Tag Archives: Mukti’s Kitchen

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.


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.


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?


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.

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  
A Dream Dinner Abroad
RomeIf you could have dinner in another country, where would it be? My dream dinner abroad -- it would have to be Rome, Italy or maybe even Paris, France since I don't believe Indian food is as popular in those regions. I would consider England, but the Brits, they know Indian food better than most Indians! We'll keep that off the table, so to speak. More...
Happy New Year from Mukti’s Kitchen
Happy New Year to all my friends, students, supporters and sympathizers. You have made a difference, and Mukti's Kitchen a big success in 2014. Thank you so much. I'm suggesting a quick recipe here, given it is now getting really cold, and we need to do all we can to fight off the adverse weather and the ailments that come with it. Can we prepare some quick dishes at home that can help us to fight back against the cold and flu? I have already suggested one dish in December. Here is one more. I'll keep posting more recipes in the coming weeks: recipes you can try easily at home, perhaps without any hands-on training. If you need hands-on help, though, please do not hesitate to contact me. My cooking classes are open, and you can register for any of them online, from the website.  More...
Celebrate Diwali Today :-)
Goddess Kali the Demon Slayer. Art melts with religion.

Goddess Kali the Demon Slayer. Art melts with religion.

Celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights. This year, it's on Thursday, October 23. Be festive, be merry. Decorate your home, school and work place with lights. Small lights. Big lights. Anything that can lighten up and illuminate. Anything that can make the day bright and full of smiles. And then, celebrate the happy occasion with Indian food. Happy and healthy Indian food. And if you like sweets, have Indian sweets. 🙂 More...
This is a Very Sweet Time :-)
Indian SweetsThis is really the time for sweets. Indian sweets. Bengali sweets. Punjabi sweets. Delhi sweets. Bombay sweets. You name it. The time between Durga Puja in West Bengal and East Bengal (now Bangladesh) -- in early October -- and Diwali in Punjab, Gujarat, Delhi and others parts of India -- in late October -- is the time when people visit their friends and relatives. We touch the elder's feet in reverence. They bless us by putting their palm on our forehead. Men and women of equal age embrace each other in affection and love. More...
Food, Fun, Festivity and Hinduism
The Deities and the Devotees.

The Deities and the Devotees.

Written by Partha Banerjee of One Final Blog _________ October is the season for our Hindu religious and social festivity. Durga Puja and Lakshmi Puja, followed by Diwali, Brother's Day, and many more. Not too many people know here in America. But it is truly a fascinating, colorful time for us. Because all of the religious celebrations and pujas are linked with food and fun. Food fun. And fun food. 🙂 And to me, it’s more about food and fun than religion and rituals. Hindu religious festivals are absolutely, brightly colorful with mouth-watering food. And what’s more, because it’s directly linked with the sacred events, the food is actually even more healthy and pious than the often-extravagant and spicy Indian dishes. And you can’t complain about good, delicious Indian food with carefully preserved health qualities, can you? More...
Goddess Durga and Godly Food
Jodhpur Park Durga Puja

Goddess Durga the Demon Slayer.

Goddess Durga with her ten hands and four children are here. She rides the lion and vanquishes the Asura – the demon. We celebrate her arrival on earth.


The four-day celebration has just begun. It’s that time when in India and Bengal and wherever we are, religion melts with social traditions, rituals melt with art, and fun melts with food.


Hindu Durga Puja is all about society and religion, fun and frolicking, and art and food.


And artistic food. You would miss out a lot if you didn’t know.


Let me help you to know.


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...