Spring is one of my favorite seasons, not just because of the beautiful weather, but for all the festivals that take place. The Bengali New Year, Pohela Boishakh, also falls during this time, on April 14th.
While typically celebrated with folk festivals and songs, food, of course, plays a huge role! The traditional dish served for the Bengali New Year is called panta ilish, or soaked leftover rice topped with fried hilsa fish. I have personally never had this dish, but nevertheless wanted to share a couple Bengali recipes from my blog, Spice’s Bites, in honor of Pohela Boishakh! Shubho Nobo Borsho!
The key to this dish is mustard oil, or shorsher tel, which is one of the cornerstones of traditional Bengali cooking. It adds a pungent fieriness to these potatoes. You can find it in most South Asian grocery stores.
1-2 medium potatoes
1 tsp mustard oil (start with 1 and then add more as needed)
1/4 small onion, chopped into small pieces
2 dried red chilies, chopped into small pices (or use crushed red pepper)
salt to taste
1 scallion stalk, finely chopped (optional, I did this to add color)
Boil potatoes until tender. Remove from water and place in large bowl. Mash until to your desired consistency — I kept the skins on and kept a few lumps in.
Add mustard oil, onions, and red chilies, and incorporate throughout potato mixture. Add salt and adjust for taste. You can add more mustard oil or onions if you want more heat.
Serve with steamed basmati rice and masoor dal
You can make these Bengali-style mixed vegetables with any kind of vegetables you have on hand — vegetables typically used are eggplant, potato, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower. The use of Bengali five-spice, or panchphoran, is what will give the dish its characteristic flavor. You can buy panchphoran at any Indian grocery store, or use an equal mixture of fenugreek, nigella, mustard, cumin, and fennel seeds.
3 tbps. canola oil
1 tsp. panchphoran
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3/4 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt or to taste
4-5 cups fresh mixed veggies, cut into approx. 1-inch pieces — I used eggplant, broccoli, potatoes, and carrots.
Combine the ground spices in a small bowl and add small amounts of water until you have a spice paste. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the panchphoran, wait until you can hear the seeds start to sizzle, then stir lightly for a minute or so.
Add the chopped onion, continuing to stir until soft. Now add the spice paste and continue to stir for a minute or so.
Increase the heat to medium-high and add the hard vegetables. Stir to combine with the spice mixture and cook for about five minutes. Then start adding the softer vegetables, again stirring to combine everything.
Add about 1/2 cup water, decrease the heat to medium, cover with a lid and let cook for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft to your liking.