Pohela Boishakh is undoubtedly our biggest secular celebration. Initially a day marked by businessmen making new ledgers, it was brought into popular culture by Chhayanaut in the 60s. People’s participation and acceptance of this festival soon overshadowed the origins of Pohela Boishak but the orthodox tradition is still with us. Traders in both rural and urban areas start their accounting by initiating a new ledger of the year called ‘Hal Khata’. After the first entry into the book, which was always considered auspicious, the traders would distribute sweets among their fellow traders and valued clients.
It is by partaking in the tradition of distributing sweets, which were brought back home by my grandfather (a trader in Puran Dhaka) every ‘Pohela Boishakh’, which gave me the first ‘conscious taste’ of the Bengali New Year.
Throughout the years of celebrating Pohela Boishakh, I have found myself waking in the early hours and watching my mother draping herself in a red and white cotton sari, putting on a large red ‘teep’ and accessorising her hair with ‘beli phool’ and walking out hand in hand with my sharply dressed father, in a crisp white ‘lungi’ and a contrasting panjabi. They would go to the early morning outdoor soiree in Ramna Park and come back with ‘moa-murki’ for me.
After eagerly awaiting their return, it was swiftly off to the next event of the day — the grand lunches thrown by the ladies of Dhaka. Oh the luncheons, the luncheons!
The afternoon theme for the parties would be pastoral delicacies. The hostesses insisted on making the occasions as authentic as possible; they served ‘panta bhaat’ along with an array of ‘bhortas’ and ‘bhaji’.
There was an air of competitiveness among them to show off as many items as their tables could hold. As for the amused guests, after their ‘Oohs’ and ‘Aahs’ and their loud admirations, they were left in a huge confusion as what to eat or not to eat.
But I was not one to complain, I loved it!
My father tells me that the head of the rui mach is considered a delicacy. I think my parents and everyone else are always delighted when they see Murighonto at the dinner table.
1 cup kalijira rice
2 rui fish heads, about 200g
5 tsp salt
2 tsp turmeric powder
1 cup mustard oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
5 bay leaves
10 cardamom pods, cracked
5 cinnamon sticks
1 cup onion paste
1 cup garlic paste
2 tbsp ginger paste
5 tsp red chilli powder (add more if you like it hot)
2 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp water
10 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 cup coriander leaf
Soak the rice for 30 minutes. Drain before adding it to the wok. Clean fish heads and rub with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp turmeric powder. Fry in hot oil on all sides, turning often, until golden brown. Keep aside. Heat mustard oil in a wok and toss in the cumin seeds.
Cook undisturbed for a few seconds. Now add the bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Cook undisturbed for a minute. Add onion paste, garlic paste and ginger paste, stirring continuously. Saute, stirring vigorously until the spices release ther aroma.
Add red chilli powder, 1 tsp turmeric powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, 4 tsp salt, lemon juice and 2 tbsp water. Saute stirring occasionally, until the oil separates from the spices. Add tomatoes and cook until they disintegrate. Alternatively use tomato puree.
Slide fired fish heads into the wok and heat through. Strike fish head with a metal spatula and break into several pieces and fold well to coat the pieces with the spices. Now pour the soaked rice into the wok, after having drained it thoroughly and stir. Pour enough water to cover the contents, swirl to mix. Reduce heat, cover with a lid and cook over low flame for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with the coriander leaves, cover again, and take the wok off the flame. Serve after 5 minutes.
This was a dish I had at my Aunt Lisa’s house. I took a large helping of this rice dish (which looked like khichuri) and dived into what was ‘bhuna goru mansho’. I was surprised at the tangy taste and instantly fell in love. This — although not the exact recipe — I’ve prepared through trial and error. It does not taste exactly like my aunt’s but is still delicious.
2 cups rice (kalijira)
3 cups water
2 small or 1 large unripe mangoes (grated)
½ tsp black mustard seeds
½ cup freshly grated coconut
2-4 dry red chillies
½ tsp of asafoetida powder (hing)
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp of mustard seeds
1 tsp of split white Bengal gram
A handful of fresh curry leaves
4 dry red chilies
Method for cooking the rice –
It’s good practice to rinse your rice in a strainer before cooking. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it will rinse off any dusty starch on the surface of the rice along with any leftover chaff or stray particles.
Note — Some rice have more starchy coating than others. Measure the rice and the water. For most rice, use a 1:2 ratio of rice to water. Measure a half cup of uncooked rice per person and scale this ratio up or down depending on how much you’re making. Some rice varieties will need a little less or a little more water as it cooks, so check the package for specific instructions.
Bring the water to boil in a saucepan. Rice expands as it cooks, so use a saucepan large enough to accommodate. Add the rice. When the water has come to a boil, stir in the rice, salt, and butter (if using), and bring it back to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook.
Put a lid on the pot and turn the heat down to low. Don’t take off the lid while the rice is cooking — this lets the steam out and affects the cooking time.
Method for the mango –
Grind together: 1/5 cup of grated mango, 1½ tsp black mustard seeds, ½ cup fresh grated coconut, 2-4 dry red chilies, asafoetida powder. You can find grated coconut in the freezer section of your local superstore.
You will need to add a few tablespoons of water to get the blender going. You should end up with a tangy, raw mango chutney with a mustardy kick to it.
This step adds another layer of flavour and texture to the rice. To a tablespoon of hot oil, add 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds and 1 tablespoon of split white Bengal gram. When the mustard seeds change to pale gray and pop explosively (step back, or find a handy cover), add a handful of fresh curry leaves. Add the remainder of the grated mango. Add the ground mango chutney and continue cooking on low heat for about 5 minutes until it is no longer raw. Season with salt and turmeric. Let cool.
Assembling the mango rice –
Mix the chutney gently into the rice, taking care not to mash the delicate grains in the process. I find my fingers work best for this. Be patient, working the mixture together so that no pockets of plain rice remain. Use a sprinkling of sesame or other oil if the mix looks dry. Add roasted peanuts, additional coconut if you feel extravagant (I did) and a sprinkling of coarse sugar to balance the tartness of the mango.
Puti shutki bhorta
Puti shutki bhorta is native to Mymensingh district of Bangladesh. It is extremely spicy and yummy. The ‘puti shutki’ has a distinct smell that gives the ‘bhorta’ a unique edge. I think all ‘bhortas’ taste better with plain steamed rice, this being no exception.
4 pieces of ‘puti shutki’ (dried puti fish)
1 tbsp oil
3 onions, sliced
8 garlic cloves, sliced
8-10 green chillies
Salt as needed
Wash the shutki in water cold and set aside. Heat oil in a pan and fry the onions till soft and add the garlic, green chillies and ‘shutki’ pieces. Cook for 6-7 minutes.
Place the fried ingredients on a ‘sheel pata’ or mortar and pestle. Grind well with some salt.
Chingri mach er bhorta
My parent’s best friend, Dornira aunty makes one of the best chingri bhortas! This was a regular at her house from what I remember. I have many happy food memories because of her.
10 large prawns, boiled, de-shelled and cut into half-inch pieces
5 green chillies, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp of chopped fresh coriander
3 tbsp mustard oil
Salt, as needed
First, slightly cool off the prawn. In a bowl add the onions, coriander, mustard oil and salt. Mix with your fingers and serve.
A handful of coriander leaves, chopped
½ tsp of ginger, finely chopped
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
2 green chillies, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
To roast the tomatoes, you will need to pitch a fork in the tomatoes and hold them over the fire. Occasionally rotate the tomatoes until dark patches appear all over them. Let the tomatoes cool down a little and chop them up roughly.
Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions, fry them till it is translucent. Add the ginger, chillies and tomatoes. Fry for 2 minutes.
Add the yoghurt and sprinkle the coriander. Mix and take it off the flame. Serve hot.
Puti mach kawra bhaja
Crispy and light, this is an amazing dish to have with hot rice and ‘bhorta’.
1 kg puti fish
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp salt
Soya oil for deep-frying
Cut out the fish innards — retain heads. Trim the barbels and tail ends. Rinse the fish under running water. Dust the fish with turmeric, red chilli powder and salt. Heat the oil, in a korai/wok for deep-frying until the surface starts to form ripples.
Slide in a handful of fish; cook in batches.
Fry them until crisp, turning them regularly with a slotted spoon. Strain out the fishes, drip off excess oil and spread them out on an absorbent paper towel for further oil removal. Cover with a wire mesh lid. Any other covering will make the fishes soggy and its main appeal ‘crunchiness’ will be lost and crunchiness is what this dish calls for.
Fresh coconut chira makha
You can easily do a sweet version of this. Just add the chira, coconut and sugar. You could also use warm liquid jaggery instead of sugar.
2 cups chira, beaten rice flakes
1 cup coconut, freshly grated
20 curry leaves (kadi pata)
3 to 4 green chillies, minced
½ cup chopped onions
2 tbsp mustard oil
Salt, as needed
1 dried red chilli, chopped
Dry fry the chira and red chillies together. Take the chira off the flame and put it in a bowl. Let it cool. Add the onions, grated coconut and green chilli. Heat the mustard oil in a pan. Add the curry leaves and fry till crispy. Add only the curry leaves to the chira, add salt and mix. Serve.
I think people forgot about the freshly made ‘kasundi’ after the bottled ones came out. The smell and taste of this is refreshing and like songs on your taste buds.
20 green chilies
1½ tbsp yellow mustard seeds
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 small green mangoes, peeled, pitted and shredded into fine julienne
3 tsp salt
2 cups of water
Put all the ingredients in a food processor. Pour 2 cups of water and grind or blend to a smooth liquid. Put mixture in sterilised jars and keep in a cool dark place. Use after two weeks. Refrigerate the jar after opening.
This is my favourite dish that my mother makes for us. I literally beg her to make it every Friday, which unfortunately she does not. The sweetness of the coconut milk and tenderness of the prawn is heavenly. People usually add cardamom to this dish, but I find it best to skip it entirely.
1 kg prawns, 2 tbsp onion (grated), ½ tsp garlic paste,1 tbsp ginger paste, 2-3 (1 inch stick) cinnamon, 4 cloves,1-2 bay leaves, 2-3 dry red chillis,1 tsp turmeric powder, ½ tsp red chilli powder, 1/2tsp cumin powder
¼ tsp garam masala powder, 1 cup coconut milk, 7 small onions, whole oil
Salt to taste
Wash, clean and devein the prawns. Peel the prawns but keep the shell on head and on tail. Smear salt and turmeric powder on prawns and keep aside for 20-30 minutes. In a pan add oil, when the oil is hot add the prawns.
Cook for 2-3 minutes on high heat or as they change colour to red. Do not overcook the prawns, or they will turn chewy and hard. Keep the fried prawns aside. In the same pan add some more oil. Do not discard the oil from fried prawns. As the oil heats up, add bay leaf, whole garam masala (cinnamon, and cloves), dry red chillies. Cook till the spices release a nice aroma, add the garlic paste and cook for 1 minute.
Sometimes I have seen people add slices of garlic to the oil, and cook the garlic till red, then discard the garlic slices from the oil. This way the garlic does not dominate the curry but leaves a mild aroma.
Add the onion paste and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes. Add the ginger paste and mix well. Cook for 2-3 minutes on medium flame. Add turmeric powder, red chilli powder and cumin powder, and the whole onions. Mix well.
Cook for 2 minutes, then add the coconut milk. Do not let it boil, keep it to a simmer.
As the gravy simmers, at this point you can add the prawns back in.
Cook on low-medium flame for 3-4 minutes. Do not overcook the prawns. Check seasoning, accordingly add salt and add the garam masala.
Watermelon ‘deshi’ cheese salad
1 cup of cold watermelon, cubed
¼ cup of ‘deshi’ cheese, crumbled or cubed, ¼ medium red onion, cut in paper-thin slices, Handful of mint leaves, chopped, 1 tbsp olive oil, ½ tbsp vinegar
Place the watermelon in a bowl, top with most of the onions, then the cheese and mint. Place remaining onions on top. Sprinkle with olive and vinegar, and serve.
Daal with mangoes
1 cup yellow lentils, 4 cups water
1 tsp salt, divided, ½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp oil
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp red chilli powder
2 unripe mangoes, peeled and diced
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Place lentils in a colander and rinse until the water runs clear. Combine lentils, 4 cups water, ½ teaspoon salt and turmeric in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oil in a wok over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and cook until fragrant and starting to brown, about 30 seconds. Add onions and cook, stirring until soft and beginning to brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, coriander, red chilli powder and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.
Stir the garlic mixture and mangoes into the lentils. Return to a simmer; cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are falling apart, 10 to 15 minutes more. Stir in cilantro.
Green mango juice
2 to 3 semi-ripe mangoes
½ tsp black salt/ beet lobon
½ tsp red chilli powder
2 tbsp sugar
Ice to fill glass
Roast the mangoes on the stove top. Skin, deseed and chop them up. Place in the blender or food processor with a little water and sugar. Process until you get a smooth puree. Add a glass of water, black salt and red chilli powder, blend again. Check if more sugar is need, if so add a teaspoon at a time to adjust.
Fill a glass with ice and pour in the juice.
6 cups of watermelon (seeded and cubed)
2½ cups of water, as required
2 tbsp sugar
2-3 tbsp of fresh lemon juice (I used the juice of one large lemon since I love the taste)
Few mint leaves for garnish
Crushed ice to serve
Pulse the watermelon using little water in batches. I used about 1 cup water only while many sites ask for about 4 cups of water. I like the watermelon taste more and also the fact that it has more water content, I tend to use less of the water. Also adding ice cubes tends to water it more later as it melts.
Filter it using a sieve. Add the rest of the ingredients according to taste. Serve chilled. I use sweet watermelons since it makes it possible to add less sugar and enjoy the natural goodness more.
1 kg ilish steaks
½ cup mustard oil
3 tbsp mustard paste
1 tsp turmeric powder
1½ tsp red chilli powder
2 tbsp onion paste
8 red onions, cut into 4
10 green chilli, slit
1½ tsp salt
Banana leaf pieces
In a bowl combine all the ingredients. Dip the banana leaf squares in boiling water for 2 minutes. Take them out and put in ice cold water. Remove and pat the leaf dry with a tea towel. Line a small metal casserole with 3 banana leaf squares. Now place the ilish mixture in the dish.
Cover with another banana leaf square and close the casserole with a tight fitting lid.
Place a small metal can (with both ends cut out) at the centre of a large pot. Set the casserole on top of the can. Pour water into the pot, submerging the casserole.
Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and bring the water to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes after the water reaches boiling point.
Take out the casserole and transfer the steaks to a serving dish.
Food prepared by Rukshara Osman
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed