Traditionally everyday Bengali meal comprises of five to six courses. In contrast to other parts of India we just don’t manage on Roti and a sabji. Every meal is a kings dawat :). The meal starts off with something bitter like Neem begun, shukto, ucche alu bhate followed by dal (lentil soup), fries, fish curry, chutney and sweets. The first bitter course is supposed to cleanse your system and reset the taste buds to receive the tasty food that follows.
Of these Shukto is really hard to make and has taken a permanent position in the lunch menu of most Bengali functions. Once I was told by a professional cook that the aroma of Biyebarir (Wedding lunch) shukto predominantly comes from Radhuni.
Radhuni is a dried fruit and is a first cousin of Ajwain (carom seed). Radhuni is rarely available outside Bengal. I used to get it during my yearly Kolkata visits. In US, I make Shukto without radhuni. Some folks suggest to use wild celery seeds instead of Radhuni. But they are really different things and I don’t use it.
- 1 bitter gourd (Karela) cut into thin slices
- 2 plantain (kacha kola) cut into medium sized wedges
- 2 eggplants cut into wedges (skin removed and then cut)
- 2 drumsticks cut into 1.5" pieces .( I used frozen precut drumsticks.)
- Few sheem (flat beans)
- Few sundried lentil dumplings (bori)
- 1 cup of milk
- Mustard oil
- Make a fine paste of the following ingredients
- 1" Ginger
- 1 tsp. Fennel seeds
- 1 tsp. Mustard seeds
- 1 tsp. Poppy seeds
- For Tempering
- 1 tbsp. ghee (clarified butter)
- Dry roast and coarse grind the following spices. I make in a little larger quantity and keep in a air tight container for further use.
- 1 tbsp. paanch phoron
- 1 tbsp. mustard seeds
Heat oil in a wok (kadai) and fry Bori till they are brown. Remove from oil and drain it. Add the karela slices to the oil and fry till they are crispy. Remove and drain it on a paper towel. Discard the oil.
Heat oil in a kadai and add plantain (kacha kola), egg plants and flat beans to it. Sauté for a while. Now add 2 cups of water to it and bring it to a boil. **Once it starts boiling add drumstick pieces. Season with salt and sugar. Cook it covered on medium heat till the vegetables are just done and the water thickens.
Add 1 cup of milk followed by the fried bori and the spice paste you made before. Mix it well and check the seasoning. Now cook it for another 3-4 mins till the gravy reaches your desired consistency. Add the fried karela pieces and keep this aside.
In a separate pan heat ghee on medium heat and temper with the dry roasted ground spices. Once they start to splutter, pour on to the vegetables.
Serve with hot rice.
**Note: Drumsticks generally disintegrate if you add them before the water boils.