“Posto, Bhaat and Ghoom” defines a Bengali as much as “Bhaat, Maach and Bhaja” does. A lot many Bengalis are fervent posto eaters: to the extent that posto is served in some form or the other in a meal every single day. It could be side dish, or used to thicken a sauce, or to stuff a vegetable, and also made into fritters. Besides using it as a garnish, the Knacha Posto Bata (raw poppy seeds paste) is a dish in its simplest form.
I was trying to recollect that particular moment when I fell in love with this dish. Not Posto in general. I could not remember when I was introduced to Knacha Posto Bata the very first time… or when I decided that this was my favorite posto dish, even more than the famous Bengali Aloo Posto (potatoes with poppy seeds paste).
What I do remember is that in our home this had a higher preference than any posto dish. There have been times when I pleaded with my ma that I would only want to eat my rice with posto bata. I pushed my maach bhaja (fried fish) to the side. I tried to sneak in and pour the dal from the small steel bowl back into the big steaming bowl that sat on the table, holding in the flavors of red lentils, panch phoron and fried dried chilli peppers in mustard oil. I would keep on taking little scoops of posto bata, stained yellow in streaks with the golden mustard oil. After I was done eating a few scoops, I would doodle with my fingertips on my steel plate as the paste left a film of white on the plate only to wake up too soon from my (maybe posto induced) trance by ma’s rebuke – “Onno monoshko hoye kheyo na” (Don’t eat your meal absent mindedly!). There was no silverware. We ate with our hands. There is no joy in eating posto bata and bhaat with a fork. Ask any Bong and I am sure most will agree…
I do not remember a single time when I won with my pleadings with ma. I had to eat my dal and my vegetables. But I was allowed to finish my meal with posto bata and bhaat and eat as much as I could after I ate everything else. When would I love my posto bata most? On the relaxed weekend lunch time with my family, during summer vacations and also when I got back from school and ate my meal. That pretty much counts as all the time, does it?
It was not until I discovered the tiny coffee grinder that I could fix with the jar of the Oster blender that I started eating posto again, far far away from home. It was not the same as the thick creamy posto that was scooped out of shil nora. But it was still posto and there was the onion and green chilli and mustard oil that was labelled “for massage only” . Well, we still ate that and used it not for massage. The deep yellow oil that streamed out of the bottle like liquid gold, that flavored seasoned and made everything better. Even “mon kharap” (sadness).
It feels like I had created innumerable empty spots when I left home. Some parts of me stayed back there, refusing to accompany me. Slowly a lot of them, one spot at a time, got filled up here. Every single time I found something that I missed from home, it sank in and occupied one empty spot. After almost twenty years of my life, a lot of those empty spots are contented. That makes me happy. Some will probably always remain empty for there are no substitutes. When I found Posto and mustard oil and the oster, a few holes were filled, but a very big one brimmed up when I found the granite mortar and pestle which made perfect creamy posto bata. So friends, if you have found a good mortar and pestle, work a little harder to grind your poppy seeds in that. There is quite a bit of difference between the coffee grinder and the shil nora.
Posto, Bhaat, Ghoom translates to poppy seeds, rice, sleep/nap. Poppy seeds induce sleep. Bengalis love their afternoon siesta. Pet bhore bhaat kheye, Ghoom dao (A Stomach full of rice, followed by a blissful sleep) could be the motto of our life. Maybe we are a kind of the Lotus-Eaters…
Knacha Posto Bata: Poppy Seeds Paste
1/2 cup Posto/White Poppy seeds
1.5 tablespoon onion, chopped (pref. red onion)
3 hot green chillies (like Thai Bird), finely chopped (or to taste… remove membrane and seeds for less heat, but do add the chilli peppers)
salt, to taste
2-3 teaspoons pure Mustard oil (if you cannot find mustard oil or do not appreciate the flavors, you may use ghee, but the flavors are going to be very different)
Traditionally, poppy seeds are soaked and made into a thick and smooth paste in sheel nora (a Bengali version of a mortar and pestle). As I mentioned before, coffee grinder will work to dry grind the seeds and add as much or as little water to make a paste. If you are making in large quantities, soak poppy seeds for a couple of hours and make a paste with water in the blender itself. However, a large mortar and pestle is the closest substitute to shil nora, resulting in the most authentic creamy posto bata. Just like at home. If you want some extra flavor and heat, grind one or a couple of green chillies with the seeds.
Add the chopped onions and green chillies to the paste and stir them in. Add mustard oil and salt and give it a final gentle stir.
Serve with hot white rice.
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Difficulty Level: Very Easy
Serves: 3-4 as a side dish