…And all this doesn’t come as a surprise because his mother, Krishna Chakraborty, an ardent food enthusiast herself, is equally committed to food, and in the process, raised a son who takes pride in devoting most of his spare time to…
Yes! You guessed it right— food.
So, when we were on the lookout for people knowledgeable about Puja and Bhog recipes, we just knew no one fits the bill better than Mom Chakraborty herself!
And our expectation was accurate. Krishna was full of delight, to be able to share her thoughts on the matter.
“Durga Puja is the time of the month when every Hindu tries to be a part of the Bhog process, either by preparing it, or consuming it.
“Bhog unites people; as long as there is some scrumptious khichuri, no one complains about the shouting, screaming, or the serpentine queues formed in front of the purohit (priest)!”
But the constituents of Bhog differs between families, some offer completely vegetarian dishes, while others offer fish, chicken, buffalo, lamb, and even pigeon!
Krishna explained the complex nature of the menu, “Our familial tradition has been to offer ‘veg-dishes.’ There are so many other families that offer meat and fish to the goddess, but these offerings must be sacrificed in her name first, before considering it as Bhog. The cooking process of the niramish mangsho is slightly different from the regular meat dishes,” explained the seasoned cook.
“We put forward vegetable khichuri, with stir-fried bitter gourd, eggplant, raw banana and spiced potato curry (dum aloo) with deep fried flat bread (luchi); there’s a lot of sweet items as well, like rice pudding, luchi-halwa, sandesh, and lots of narkel naru (coconut laddu) and gurer naru (coconut and jaggery laddu).”
In ancient times, Puja had strict protocols and stringent culinary rules; only male Brahmin cooks, also known as thakurs, shouldered the responsibility of preparing the Bhog. We wanted to know whether the same system existed in the present day or not.
“Today, things have changed immeasurably; womenfolk from every Hindu household are proficient in preparing Bhog, the tradition of cooking, with the help of Thakurs, has almost ended!” Krishna said.
But is it vegetable Khichuri all throughout the 10 days, or is there any difference to the schedule? We wanted to familiarise ourselves with the course…
Krishna was insightful, explaining, “The first few days, we are very content with our lives and everything around us, because Ma (goddess Durga) is with us, she decides to visit us on Earth, but on Dashami, the mood is slightly sombre, because she chooses to leave. Her stay with us is over for the year. There is no special Bhog on this day, just left-over food from the night before, and paanta bhaat (fermented rice).”
As we discuss more about the changes that can be witnessed over the years regarding Puja and Bhog, Krishna sounded a little bit anxious. “Today, most of the sweets offered as Bhog are store-bought instead of home-made, unlike the good old days, and why shouldn’t it be?
No one has the time to prepare so many dishes! Everyone is busy with jobs. Plus, with the waning joint-family culture, there’s no extra help from other members of the family. Instead, one has to do everything by themselves. So, many things have changed in the course of time — which was probably unthinkable back in the day,” confessed the culinary expert.
An important information that Krishna imparted was that both the ‘veg’ and ‘non-veg’ dishes prepared as Bhog are sans onions, garlic, and seasoned turmeric. “In the past, the food was explicitly simple; people were not even familiar with the use of onions and garlic in their food. There was no extra glamour. People used to cook their daily food and Bhog with whatever was available in the pantry, and perhaps, the culture remained,” elaborated Krishna.
And then there is the curious case of the dishes; number of thalas offered to the priest as Bhog, from the enormous 72 count to the smaller fifteen, ten, or even five thalas at a time.
“Affluent families still offer 72 thalas of Bhog. This process actually depends on the amount of money your family has, each item cooked or made is provided in each of the thalas. Sometimes, majority of the thalas are filled with raw rice, topped with sandesh or naru. These offerings have a special name — noibeddo. The priest informs how much noibeddo must be given by a certain family.
After an hour of familiarising ourselves with the rather complex structure of a Bhog, we were keen on getting few authentic recipes from Krishna, and hence, our conversation concluded with valuable authentic recipes of mishti (sweets) offered as Bhog, as presented below.
COCONUT LADDU – NARKEL NARU (WHITE)
1 cup desiccated coconut (only white portion)
1/2 kg milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
Desiccate around 3-4 medium sized coconuts to get the precise amount. Keep the red portion in a separate pan.
In a saucepan heat the milk over medium flame. Make sure the milk reduces to its half.
Now, add in the sugar. One cup desiccated coconut should be mixed with 1 cup sugar to achieve the perfect taste.
Continue mixing the milk and the sugar with a spatula, until the sugar has completely melted.
Add in the desiccated coconut; reduce the flame from medium to low heat. The dough will separate.
Take small handfuls and mould it immediately, while still warm. Remember to keep your hands moist during the process by continuously dipping it in water.
Sprinkle cardamom powder over the laddu or split cardamom in two and sprinkle the seeds over them.
Cool the moulded laddus, transfer it to a separate plate and keep in the fridge.
COCONUT LADDU – NARKEL NARU (REDDISH - BROWN)
1 cup desiccated coconut
2 cups water
1 tsp ghee
1 cup gur (jaggery)
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
The leftover desiccated coconut taken from the bottom is kept in a separate bowl.
In a saucepan, add the desiccated coconut and water. Bring the mixture to boil. Make sure the coconut has softened and the water has reduced.
In another cooking pot, add in the jaggery and water, set the pot over high heat.
When the mixture starts melting, reduce the heat to medium low and let it simmer till you get a strong consistency.
Add coconut to this mixture, and with the help of a wooden spatula, keep mixing till it forms a dough.
Sprinkle cardamom powder and add in a bit of ghee, continue to cook for a couple of seconds, then remove from heat and transfer to a plate.
With the help of a tablespoon, take a small portion of the mixture and form a tight ball. Remember to keep your hands moist during the process by continuously dipping it in water.
Transfer to a separate plate and let it cool. Refrigerate the naru so that it solidifies properly, before serving. This particular Naru is reddish-brownish in colour because of the jaggery.
RICE PUDDING (CHALER PAYESH)
1 handful of rice (preferably Gobindobhog)
1 kg milk
3-4 bay leaves
1 tbsp golden raisin
½ tsp cardamom powder
Wash and soak the rice for 1-2 hours and soak golden raisins for an hour.
Add milk in a heavy bottom pan and bring it to boil. Put in few bay leaves and mix it with a spatula.
When the milk has thickened and reduced to around 700ml, add in the rice, slowly. Remember to keep stirring the milk continuously.
Allow it to boil on low to medium flame till rice gets cooked well, but it should be soft without losing its shape.
After about 20 to 25 minutes, when the milk has thickened further and the rice grains have become soft, add in the raisins and the cardamom powder and cook for another 5 minutes.
By this time, the milk gets evaporated. If necessary, add little hot water or more milk.
When the milk thickens to its right consistency, turn off the heat and let it cool. Serve.
Recipe by Krishna Chakraborty
Photo: LS Archive/Sazzad Ibne Sayed