Friday, December 29, 2017

The Great Bengali Paata Baata or veggie Pâté -- leafy greens pâté


Many, many years ago, it was a cold winter day just like today, when I was visiting my in-laws in India. Well not exactly cold like today as it was in India but it gets pretty cold where they live. Though I must say with the  sun on the terrace winter in their town is far better than here. On that winter afternoon there were several small bowls on the dining table at lunch. So yes, lunch is what I concentrate on when I visit anyone, in-laws or out-laws.



Well there were always several small bowls on the dining table but this time each of them contained a paste or mash like something in earthy colors of brown, deep green or deeper green. I had never seen the likes of them and was actually a bit suspicious with their color and portions. The husband-man however went ecstatic and shouted in glee "Baata korecho?" I was still clueless. The guy loved weird things like bittergourd and bitter neem leaves fry and so his happiness did not aid my confidence.


Nimbly I took a little of one of those baatas and mixed it with white rice and took a morsel. Flavors of mustard oil, green chili, kalonji burst in my mouth. This was good. So so good. Unlike neem paata which I detested. Surprised with the fullness of flavors and smoothness of the texture, I asked my Ma-in-law what it was ?

"Mulo Shaak Baata", she said. And then she pointed to the others and said "Kochu baata" and "Kopi paata baata"! I was bowled by all these baatas or pates or pastes. They were really heavenly. That something so simple like "Leafy greens of radish" or the "green leaves of cauliflower" could morph into something so delicious was beyond my imagination.



She explained how the greens are ground into a paste on the sheel-nora, the same pocmarked slab of stone used in all Indian homes used to wet-grind spices. After that the paste is sauteed in Mustard oil with spices like kalo jeera(kalonji), green chilies and garlic, until the water is dried out and the paste is cooked.

Sheel Nora -- though here it is being used for making posto


Back home, I asked my Mother, "How come you never made paata baata?"

She looked quizzically at me and didn't appear too happy about my allegiance towards this strange dish called "paata bata"

And when I explained what it was she dismissed it as something that Bangals make, "Bangal ra oi shob banay".

Well might be true. The Bangals, or the Bengalis who immigrated from Bangladesh during or just before partition, are known for their distinctive cooking strategies. They are also known for their enterprising habit of using every bit of vegetables and fish in a dish and not wasting even the peels. I am not sure why people from this region of Bengal are more prone to making baatas etc while the folks from West Bengal are not.

It could be that the immigrant Bengalis were more careful about not wasting food and making the most of what they had. It could also be because Bangladesh was a river state with frequent flooding, so people tried to make most of the vegetables they got during those periods of rain and flood. In both situations, the idea was to stretch to the limits of what little you had.


So whatever the reason of their origin, the pate' like dishes made from vegetable peels or leafy greens or even whole vegetables are delicious. Later my mom-in-law also made a Kaanchakolar khosa baata made with the skin of green plantains which I have shared on the blog earlier.  Last month when we were visiting my friends from Thanksgiving, my friend Deepshikha made a "Dhonepaata Bata", a similar paste like my Ma-in-law makes but with coriander leaves. It was not the "dhonepata chutney" that we make every winter. This was a cooked dish.

So once I was back in my kitchen I was itching to make a paata bata. But instead of using only Coriander leaves, I wanted to use radish greens and cabbage. And then I didn't find any radish greens at the market so I got some watercress, which we are very fond of. The paste was now made of watercress, cabbage and coriander leaves.  More of coriander and watercress and less of cabbage. I wasn't sure how the  cabbage would  turn out so I sauteed them first and then made the paste. But honestly  the transformation of these greens into this Bengali style pâté was spectacular.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Goat Sukka -- a spicy dry meat dish to blow you off


Though I am not fond of winter or cold or snow, I love the festive spirit that is all around during this time of the year. Shopping around for little gifts to be sent to school, lighting up the house, putting up the Christmas tree, each tiny thing seems to be filled with light and joy. There is something to look forward to every evening. And the houses look so pretty shining brightly against the winter sky.

Also this is the perfect time to cook the spiciest, richest dishes as both the food and process of cooking warms you up. Like this Goat Sukka which I will tell you about but I need a preamble...


Many years ago when I had started blogging, it was a small, close-knit community of Indian bloggers. We read each others blogs, commented on posts, cooked from each others blogs, and slowly via food became familiar with a sliver of their lives.

Slowly though the community disbanded, they are still there but they don't blog as much. If I have to search for a recipe and I google it, there are thousands thrown at me and I have to cautiously scroll through to find the one that will work. There is always some that will work but I don't trust them blindly any more.

So all this reminiscing is because of one single dish called Goat Sukka. It might actually have been Goat Sukha, given that it is a dry meat preparation but I have seen it blogged as Sukka and I like to call it that way. Goat Sukka is a dry mutton preparation, which is native to the Mangalore and Udupi region. Many attribute the origin of this dish to the neighboring region of Goa where culinary influence of Arab and Turkish traders can be seen in the meat dishes. The recipe probably amalgamated with  the signature ingredients of the western coastal region of India and is thus heavy on spices like peppercorns and fennel and a good amount of coconut.