These 2 months of September & October make me extremely homesick. The cool air, clear skies and the while floating clouds spill out all the memories of the biggest religious festival of West Bengal: Durga Puja, the community celebration, and along with that- very special food.
Someone once said, “There are two kinds of fervent devotees at Durga Puja: one kind has their hearts fixed on god, the other has their minds focused on food, but the degree of devotion is the same.” The food culture is interrelated to the Religion & during the 5/6 days of the religious celebration is also a celebration of food. The food cooked in the communal kitchen is first offered to the Goddess Durga after the morning prayers, & this is called “bhog”. Classicists insist that the aromas in the kitchen should be ignored before the “bhog” is actually offered to the Gods.
The classics of the puja are very humble dishes, mostly seasonal & very basic to the daily Bengali Kitchen. But the extravagant pleasure comes from the communal eating, where everyone sits together to eat food served on either banana leaves or simple plates made by weaving saal leaves.
A small example of food served during these few days:
Khichudi, the rice-and-dal staple you’ll find everywhere in India & Labra, a pumpkin, Spinach, Eggplant/Brinjal/Aubergine based mixed vegetable that can contain up to 15 different seasonal vegetables, spiced with panchphoron, are among the very common dishes. I also need to mention that the “bhog” which the community shares after being offered is all vegetarian (Niramish), not even Onion, or Garlic is used.
While I missed all the buzz from back home, I did make Labra, (no I did not use 15 vegetables, but what ever was there in my refrigerator). There is actually no restriction to what vegetable may be used. And I sat back and dreamt of being back home at the Community, eating all together.
& To JFI: FESTIVAL TREATS! hosted by Shrivalli of Cooking for all Seasons.
- 1 Cup of Yellow Pumpkin cubed
- 1/2 Cup Cabbage shredded roughly
- 1/2 Cup Radish (red or white) chopped in to small pieces
- 2 Chinese Eggplants/Brinjals Cubed
- 3 medium Potatoes cubed
- 1/2 Cup Sweet potatoes Chopped in to small pieces
- 1 Carrot chopped in to small pieces
- 1 Cup Spinach
- 2 small Zucchini Chopped
- 4 Green chillies
- 1″ Piece of Ginger peeled
- 1.5 teaspoon Panch Phoron (This is a five mix spice. “Panch” means “five”. The following are used in equal amounts: Cumin Seeds, Mustard Seeds, Nigella Seeds, Fenugreek Seeds, Fennel Seeds)
- 2 Red Dry Chillies
- 1 tsp Turmeric powder
- 5 tablespoon Mustard oil (subsitute with any cooking oil if this is not available)
- 1 tsp Sugar
- Salt to taste
Other Vegetables that may be used: Cauliflower, Beans, Broad Beans, Peas, Any squash
Heat oil and add panch phoron and whole red chilies. When they change color, add the Potatoes, Carrots, Radishes (all the root vegs) and stir fry for about 5-8 minutes. Then add all the other vegetables, turmeric powder, salt and sugar and stir for another 10 minutes.
In the mean time grind ginger and green chillies to a paste and add this to the vegetables and mix well. Cover and cook over low heat till all the vegetables are cooked. Increase the heat so that all the moisture is dried up. Most of the Vegetables should get kind of mushy soft. Cook for a couple of more minutes and take the pan off the heat.
Serve hot with White Rice or Khichuri.