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. ###
Hindu Festivity: Durga the Demon Slayer
Invocation of the goddess with a community dance. Photo: Partha Banerjee.

Invocation of the goddess with a community dance.

This week, for four days, we have our wonderful, colorful, fun-filled, music-filled Hindu religious festivities. The religious part is called Durga Puja, or invocation of Goddess Durga. But truly, for many of us, it's as much cultural as it is religious. The essence of the religious part is that Goddess Durga, the divine force with ten hands symbolizing ten directions and powers, vanquishes Asura the demon. As with many other Hindu religious observances, the idols and their manifestations are all symbolic. As Swami Vivekananda the great monk from India said it in America many years ago, we do not worship the idols. We worship the powers they symbolize. Our gods and goddesses and pujas and rituals are high art, as they almost always carry symbols, and metaphors and inner nuances. Plus, the way the artisans build the clay idols are purely celestial art. I guess, we celebrate the artists and their creations too. Indian religious festivities are also never complete without sumptuous food. In places like Bengal where I come from, we have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. On some days, we choose to go vegetarian. On some others, it's mixed with the sacrifice of a goat or lamb. But traditionally, we do not use onions or garlic to cook the sacrificial meat, on these days. And Hindus do not eat beef, nor they eat chicken or pork on religious days. But I am only talking about urban or middle-class Indians -- people and communities I am familiar with. A mixture of rice and lentils -- also known as khichri -- is an important part of the offering. All the food we take at the puja premises are food offered by the priest to the goddess first, before the worshipers and followers get to eat it. Because it is offered to the goddess first, we call it prasad (in Bengali or Hindi), or prasadam (in South Indian languages such as Tamil or Telugu). Durga Puja is also full of autumn fruits. And flowers too. This is the time when India is beautiful weather; fruits and flowers are beaming with beauty and prosperity. Monsoon has just passed, and Mother Earth is lush with bright sun, moderate temperatures, and clear skies. The famous mango and blackberry season has passed, and the cooler orange season has not begun yet. But fruits such as sugarcane, banana of many varieties, papaya, grapefruit, guava, apple, pear, pomegranate, coconut, ripe jackfruit, etc. etc. are abundant. Fruits and many different flowers would be laid out on freshly cut, dark green banana leaves, and that layout itself is a work of art.
Night-flowering Jasmine Nyctanthes arbor-tristes. Shiuli in Bengali. Abundant in autumn.

Night-flowering Jasmine Nyctanthes arbor-tristis. Shiuli in Bengali. Abundant in autumn.

When we were small, we did not know the significance of the religious aspects. We would chant the Sanskrit prayers sung by the priest in awe, without knowing the meaning. But we would be very much looking forward to the food and desserts that came after the offering was over. It was a mouth-watering experience. And talking about desserts -- no Indian festivities are complete without desserts. In the Southern parts of India, coconut is an integral part of much of the food and desserts too. In the Northern Indian states such as Bengal, Assam, Punjab, Bihar, Orissa or Uttar Pradesh, desserts are primarily made out of cow or buffalo milk. And it is true that sweets from Bengal are famous all across India. Our delicacies such as Rosgolla and Sandesh and sweet, homemade yogurt are items no Indians have the heart to refuse. And then, music. In places like Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi or Bangalore, all the biggest community pujas are followed by music festivals, where well-known or budding artists would come to sing, or play their sitar, sarod and tabla. Durga Puja is fun. Mother Durga destroys the evil forces in us, and renews our peaceful, pious beginning for a new year. She is the ultimate force who helps us to keep free of human vices. To the Mother, we pray for peace, resilience and strength. We say, "Jai Ma Durga."
Durga Puja in Albany, New York. Photo: Partha Banerjee.

Durga Puja in Albany, New York. Photo: Partha Banerjee.

Sights and Sounds in Calcutta
Photo by Partha Banerjee

Photo by Partha Banerjee

Of course, Calcutta is now officially renamed as Kolkata. This is the name we have always used in the first place.   Those who have never been to that side of the world would have no way to know how different it is from here in the U.S. It is so fascinating!   Some people might argue that it is too noisy. It is too noisy, yes. Mics and loudspeakers are almost a routine part of life. If there is a festival of any kind, organizers would play some Bengali, or more often Hindi, songs. For those who live there, it is normal. But for outsiders -- Indians from another town or village, let alone a foreigner, the noise could be difficult to deal with.   But it is only more prevalent during festive times, and that too with new regulations, present in certain areas at certain times. Otherwise, even in Kolkata, after-lunch and after-dinner hours could be very quiet, soothing, and settling. One can take a nap in his or her first or second-floor room, and quite enjoy a bicycle passing by with the rider ringing the old-fashioned bell. Or, perhaps a vegetable vendor or some other salesman occasionally oral-advertising his merchandise -- and that too, with a melodious, characteristic tune.   Some people might find it difficult to walk on the streets because it is very crowded. In a big city like Kolkata, it is way too crowded. But that is out on the main streets and arterial roads. As soon as you get off the bus, taxi or electric tram, and enter your own residential alley, it's a totally different solitude. You can walk down that seven-minute-long, winding alley from the bus stop to your home, and in some hours, you wouldn't even find a soul anywhere. You might even catch a game of chess on a sidewalk porch: you can pause a while, and enjoy the never-ending, silent game between two eerily silent players, before you decide to walk back to your place again. A street dog named Kalu may receive you in front of your house; he knows very soon, he will get a few pieces of tea biscuits you'are going to throw from your second-floor veranda.  
Photo by Partha Banerjee

Photo by Partha Banerjee

Every little corner of the city of Kolkata has its own character. Some neighborhoods are mostly Bengali neighborhoods. Some are predominantly Hindi-speaking. Some are Punjabi. Some are Oriya -- people who came to Kolkata from the neighboring state of Orissa. Oriya Brahmin cooks have always found jobs in a Bengali household, because of their dexterity in cooking. Especially when a mother is ill, or indisposed because of childbirth, Oriya cooks would be temporarily hired, and given responsibility of the entire kitchen. Sometimes, even when the mother comes back, the cook would be kept permanently, because by this time, he has proved to be indispensable for the family. And the man in the house finds his chicken curry unforgettable!   We had one such Oriya cook in our family when I was in high school. Sanatan-da (Brother Sanatan) worked in some store during the day, and came to cook for our large, joint household in the evening. We were at least ten or fifteen people at one point of time in our family: my parents, my father's elder brother with his wife and two sons, and my uncles, nephews and nieces, some of whom were refugees from then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). My father was always the one who would never turn anyone away; everybody knew they could find a place to live for a few months, or a few years depending on their ability to find a job in Kolkata, once they approached my father. He was the key man in our family.   My father was a kind man. But he was also a very strict man, when it came to our food habits. He was a stickler for healthy food. Kolkata is abundant and well known for its street foods -- food vendors, fruit vendors, chat sellers with their burning charcoal oven to deep-fried fritters would roam our streets every evening. But no, if my father is nearby, you wouldn't ever be able to buy anything from them. My cousins and I would sneak out once in a while to get a quick bite of the street chat: pakora, dahi bada, samosa, kulfi malai...and so much more!   We would sit down for our school work in the evening. No middle-class family would allow their children to do anything but study religiously for a few hours, before mother called them for dinner. Occasionally, we would hear a small girl practicing her Tagore songs on a harmonium two doors down.   Father would remind us that exams were coming up, and we should not get distracted by music, cinema, or such things. He would make sure we did not get sick eating junk food, especially before the annual exams.   So much fun were those days!     ###
Photo by Partha Banerjee

Photo by Partha Banerjee

An Indian Summer, in India
Courtesy: Times of India

Courtesy: Times of India

Summer is fascinating in India. Yes, it is hot. It could be very hot. In some places, like Rajasthan or Punjab, it is extremely hot. In Bengal or Tamil Nadu, it is more humid than hot. It could be very uncomfortable. And not too many people have air conditioner. The poorest of the poor don’t even have a fan in their home. That is all true. But at the same time, summer brings out nature’s best gifts for the people in India. It’s the fruits. It’s the vegetables. It's the flowers. It’s the treasure that Mother Nature has saved for the tropics. Those who have never lived in India in summer would not truly understand how much life an otherwise scorching sun can bring. Solar energy is abundant, very abundant in India. The men, women and children are saved and sustained by the light of the sun. Sun keeps them healthy. By the heat it sends out, and by the blessings it sends down on earth – to produce an incredible abundance of food. If I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t believe that only in a place like West Bengal or Bangladesh, you can get at least one thousand different varieties of mango in summer. You can find mangoes in every state, every city, and every village across India -- Benaras or Bombay, Madras or Mysore, Agra or Assam. And they come in so many different shapes and sizes. Some are big, like the size of a football. Some are tiny – like the size of a litchi. Some are deep red, and people in North and East India call them “sindur aam,” meaning vermillion-colored mango. Some are peach colored. Apricot colored. Some are absolutely beautiful green, even when they are ripe and juicy. And then, of course, you can have green mangoes, when they are green. People in India, especially children, find great pleasure to eat raw mango, with a pinch of salt, or some with a dash of chili powder laced over the pieces.
Mango pickle in the making

Mango pickle in the making

Across India, people dry green mango pieces in the sun – mostly putting them out on the roof for a few days, and then they pickle them in glass jars, using incredibly flavorful and enticing spices. Most mango pickles are done in mustard oil. And then, many people make sweet relishes out of green mango – either cooking them very slowly in sugar syrup, mixed with whole mustard seeds, or preserving them in various types of sweet sauce. One of the sweet mango relishes is called chutney – a very popular end-of-the-meal delicacy across India. Because practically half of the one billion-plus Indian people are vegetarian, and also because Hindu widows are traditionally vegetarian, millions of Indians use mango, tamarind, cauliflower, papaya and berry pickles – both sour and sweet – to eat their rice or hand-made wheat breads, all year long. It is practically impossible to find an Indian household with no mango pickle jars on their kitchen cabinets. Summer in India also brings out thousands of varieties of flowers. Some of the most fragrant summer flowers are white, and bloom in the night. The famous Indian tuberose or“Rajanigandha” (meaning nightly fragrance), and Jasmine have featured Indian poetry and novels through ages. Our poet Rabindranath Tagore's birthday in summer is incomplete without a bunch of blooming, fragrant tuberose. Street foods are also special during summer. Peddlers bring out their yummy delicacies, mostly in the afternoon and evening; and in India, they never have any lack of customers. Children, of course, are their most dedicated audience.
Tagore and the Tuberose

Tagore and the Tuberose

I remember, during school days, we would have a long summer vacation when after doing our required one-hour math and handwriting practice session in early afternoon, we would eagerly wait for the street peddlers’ special selling calls. Here comes the blackberry man. Here comes the green mango man. Here comes the pakora-walla. Here comes the watermelon-walla. Those of us who were fortunate to have rooftop on our own houses, late in the evening, way after the sun went down, we would sprinkle water on the very hot rooftop to cool it down, and then lay out thin mats, where we and our elders would sit and chat for hours. We would have puffed rice laced with mustard oil-made mango pickles, and a generous serving of eggplant or onion fritters. The moon would jealously look down on us. Summer is very, very nostalgic. ###
Mango chutney with mustard seeds. Yum!

Mango chutney with mustard seeds. Yum!

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.

More...

Happy Breakfast on a Diwali Morning (and a special recipe)
Deepawali-festivalDiwali is here! Indian households will light up with clay lamps, candles and electric decorations. Fireworks will fill up the streets, and the sky.   And we will eat sumptuous Indian food to celebrate the Festival of Lights. Diwali, or Deepavali. _____ Indian households, particularly Bengali homes, practically spend their days and nights thinking about eating. At least, that’s how it used to be when we grew up.   The day begins planning for food: breakfast around 7 A.M., followed by lunch (around 10 A.M. on weekdays, and 1 P.M. on weekends), followed by afternoon snacks (around 4 P.M. when kids return from school), followed by evening snacks (around 7 P.M., when kids return from playground and the head of the household returns from work), followed by dinner (around 10 P.M.).   There are some Indian families where dinner is really late: around midnight. Believe it or not! Not good for health, though.   Of course, today, with more health consciousness and less available time, life has become “less exciting,” when it comes to having many meals and munches throughout the day.   Let’s talk about breakfast.   Breakfast used to be fun. Not like today’s routine cereal and milk, or toast and eggs -- in affluent, Westernized families; or no breakfast in a very busy, nuclear family where everybody would go out to work at 8 A.M. sharp. Laid-back were those days when we grew up. Father would work in government office, with a stable and peaceful lifelong job, and mother would stay at home. Father would plan with mother the night before what next morning’s breakfast would be.   Weekdays and weekends, just for the simple reason that one has more time than the other, would have different sorts of breakfast.   On a regular weekday, father would go out to work at 10 A.M. (and in my case, my mother would also go out to work more or less at the same time, unless she had morning duties at the post office where she worked all her life). Therefore, breakfast would be made between 7 and 7.30 A.M. Weekday breakfast would include leftover roti (handmade wheat bread) from last night; but in order to make it delicious, mother would fry it with ghee on a flat skillet. The roti would turn dark brown, but father would take special supervisory role to make sure mother would not over-fry it, so that it turned black. Once it turned even remotely blackish, it’s no fun to munch on it anymore. It’s bitter.   This ghee-fried, crispy and crunchy, golden brown roti would be savored with some cane sugar, sugarcane or date-palm jaggery, or for the less-sweet-toothed, Indian style mango relish or achaar, or even leftover curry, warmed up on the clay oven.   For the more Westernized but less affluent, French toast, but not with pricy eggs, but with a batter made out of chickpea flour of besan. Equally delicious and nutritious, but less harmful to heart. Eat a few pieces of besan French toast with a dash of salt and pepper.  
Luchi, or Puri.

Luchi, or Puri.

Weekend breakfast would be elaborate. Luchi (deep-fried white-flour, puffy bread), Paratha (triangular bread fried on a flat skillet with ghee or oil), served with very thinly sliced potato fries. Especially, in summer, fried Patol (a delicate vegetable of the cucumber family), or in winter, fried cauliflower. In families where they have health restrictions on use of oil or ghee, they would make a spicy curry with all of the above vegetables, with minimal oil (not mustard or coconut oil, both of which are high in cholesterol).
Fried Patol, or pointed gourd. Parval in Hindi.

Fried Patol, or pointed gourd. Parval in Hindi.

  No breakfast is complete without some sweets. In Bengal, Mohan Bhog (in Hindi, they call it Halva) would be a major treat for kids and adults alike. It is made out of semolina and ghee, with generous amount of cane sugar added to it. Once in a while, perhaps a few, mouth-watering Ras-Gollah, or Gulab Jamun.   Then, after breakfast, it’s time to ponder carefully about the lunch menu. Time for the family member who has time, to go to the local farmer’s market or bazaar, a very important, daily ritual for most Indian households, even today.   Here is a Mukti’s Kitchen recipe for you, a gift on Diwali.   Poha (Flattened Rice with cauliflower, cashews and raisins)   Poha is originally a Marathi-Gujarati dish (from the Western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat), a popular vegetarian breakfast, with a fragrant nutty flavor. I made this in my in-laws house with the supervision of my father-in law. He travelled across India, and he introduced me to many vegetarian dishes. I still remember my First Poha making and getting nervous whether it would come out nice. Especially in your new home where people are watching over your cooking skills. You have to make sure your flattened rice is not sticky. It must be fluffy, and that is the trick.  
Poha, a delicious breakfast.

Poha, a delicious breakfast.

Poha (a Bengali modification)   Prep time – 15 minutes Cook time – 20 minutes Total time – 35 minutes Yield – 4-6 people   Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter)
  • 1 medium red onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons of cauliflower (very small florets about 1”/1” cut)
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons of roasted cashew
  • 2 tablespoons of golden raisins
  • 2 cups of soaked flattened rice
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • ½ tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of roasted cinnamon, cardamom and clove mixture (directions in procedure)
  • Chopped cilantro
  Procedure   How to soak the poha  
  1. Wash 2 cups of flattened rice in cold water and add 3 cups of warm water. Give it a good swirl. Soak in warm water for 3-5 minutes, then drain the extra water completely, and let it sit for 4-5 minutes. This part is tricky to make your poha fluffy.
 
Indian spice box

Indian spice box

How to roast spices  
  1. In a clean pan, add two inches of cinnamon, 5 green cardamoms, 7 cloves. Let them toast in a medium heat until you get a nice aroma (hold up the pot to look for the fumes coming from spices, it should only take 10-20 seconds, it is important not to burn your spices.)
 
  1. Transfer the whole spices, and grind them in a spice grinder until granular.
  Now, the actual cooking process  
  1. Heat the oil and ghee on a large skillet on medium flame, and add the finely diced onion.
  2. Add ½ teaspoon of salt and cauliflower, then fry together for 3-4 minutes.
  3.  Add the peas and stir well, and fry for 1 minute. Cook until the vegetables are soft; then add cashews and raisins.
  4. Add the flattened rice and softly fold it (gently, not to mash the cooked vegetables and rice).
  5. Add 1 teaspoon of cardamom, cinnamon and clove toasted powder and sugar; mix well, then salt to taste.
  6. Serve a on a flat plate garnished with ½ teaspoon of toasted powder (cinnamon, cardamom and cloves), ½ teaspoon of ghee and chopped cilantro.
  Serve hot.   Happy Diwali to All.   happy-diwali-greetings  
Authentic Diwali & Dusserah Festival Recipe
Durga Puja art 2October and November are two of the most festive months in the Hindu calendar. Dusserah is observed on the tenth day of the autumn lunar calendar when after a four-day celebration (or puja) of Goddess Durga, devotees bid her adieu. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and success, appears on the full moon immediately after. In Bengal, where we came from, Lakshmi is also known as one of the two daughters of Durga, the other daughter being Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom. Along with two sons Ganesh and Kartik and these two daughters, Durga descends from the Himalayas where her husband Shiva lives, to pay an annual visit to her parents’ home on mortal earth. Religion and scripture have taken various easy-to- understand forms in various parts of India. In Bengal and eastern provinces, Hinduism has taken on a least rigid shape. It has a long history with other religions, and two centuries of British colonization. Then, in a fortnight, on the new moon, Diwali happens, which is also known as the Festival of Lights. All across India, and in households of Indian origin across the globe, regardless of their religion, Indians celebrate this secular festival, which also is known as Kali Puja, or the invocation of Goddess Kali. Fireworks – big and small – light up the sky, all night long. More...
A Kind, Benevolent Mother
Dear Friends, Mother's day is this Sunday May 10th. I wanted to share a little about my mother and what she meant to me and my family.
Picture of my mother and Ria

My mother and my daughter

My mother seemed like a normal Indian mother, but if you knew her heart you would know she was beyond compare. Her name was Renuka, or Renu to those closest to her. She grew up in East Bengal, which is now known as Bangladesh. Before the British partition of India in 1947, East Bengal and West Bengal were two parts of an undivided province of Bengal. The two sides of Bengal shared a common history as well as their rich cultural and social heritage for at least one thousand years. A very important part of this heritage was the cuisine. My mother and her family lived in Dhaka, which the capital city of Bangladesh. Today, it is the tenth largest city in the world, with a population of more than 18 million people. My father and his family also lived in Dhaka, but after the 1947 partition they were forced to cross the border into Calcutta as refugees. Then, as it is now with refugees flooding into Europe and other countries, one can imagine how extremely difficult a time it was. This life-changing experience allowed my mother to be a champion of others who had even less than what she did. From the time I was young and able to understand my mother she was a key person, both in her own family as well as her marital family. She was the one everyone could count on for help. “Let’s ask Renu,” they would say, whenever they were in need. Both my parents worked for the government. My mom worked in the post office, which did not pay much (some things never change), but gave her some much-needed economic stability. My mother used that peace-of-mind and stability she gained to help out others in all possible and seemingly impossible ways. One of those ways included, of all things, match-making! It was almost uncanny the way she saw connections between possible brides and grooms within her circle of family members and friends. A middle-class, distant relative’s son and a long-unseen, poor friend’s daughter would suddenly be brought together. This match would ultimately end in a nice little wedding ceremony – my mother being the all-important “cupid” who organized it. Or, a needy cousin and his family members who were suffering so much that they were almost starving. When my mother learned of their plight she showed up at their dilapidated home on a Sunday morning, with cooked food in a large tiffin carrier and money for the starving family. She helped people realize their hopes and dreams as well as helped them to reclaim those same hopes and dreams.  No matter your status in life, she would be there. She even provided support for the people who worked as servants or maids in our home. We were not rich, but were blessed enough to have people who worked for us. That also meant that the people who worked for us were extremely poor. Despite that, they always knew that my mother would be there to save them from hunger and hopelessness. In 1992, my parents came to the United States to visit us for the first and only time. At the time we lived in Southern Illinois where my husband was doing his Ph.D. at Southern Illinois  University, and I was also working in a biology lab at the university. She met my daughter for the first time; she was only five at that time. Mother said it was the best time of her life, those three or four months she stayed with us here in America. According to her, it was "God’s blessing". After returning to India, she spoke and joked about it with friends and family. Before her passing she often said that when the time comes for her to meet God, she would say, “God, I am very happy and satisfied with my life on earth. I have no regrets. I have even traveled to America, and stayed with my daughter and granddaughter". That always makes me feel special. Even though she was so young, my daughter fondly remembers those days. And I still remember my mother sitting in a swing with my daughter in the small and quiet park of our graduate student housing on Evergreen Terrace. I miss my mom very much, but for me I still honor her by doing for other people by using my life's experiences to help out any way I can. It's why I love to cook and teach others the benefits of eating the right foods and staying healthy. I would love to hear stories from you about your mother. Leave a few words in the comments about how you remember your mom. What did she like to do? How did she inspire you? How do you honor her today whether she has passed on or is still here today? Happy Mother's Day, Mukti