Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Chingri Bhorta or Chingri Mola -- spicy prawn pate

Chingri Bhorta, Chingri Mola

Chingri Mola | Chingri Bhorta

Chingri Bhorta or Chingri Mola is a spicy prawn paste, made with tiny, small shrimps cooked in mustard oil and then mashed with green chillies and raw onion. This recipe is my adapted version of the original.

This Chingri Mola or Chingri Bhorta is a huge favorite with me and my older daughter. It is shrimp so what is not to love honestly.

As simple as this dish is, it was not something that my Mother made. Bhortas or baatas, which means anything that is mashed or made into a paste, was not very popular in our urban home, except for the few vegetables that were steamed and then mashed. So say like, aloo seddho/aloomakha or mashed potatoes, kumro bhaate aka mashed pumpkin.

Most of the baata or bhortas in Bengali cuisine is attributed to the Bengalis from East Bengal or Bangals. And that is why whatever baatas I have had is at my in-law's home, be it Kaanchakolar khosha baaata or Phulkopi or Mulo r paata bata

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.

This particular Chingri Bhorta or Chingri Mola however is not something that my MIL made either. I first heard of it from a friend who described the "Chingri r Mola" that he had at his friend's house in Midnapore, West Bengal. It was made with tiny, small shrimps in their shells, too tiny to remove the shells or tails. These were cooked in mustard oil and then mashed with fingers. Slivers of chopped raw onion and green chillies were then added to them and mashed in together. The friend reminisced how delicious the Chingri Mola tasted and how his friend's mother who pressed the tiny shrimps with her fingers into a coarse paste had magic in those fingers.

This sounded so exciting that I started cooking this chingri mola at home. However the one major thing that we lacked here was the tiny shrimp. We only had the bigger prawns here. So I  adapted the recipe a little. I use medium sized shrimp and make a coarse paste in the mixie. Of course the flavor of those tiny shrimps caught from the local river is missing but we make do with what we get don't we ?
I have also added a second step where I  saute the shrimp paste in mustard oil with nigella seeds, green chillies and onion to make it drier. I think this definitely boosts the flavor and also makes it a dish which you could serve at parties.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Tomato Kasundi -- adapted from Leela Majumdar

Tomato Kasundi

Tomato kasundi | Tomato Kashundi

This Kasundi is great as a dip for anything or a dressing for your cucumber-carrot salad. It has more of a tangy tomatoe-y taste than a mustard-y taste. Be generous with the mustard oil and you won't be disappointed.

Aam Kashundi

This Tomato Kasundi recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbook of all times. It's in Bengali by my favorite author Leela Majumdar. For those who don't know about her, she is a very famous author of Bengali literature and most loved for her writings for the young adults. Her books like "Podipishi'r Bormi Bakso" or "Monimala" are legends in their own times. Her memoir "Paakdondi" still remains in the list of my favorite books. She also happens to be Satyajit Ray's aunt.

I am not a big time cookbook reader. Never was. My recipes are mostly from friends, families and now blogs. My mother too never had a cookbook as far as I can remember. Cookbooks were not the "in thing" in those days. However she used to often copy recipes from magazines like Jugantor or Sananda and write them down in a diary. We both loved reading the recipes in colorful pages of Sananda or Femina those days. And of course the Personal columns :-p

The first cookbook I ever bought was just before I moved to US. It was a bengali cookbook by Bela De, very popular in those times. It had lots of recipes and was very cut and dry but useful. The recipes were written just like my Mother would say if you asked her how she made a particular dish -- a little of ginger and some cumin seeds. It gave you a basic framework and you took it from there.

Along with Bela De, I had bought another book, not because I wanted to learn the recipes (though they are excellent) but because I was a(still am) huge fan of the author Lila Majumdar. By then I had read all of her writings and when I landed one afternoon at the Dasgupta book stores in College Street asking if I had skipped reading any of Lila Majumdar's books, they gave me her "Ranna r Boi".

To be honest, I wasn't too enthusiastic. I had hoped for an unpublished manuscript maybe. But then I started reading it without the intention of cooking and started loving it. Her words in the introduction of that book became my mantra.  She wrote recipes in a conversational tone, again missing out on the measurements, but they were honest. They told you about substituting ingredients and things like "You can use this instead of this but it won't taste as good :-D". I read through that book often when I felt homesick in those early days in a foreign country. I cooked from it too but mostly I just read those recipes for pleasure.

"If you have to eat to survive then why not try to eat well. And eating well  means eating food that looks good, tastes good, is nutritious, inexpensive, easy and takes little time to cook "

I was craving for some Aam Kasundi or Mango kashundi  but did not have any mangoes. So I settled on Tomato Kasundi. I have adapted this Tomato Kasundi recipe from the book. The ingredients are as she suggested. It made for a very delicious dip. This Kasundi has more of a tangy tomatoe-y taste than a mustard-y taste. Be generous with the Mustard Oil and you will not be disappointed.