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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

For The Love of Durga Puja – An Indian Thali

A Vegetarian Thali dedicated for the 6thday Of the Durga Puja in Bengal, a journey across the taste buds

Durga Puja is a huge affair in India, especially in the region of Bengal, a religious festival at its core; it celebrates the ‘Devi Shakti’, the celebration of the divine goddess power winning over the power of the demons.  It is a six day festival, starting from the sixth day the days of the names are respectively sasthi, maha-saptami, maha-astami, maha-navami n vijaya-dashami. In some parts of India, Navratri is being celebrated at the same time and the tenth day of Navratri is the day of the Dashera/ Vijayadasami. This puja is widely celebrated across the states of Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Manipur, Tripura and West Bengal.

                It is a fantastic festival, the biggest Hindu Festival in all these states and as years pass by the celebration only gets bigger n more colorful. Though it is a religious festival, everything about life comes to life during this time-food, fashion, music. It is the food scene which gets interesting here-I can actually divide the whole range of food during the festival in 2 categories, one will be the food for the Puja and another will be food not intended for the puja. The food that is offered during the 6 days to the goddess Durga is mostly vegetarian, though on certain day fish is offered to her. All the food that is offered to her is termed as ‘Bhog’, which is food offered for the divine. Interestingly most of the vegetarian food is cooked without onion n garlic. Bhog is cooked in enormous amounts at times, which is offered to the goddess and then distributed to the people worshiping her and the food is considered blessed.

                                          So on the 6th day of the puja this year I went to my kitchen and cooked up 6 dishes and 1 salad which made up my puja thali. ‘Thali’ is the word meaning a whole meal served in one big plate, the plate can consist of dishes from 6 to 16! However often several small bowls of food are served alongside one big plate and all the savory n sweet comes together in the package. So there I was with my first ever puja thali, in fact my plan was to cook a new thali for each day and to present it with all of you, but my computer did crash just then! May be it was a divine plan! 

                                                                         For this thali I made 6 dishes, one CHOLAR DAL/CHANA DAHL, which is a lentil dish, a dish of green beans n potatoes pan-fried with spices, deep-fried flat bread called LUCHI,  SAFFRON PULAO/PILAF of Govindobhog rice, VERMECELLI PUDDING /SEWAI PAYESH, PLASTIC CHUTNEY of green papaya and a simple salad of cucumber n tomatoes and fresh strips of coconut.

The ‘CHOLAR DAL’/ ‘Chana Dahl’ is a savory lentil dish, flavored with coconut n hing (asafetida) n green chilies the taste is balance of salty n sweet. Very subtly spiced with turmeric, its color is light bright yellow and it is fantastic paired with the deep-fried flat bread ‘LUCHI’ or ‘POORI’.

‘LUCHI’ is made from plain flour, they puff up as they are being deep fried, lightly crisp on the outside n soft inside, the proud moment of a LUCHI is when it has puffed up with a lot of air inside him!

                                                                 The ‘Green Beans with Potato’ is spiced with ginger, cumin seeds, red chili powder, turmeric, coriander. The green beans still have a little crunch in them while the potato is soft n has absorbed all the flavors together. This dish is good paired with the saffron pulao of ‘GovindoBhog Rice’ which I served.

                                                                             The ‘ GovindoBhog Pulao with Saffron’ is made using the ‘GovindoBhog’ rice , the rice grains are small in size and they are very aromatic, they impart a beautiful flavor both to sweet n savory equally, so much so, they are often used in cooking the food for the gods-‘BHOG’ and often at home where something special is being cooked. The pulao is flavored with saffron, cloves, green cardamom, a touch of turmeric and raisins are added to them.

                                           The ‘Simui/Sewai/Vermicelli pudding’ is a sweet dish, made from thin vermicelli strands with milk, Ghee, cashew nuts, raisins, Indian bay leaf,  it gives fulfilling sweet feeling, I like it cold.

The ‘Plastic Chutney’ is sweet chutney of green raw papaya, light n fresh in its taste. The thin papaya slices becomes translucent being cooked in sugar syrup, so they look like tiny plastic chips. The chutney has the flavor of the papaya, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, lime juice, sugar, raisins and it also has the crunch of the almonds in between. Fantastic stuff it is.

                                                                           So in this post I guess there will be 6 recipes, in fact 5 because you can read about plastic chutney in my previous post. So hold on dear reader because simply it’s a lot of cooking.

For The Recipes:

For the Sewai/Vermicelli pudding
Vermicelli- 1 cup thin or thick
Ghee-2 tbsp
Sugar- 3-4 tbsp
Cashew Nuts- 7, chopped
Raisins/Kismis- 2 tbsp        
Milk- 2 cups
Indian Bay leaf- 1
Green cardamom pod-1

1. In a flat pan, melt 1 tbsp of ghee in a medium heat, when the ghee melts add the vermicelli and mix well, in a medium flame toss the vermicelli around for a minute, then lower the heat give it around 5-8 minutes, toss them every 1 minute and you will see they will more reddish in color after 5 minutes, once you have the reddish color developing, take it off the pan to a plate.

2. In the same pan add another tbsp of ghee n add the chopped cashew nuts , the bay leaf, slightly crushed cardamom pod,  once the cashew nuts start to get light brown, add the raisins, then add the milk, and keep the flame to low. Let the milk come a slight simmer,  add the sugar, first add 3 tbsp, taste then add if you need, let the milk simmer in a low flame for about 2 minutes, then add the fried vermicelli and mix well. The vermicelli will absorb all the milk when it will be cooked n it will take about 5-6 minutes, add a tiny pinch of salt to the milk in between, and if you want you can add a little more milk because once it will be cooled it will absorb more milk. So when the vermicelli has got tender and has absorbed most of the milk take it off in a bowl and let it cool.

For the Cholar Dal/Chana Dahl
Bengal Gram dal/cholar dal/chana dahl- 1 cup, wash n soap in water for 30 minutes
Fresh coconut- 3 tbsp, chopped in 1 inch cubes
Fresh strips of coconut- a couple to serve
Green chili-2, slit
Turmeric- ½ tsp
Water- 4 cups
Sugar-1 – 1 ½ tbsp
Hing/asafetida- ½ tsp
Vegetable oil- 2tbsp

1. First we will put the soaked dal in a pressure cooker, take a green cardamom and crush it slightly, then in a pressure cooker add the soaked dal, 3 ½ cup of water, ½ tsp salt, crushed cardamom, ¼ tsp turmeric powder and put it in high flame, as the water just comes to a simmer close the pressure cooker. On a high flame reach one whistle then lower the flame to low and give it 8 minutes, then increase flame to high until one whistle. After that take it off the heat, let the pressure be normal as it cools down.

2. In a wok take 2 tbsp of vegetable oil like sunflower or soybean, let the oil be moderately hot, then add the chopped fresh coconuts and reduce the flame, toss the coconut pieces now n then, add the slit green chili in between, after about 5 minutes the coconut will start to get some light brown color, once they are light brown in color, add the hing powder, then the rest of the turmeric, then add 1 tsp of water, we are adding the water so that the turmeric powder doesn’t burn , give it all a minute, then open the pressure cooker and the dal should have softened inside, check by pressing with a spoon or in-between your fingers if the dal can be smashed, add the dal to the wok now. Taste and adjust the salt, add the sugar and taste. Simmer the dal for 4 minutes on low heat, then stop the flame and give it 2 minutes of standing time, then pour it in a bowl. Add some fresh strips of coconut with the dal, it’s just lovely.

For the Luchi
Plain flour- 200 gms
Water- around 120 ml
Salt – a pinch
Oil -3 cups for deep frying

1. Mix the flour and the salt and 1 tbsp of oil together until combined, then make a well in the center of the flour and add half of the water, start working from around the water mixing it with the flour, then add the water gradually as you keep doing it, once 100 ml of water has been added, add the water gradually, once the dough comes together comfortably it is there. The dough should not be tight and a little to the soft side only, start kneading the dough for about 2-3 minutes, as the dough just becomes smooth in texture we are done, we don’t want to knead the dough more than that or we will develop the gluten too much which we don’t want, so 2-3minutes of kneading will do. Then roll the dough and give it the shape of a log of 2 inches diameter, then tear off small balls from the log, like about 1 tbsp of dough each ball and roll the balls slightly to make them smooth, then sprinkle some oil over them, lightly coat in that oil and rest it for 30 minutes by covering it.

2. After 30 minutes take out your rolling pin and a bit of oil for rolling the Luchis. Take a ball of dough and coat it with a little oil, then put it on the board, press it lightly n with a light hand roll it to a circle of 4 inches in diameter, take it off, start with a new ball, coat it in oil and do the same. After all the balls have been rolled it is time to deep-fry them. in a deep wok heat the 2-3 cups of oil, once the oil is quite hot test by submerging a one disc of dough, it should start to bubble, if it does the oil is ready, add one luchi carefully n slowly into the oil, don’t drop it into the oil from a height, the oil will splat, slide it into the oil being close to the oil surface. as it goes into the oil it will sink for some seconds then it will start to float up, as it starts to float up, press that surface lightly with a slotted spoon, give this side 1 minute and turn it over, you will see this side has started to go light brown, other side will take less than a minute, the luchi should be light brown on both sides. Likewise fry all the remaining luchis.

For The Green bean n Potato Sabzi
Green beans-100 gm, chopped in 1 inch diagonal pieces
Potato-2 medium, chopped in 2 inch sticks
Tomato -1 medium chopped
Cumin seeds-1 tsp
Turmeric- 1/4th tsp
Butter – 1 tsp
Vegetable oil – 2 tbsp
Coriander pwder-1 tsp
Chili powder -1/2 tsp
Sugar- a pinch
Ginger- grated ½ tsp

1. In a frying pan on a low heat add the butter, 3 tbsp of water, then add the green beans, cover the pan on a low heat, the water will soon come to a simmer n start to steam the beans and the butter will emulsify with that water, give It about 7 minutes, toss the beans once in between, add a little more water if the water dries out completely. After 7-8 minutes the beans will be quite tender, still green, at this time take them off the heat and keep the beans in a bowl.

2. In the same pan heat 2 tbsp of oil, to the hot oil add the cumin seeds, as the seeds begins to sputter add the potato, increase the heat to high and toss the potatoes for 1 minute. After that reduce the flame and give the potatoes 5-7 minutes, they will go brown on that side, then toss them and give the other side about the same time, as the potato go soft add the grated ginger , mix well. Give them 1 minute, then add the tomatoes and also add the beans, now add a pinch of sugar, then add the turmeric , coriander powder, chili powder and add 1 tsp of water in the pan, mix well, give them 30 seconds then add the salt, taste n adjust. Then take it off the heat.

For The GovindoBhog Rice Pulao
GovindoBhog Rice- 1 cup (Basmati rice or any white rice if you don’t have GovindoBhog)
Water-2 cups
Green cardamom-2
Ghee-1 ½ tbsp
Raisin/Kismis- 2 tbsp
Turmeric – small pinch
Saffron strands- 1 big pinch
Sugar- 1-2 tbsp

1. Begin by washing the rice in water till the water almost becomes cleans, then soak in water for 30 minutes, after 20 minutes drain the water n leave it aside.

2. After 30 minutes take a deep pan or wok on medium heat, add the ghee, when the ghee is hot, add the crushed cardamom pods, the cloves. Give them 30 seconds on low heat, then add the kismis, toss them around for a minute, then add the rice and sprinkle the turmeric powder over the rice, put the heat to medium and toss the rice in the wok for 1 minute, then reduce heat to low and give the rice 5-6 minutes on low heat, toss them at every minute, after 6 minutes add the saffron strands, mix well, then add the water, salt to taste n sugar. Taste to see if the salt is okay, the rice will absorb the salt so add a little more salt than needed, it will balance out. Put the heat to high now, let it come a simmer then cover the pan with a heavy lid, reduce the flame to low and give it around 12-15 minutes. After 12 minutes open the lid and with a fork check if there is any water in the bottom of the rice, if no its just done, if yes cover it again and give it 3 minutes, once the water is absent put the flame off, give it 2 minutes of standing time and then with a fork toss the rice lightly. And that’s it. Pulao is ready to serve.

For the cucumber n Tomato Salad
Cucumer-1, washed n thinly sliced
Tomato- 1 medium, thinly sliced
Lime- 1 wedge

1. Simply toss the cucumber n tomato slices in the lime juice, add a pinch of salt. That’s it!

For the recipe of the Plastic chutney it is already in my previous post, here is the linkhttp://thetaleofasaltedsoul.blogspot.in/2014/05/plastic-chutney.html

So there it is-The Fantastic Thali for Durga Puja especially for the 6th day, sasthi. In fact you can cook it on any puja occasion and it will be delight to eat. Serve it to your loved ones and see their faces light up, which is fantastic thing you will agree. So come on in, the Thali is waiting. Bon Appetit.

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