kalonji/kalo Jeere/Nigella Seeds
1 Dry Red Chilli
2-4 Green Chilli slit along the center
When the spices start popping, add the cubed potatoes.
Saute the potatoes with a sprinkle of turmeric powder. Now this turmeric is a cause of much consternation as there are two camps-- one who believes in turmeric in posto while the other doesn't. Choose which party you belong to.
Saute the potatoes until they are a pale golden brown. Don't over fry them. Now add the posto bata aka the poppy seed paste. Mix well and saute for a few more minutes making sure that the posto has coated the potatoes.
Now add water(about 3/4th cup), salt to taste, give a good stir and cover and cook.
Check for potatoes to be done. Once the potatoes are cooked, open the cover and drizzle a little Mustard oil. Give a good stir and cook for a few more minutes until the water has dried off.
Serve with white rice.
Now on most days I throw in some vegetable or the other along with the potatoes and posto. The most recent usage by the husband-man has been about half cup of frozen vegetable mix(a mix of carrots, beans, corn and peas). He defrosts half a cup of this vegetable medley and throws them in with the potatoes. It tastes oh so good and looks as good as in the first picture.