All posts by Mukti Banerjee

Bengali New Year’s Day
April 14 is often observed as the Bengali New Year’s Day, or Pahela Baisakh. It’s also the Punjabi New Year’s Day, and they call it Vaisakhi. The first month in some Hindu lunar calendars is Baisakh or Vaisakh. Some other states and ethnic groups in India celebrate their New Year’s Day too, at the same time.

Greetings

Indian subcontinent is so diverse – historically and culturally – that people from different parts of the country have different celebrations, and they are numerous. They say, you travel a hundred miles in India, and you’ve ran into a different country altogether: the language or dialect is different, people’s profiles are different, the weather is somewhat different, and lifestyles and cultures and costumes are different. And of course, food and cuisine are totally different. It’s fascinatingly, refreshingly different. Although today, with the rising popularity of junk food and beverages and MacDonald’s and Pizza Hut and KFC, India is becoming too homogeneous, and diversity is being destroyed. Food and culinary habits are incredibly diverse in places like Bengal and Punjab – two states where they have what we call North Indian cuisine. Then, in the Southern parts of India, it’s an entirely different world of food: with Dosa, Idli, Sambhar, Uttapam, and countless, mouth-watering dishes. But here, we’re going to focus on North Indian food: particularly Bengali. April is a hot month: with the rapid climate change, it’s getting even warmer. Temperatures in North India could easily reach 100 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in cities like Amritsar or Ludhiana in Punjab, New Delhi the Indian capital city, or Agra famous for the Taj Mahal. In Bengal, perhaps it’s a tad better, but the 95 to 100 degree “cooler” temperature is compensated for by a very high humidity. In even warmer months of June or July, with the start of Bengal’s famous monsoon, we call it 95/95, which means temperature and humidity can both reach that mark.

Taj Mahal

Uncomfortable, indeed! Yet, this is the time when Mother Nature offers us with her best, luxurious harvest of vegetables and fruits. And Bengalis from various corners of West Bengal and Bangladesh know how to make the best use of them. April is the month when Bengalis savor on their famous mango and blackberry and jackfruit and litchi, and much more. There are literally hundreds of varieties of mango. We eat mangoes in various shapes and forms, plucked throughout the summer and monsoon. Other than savoring the delicacy of ripe mangoes, we make numerous kinds of pickles and chutneys with them – both raw and ripe mangoes. Jackfruit, according to some, is the King of Fruits in bountiful Bengal. Some places in relatively “mild”-temperature of Bengal are not really so mild. In places such as Burdwan or Purulia, it can climb up very high. To keep themselves cool and sane, Bengalis in these places make some special dishes. One of them is Posto, or a paste made out of poppy seeds. Rice, dal, posto, and a lightly-spiced fish curry with plenty of soup would be a very common summer lunch across the warmers areas of Bengal.Posto made with luffa, patol, and bitter-gourd are some delicious dishes Bengalis are famous for. If you feel a little sleepy after having a posto lunch, we advise you not to drive immediately, especially if you’re having the first taste of posto in your life.

Posto

Don’t drink and drive, they say! We say, don’t posto and drive J Actually, just kidding: it’s not nearly so bad. It only calms you down, and saves you from the extreme heat. An almost clear broth of sweetened green mango chutney mixed with dash of black mustard seeds at the end of lunch also has an equally soothing property.

Mango Chutney

Then arrive Bengal’s phenomenal desserts. Bengali New Year’s Day is never complete without its proverbial Rosogollah, sweet yogurt or Doi, and milk cakes of countless varieties calls Sandesh.

The famous Rasgolla

And who can then resist the taste of the crunchy paan or betel vine leaves, stuffed with various condiments?

Paanwalla

You have this heavenly lunch to celebrate the New Year’s Day, and relax in the afternoon playing cards or chess with your relatives and friends. Life becomes beautiful. We say, Happy New Year in Bengali: Shubho Nababarsho. ###
A Very Happy Bengali-Indian New Year
Be ready. Our New Year’s Day is coming up. We say, Shubho Naba Barsho. Nababarsha 1 The First Day or Pahela of a Bengali New Year happens in the middle of April. Indian calendars are lunar calendar, and the first month is called Vaisakh. The Bengali New Year therefore is called Pahela Vaisakh. On the calendar, Vaisakh is the first month of a two-month summer. Scorching summer. In some places, it can reach up to forty degrees…maybe even forty five. Which is well above 100 F. Then appears the famous Bengali monsoon cloud with its famous, continuous rain, thunder and country floods. Frogs flourish. In remote villages, snakes flourish too. Monsoon also goes on for two months. Monsoon is followed by a beautiful, sunny autumn. And so on. Pahela Vaisakh, the New Year’s Day, is well known for its food and festivities. In other parts of India also, such as Punjab in the north or Assam in Far East, this day is celebrated with much fanfare. In southern state of Kerala too, this is an auspicious day. In Punjab, it’s called Vaisakhi. Bengalis love their food, and they love their festivities. The gods and goddesses have blessed Bengal – both the province of West Bengal where I came from, and also East Bengal that is now known as Bangladesh. My parents came from East Bengal, after the British partition. In the Hindu Bengali community, Pahela Vaisakh is celebrated with a religious offering or Puja to Ganesha, the god of success. Traders and merchants in particular have their observance, before they ceremoniously begin their yearly accounts book. In Bengal, they call it Haal Khata, or the new ledger. Small traders and shopkeepers, whether it’s a sweet shop, grocery store, neighborhood book publishing business or a tiny hairstyling saloon, the owners make sure the decorate their shop with the ceremonious banana plants adorned with the sacred vermillion or sindur. The puja ritual is done inside by a Brahmin priest, and then the trader would have abundant food and particularly sweets to give away to local children or guests whoever show up that day. Nababarsha 2 In a few places in India, people also fly kites on the New Year’s Day to celebrate the festivities. India is a very diverse country, where you can find different customs and cultures only a hundred miles apart. Some places fly kites. Some others places perhaps have a rowing competition. Food, of course, is an integral part of any religious or social festivities in India. Bengali or Punjabi or Assamese New Year’s Day is no exception to the rule. But on the two sides of Bengal, food has assumed a very rich role in these festivities. Many people in Bangladesh celebrate Pahela Vaisakh with an exotic combination of rice soaked overnight in water they call Pantaa Bhaat, and a special preparation of the famous Hilsa fish. There, they call it Ilish. The major rivers such as Ganges in West Bengal and Padma in Bangladesh are lush with this beautiful, shiny, silvery fish that is absolutely mouth-watering. No Bengali New Year’s Day celebration is complete with Pantaa-Ilish. It is a must. Add some hot green chili to the mix. That is, if you can take it. nababarsha-3 Ilish is cooked in many different styles in different parts of Bengal. Some bake it with special spices. Some put pieces of the fish coated with turmeric and salt in a soft banana leaf, and slowly cook it inside an earthen pot on a very low charcoal heat. The baked Hilsa is known as Bhapa Ilish. Some cook it with a generous amount of mustard seed paste, mixed with green chili. That curry is known as Sarisha Ilish. Then, some others would not wait much longer once the fish arrives either from the village river or from the city market. They would cut it delicately in large pieces, and deep fry in mustard oil. Nababarsha 4 Absolutely heavenly – all of the above. And of course, no lunch or dinner is complete in India and Bengal without its fabulous desserts. There are so many varieties of desserts and sweets there that one would simply keep counting them for the rest of their lives. And mangoes. A very big part of the Bengali celebration. Unending varieties of mangoes, too. That’s how life is like back there: full of food, full of fun, and full of family and friendship. Be a part of this wonderful celebration. Shubho Naba Barsho. Nababarsha 5
Childhood Memories: Our Winter Recess
Rajgir Hill Station - Muktiskitchen.com

Rajgir Hill Station

Memories come back during this festive season. I grew up in an extended family in Calcutta, with fifteen or twenty people sharing three rooms and a common kitchen. We didn’t complain. We were all very happy. That was our life: not affluent, but very happy. However, growing up together with cousins, aunts and uncles, my parents and I did not have a lot of quality time to the three of us. So my father, who was always big on eating healthy, made a yearly plan. He took us to a small, then-empty hill station called Rajgir, in the nearby state of Bihar. Rajgir, by the way, is the place where they have relics of the world's most ancient university called Nalanda. Rajgir was full of fresh air with plenty of oxygen, and tons of healthy food. My parents and I would be away from the city hustle and bustle for nearly two months, in the months of December and January. More...
A New Year Resolution You Can Keep

We make resolutions every year on January 1. But often, we fail to keep them, and follow up with them. It is because in many cases, the resolutions are not pragmatic. They are often too ambitious, or too unrealistic.

Health resolutions are harder, because of the many provocations with food. Food that we should eat, and food that we should not. Drinks and beverages: the same story. Especially during festive seasons, we get attracted to food and drinks that we know are not good for us; yet, they are too big of a temptation to avoid. We end up consuming too much fat, too much cholesterol, and too much alcohol and caffeine.

Is there a balance we can strike, and still not eat cardboard cereal, and drink tap water only?

How can we have fun, without having to compromise the pleasures of eating and drinking? And still be healthy?

I have some simple tips for you.

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Annual Trip to India
Photo Courtesy: charmingasiatours dot com

Photo Courtesy: charmingasiatours dot com

My dear friends, The time has come once again for my annual trip back home to India. I always make an effort to return home to learn new dishes and techniques to bring back and show my students. I also feel like going home recharges and rejuvenates my mind and spirit. More...
Mukti’s Kitchen goes international
Something truly wonderful has happened recently and I'm so excited to tell you all about it. More...
Secrets of Healthy Indian Food
My aunt cooked Indian food that was out of this world. She was not a professional cook, but her home cooking was professional quality. She only knew how to cook Bengali Indian food; rice, curry, greens, dal, fish, hand-made bread, lamb, prawn, and rarely, desserts or fruit chutney. More...
Our Wonderful India Trip :-)
I just came from a trip to India. Brooklyn Food Coalition's executive director Nancy Romer traveled with me. We had a great time. More...
2014: New Class, New Kitchen, New Pots and Pans :-)
Very happy to announce that our first 2014 cooking class I gave last night was a success. It was full too. So, in short, it was SUCCESS-FULL. 🙂 More...
Harsh winter – stay healthy with these recipes
New York is experiencing one of the harshest winters in recent years. In weather like this I always get request to recommend the best Indian foods to eat to stay healthy and strong. Here are some quick and easy recipes for those cold winter days. Try them, and let me know how you did. More...