• Thursday, March 05, 2015


BOISHAKHI treats from other lands

By Reema Islam And Sarah-jane Saltmarsh

The first day of the Boishakh month heralds the New Year on the Bengali calendar. Shashanka, the Gour dynasty king way back in the 6th century AD, was thought to have started it, but it was officially incorporated during the Mughal emperor Akbar's reign.
The agricultural tax was often set according to the Muslim calendar, but this meant the agricultural months ended or began at different times. So, Fasli San, or Bongabdo, was launched in 1556, on the last day of the Bengali year Choitro, allowing traders a fresh start on the first day of Boishakh.
Traditionally known as 'hal khata', this culture is still maintained by many of our businessmen, when a brand new record book for finances is initiated.

Pohela Boishakh is also celebrated as the beginning of the New Year in many neighbouring countries; it is Bikram Sambat in Nepal, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu of South India, Songkran in Thailand and Vaisakhi in Punjab of Northern India.
In Nepal, the day starts off in the ancient capital of Bhaktapur, with people pulling a two-storied chariot called the Bhairav Nath Rath and then holding a tug of war between the North and South parts of the Kathmandu valley that invariably ends in festivities.
In Tamil, people don new clothes, much like we do in Bangladesh, while the South Indians of Kerala place the items they consider most auspicious near their bed so they are the first thing they see in the New Year. Gold jewellery, rice, coconuts, statuettes of their gods and maybe pictures of their children are all placed near the bed to welcome prosperity.
In Thailand, the new year is celebrated with water – lots and lots of it – and huge water fights are held in many streets and public places. This is similar to what happens in our own Chittagong Hill Tracts, where water is used to wash away the woes of the previous year, with a water festival known as Boishabo held on the last day of Choitro.
There are also many ways closer to home that we celebrate – how many of you have experienced bull racing in Mushiganj or the traditional wrestling known as 'boli' in Chittagong?
Onto the kitchen…

Mambazha pachadi (India)
A sweet, sour and bitter dish made of raw mangoes, jaggery and neem flowers to signify the different aspects of life, the Keralans welcome Vishu with this quirky dish that offers an interesting addition to our Baishakhi menu.
8-10 small raw mangoes
1 tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
 1 cup grated coconut
½ tsp jeera
1 medium size jaggery (gur)
½ tsp mustard seeds
3 green chillies (you can use 2 red chillies too for the spice lovers)
Curry leaves (about 2 sprigs or 10 leaves)
Neem leaves (about 5 leaves)
Salt to taste
Cook the raw mangoes whole with the red chilli powder, salt and water. When they are almost cooked, add the jaggery and stir continuously. Grind the grated coconut with the jeera and add to the mixture, then cook for another 3-4 minutes until the mixture has thickened to give it a syrup-like consistency.
Heat the coconut oil and add the mustard seeds, curry leaves, neem leaves and red chillies for about 30 seconds until they are jumping inside the pan and quickly pour them into the 'mambazha pachadi' mixture. Serve cooled as a side dip.

Why should this dish be happening in your kitchen?
-    Neem leaves
A special medicine in Ayurveda, found in over 75 per cent of Ayurvedic remedies, neem has a special place in natural treatments. It is also widely recognised as an effective insecticide, even in the West. What you may not know though is that eating neem leaves may have additional health benefits, such as controlling blood sugar levels (beneficial in the treatment of diabetes), reducing the symptoms of fungal infections (such as oral thrush) and suppressing the growth of cancer cells. Neem can also have side effects though, so it is best to take them under the direction of a naturopath.

Poppy-seed bora (Bangladesh)
A perfect addition to the quintessential dal, bhat and jhol combo, this posta bora is baked rather than fried, considering the excessive heat Baishakh brings with it!

1 cup poppy seeds soaked for up to 2 hours then ground
into a thick paste
1 large onion grated or diced finely
¼ cup of grated coconut
A few sprigs of coriander
 2-3 leaves of mint
1 long sprig of spring onion (the green stem part)
1 green chilli (chopped finely; you may add some red chillies for the added kick of flavours)
Salt to taste and some cooking oil for brushing
Mix all the ingredients above and shape them into round discs enough for 2 bites. Brush them lightly with a little cooking oil. Preheat oven at 180⁰ Celsius for 10 minutes then pop the poppy mixture inside, set on a tray with a foil at the base to avoid them burning. Heat them at 120⁰ Celsius for up to 10 minutes changing sides until they are golden brown and crunchy.
Serve them hot as a crunchy side dish to your Boishakhi spread!
Why should this dish be happening in your kitchen?
-    Poppy seeds
Poppy seeds, although tiny, are a great source of energy and contain a rich resource of carbohydrates and calcium. They contain an oil which is rich in linoleic acid (an important omega-6 fatty acid) and protects the heart against cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks. The oil is also rich in oleic acid, which is believed to help prevent breast cancer.

Miang Kam (Thailand)
Miang kam is a tasty snack often sold as street food. It involves wrapping little tidbits of several items in a leaf, along with a sweet-and-salty sauce. Chewing the delicious mix of ingredients together is like a party in your mouth– from the rich, roasted flavours of coconut and peanut, to the tanginess of lime with zest and the pungent bursts of diced ginger and chillies. It makes a great party food, so is perfect for bringing something new to this year's Boishakhi!
1 or 2 bunches of bai cha plu (wild pepper leaves), or substitute large leaves from 1-2 bunches of spinach; or 1 head of leafy lettuce, tear leaves into 3- to 4-inch round or square pieces.
Filling -
    ½  cup unsalted roasted peanuts
    ¼ cup small dried shrimp
    ½  cup roasted unsweetened shredded coconut
    1/3 cup diced ginger (about the size of a pea)
    1/3 cup diced shallots or onion the same size as the ginger
    1 lime, cut into small peanut-size wedges, each with both peel and juice sacks
    4 heads pickled garlic, stem removed and bulb cut into peanut-size pieces
    6 serrano peppers, cut into thin half circles; or use Thai chillies (prik kee noo), cut into thin rounds
    1/3 cup cilantro leaves
Sauce –
¼ cup finely ground dried shrimp
½ cup roasted shredded coconut
¼ cup unsalted roasted peanuts
¼ cup palm sugar or coconut sugar (can be substituted for jaggery or gur)
2 tbsp fish sauce (nahm bplah), or to taste
½ cup water
Wrapping: Arrange the spinach or lettuce leaves on a large serving platter.
Filling: To roast the coconut, put unsweetened fresh or dried shredded coconut in a dry cast iron pan over medium heat. Stir frequently until the coconut shreds are evenly a golden brown and very fragrant.
Pickled garlic is available in jars from markets.
Sauce: Grind the dried shrimp, roasted coconut and peanuts separately and as finely as possible in a clean coffee grinder. (For the dried shrimp, measure out ¼ cup after the shrimp is ground.) Place in a small saucepan together with the palm sugar, fish sauce and water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, stirring frequently to make sure all the ingredients are well blended and the sauce as smooth as possible. Cook about 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of light batter. Transfer to a sauce bowl and allow to cool to room temperature before using. The sauce will thicken more as it cools.
Add the filling ingredients and a bowl of the sauce onto the leaf platter then take a spinach or lettuce leaf, fill it with a little bit of everything, top with a dab of sauce, roll or wrap up, stuff the entire leaf packet into your mouth and chew everything all at once. Enjoy the explosion of flavours!
Why should this dish be happening in your kitchen?
-    Cilantro
Cilantro, or coriander is a powerful herb containing dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. Aside from being used in cooking, coriander leaves and seeds strengthen the stomach, reduce fever and lower cholesterol levels. Recent studies have shown it can be used in treating anxiety, depression and panic attacks due to its anxiolytic and sedative effects. It also contains an essential oil that can help detoxify the liver and increase the appetite.

Kaakro ko achar (Cucumber pickle salad) (Nepal)
A definite favourite in Nepal, this delicious and super refreshing cucumber pickle salad is made fresh every day in most houses throughout the country to accompany breakfast, lunch or dinner. Mustard oil is one of the key ingredients for this pickle.
6 medium cucumbers peeled and seeded
1 tbsp salt
½ cup sesame seeds
250mL plain yoghurt
¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
60mL (¼) cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 green chillies
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1/8 tsp Timur (ground Sichuan pepper)(or normal pepper if you cannot find Sichuan)
2 tbsp mustard oil
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp Jimbu (Himalayan herbs)(an alternate could be dried onions and garlic, then crushed)
½ tsp ground turmeric
Note: Some of these ingredients may only be available in Nepali food stores.
Shred the cucumbers into long strips using a julienne peeler. Then, in a strainer, combine the shredded cucumbers and salt in a mixing bowl. Let them rest until the juices are released, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Strain and press and squeeze out as much water as possible.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat and toast the sesame seeds, stirring constantly to prevent the seeds burning, until they give a pleasant aroma and turn golden brown, about 2 minutes. Tip the seeds into a bowl, and let them cool. Transfer the seeds to a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder.
Place the cucumbers in a bowl, and add the ground sesame, yoghurt, coriander, lemon juice, green chillies, pepper and timur and mix well.
Heat the mustard oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is faintly smoking, add the fenugreek seeds and jimbu, and fry until they turn brown and fragrant, about 5 seconds. Remove the pan from heat and immediately add the turmeric. Pour into the cucumber mixture, mix well, cover, and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.

Why should this dish be happening in your kitchen?
-    Mustard seed oil
One of the best characteristics of mustard seed oil is that it is rich in fats – good fats. Mustard seed oil contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats -- both "healthy" types of fats. They will raise the good parts of your cholesterol, lower the bad and can even help you prevent cardiovascular disease in the future. The oil contains a hefty portion of Vitamin E, a beneficial nutrient that helps to maintain the quality of your skin, hair and many other parts of your body. A single serving of mustard seed oil can give you almost a full day's worth of Vitamin E.

Published: 12:00 am Monday, April 14, 2014

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