Neem Begun grew on me with age
There were lot of things which I didn’t like as a child. Shukto, Kumro or pumpkin, lau or bottle gourd and the list can be endless. Bitter or teto/ teeta was definitely not one of the tastes which suited my palate. Ask any kid, it is a common feature. Come summer, Ma made it compulsory to serve bitter at the beginning of any lunch. Uchhe, Korola, Shukto and Neem pata visited the lunch plate like a fixed class routine. There was no alternative for this and it was a must-have. Neem begun was a part of this summer extravaganza.
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Chicken Pox and Neem Pata or Neem leaves
I won’t waste any words for the medicinal quality of Neem as a whole. A versatile herb with high medicinal qualities, Neem has all its parts being used for medicinal purposes. While growing up, I have seen many using Neem twig as a natural toothbrush. Various products are available in the market using Neem leaves and other parts of the tree. Toothpaste, oils and creams are the most popular ones. The best use of Neem leaves is perhaps during an outbreak of Chicken Pox. When the scabs dry, it gets very itchy. A bath in neem leaves soaked water often brings relief. I had pox at the age of 4 or 5 and I remembered that there were Neem leaves on my bed.
Neem Begun now
I don’t remember when was the last time I had neem begun at home. Definitely not in the last 14 years that I am married. However, things changed in the last couple of weeks. Coronavirus and its spread have changed our lives and like many things, our food habits have also changed. Frugal eating is the new call of the day. The other day we made Chal Potol and khosha bata. We sent out a note to all restaurateurs and have been trying to support all brave warriors who have kept their delivery service open while maintaining all the hygiene standards and taking care of their employees and the business.
Meanwhile, our new nanny joined just a week before the lockdown happened. Mithu has a family back home at Krishnanagar and she had one condition before coming over. She wanted to go home for Good Friday weekend and be with her family till Easter. A week before Easter, she requested if she could get Neem Begun on Good Friday. This came as a surprise, as I had never related neem begun with Good Friday. She shared an interesting story. When Jesus asked for water while he was on the cross, he was given wine mixed with gall. There are several theories, some say it was myrrh and some say it was a cheap wine vinegar. Whatever it was, the simple interpretation was that Jesus Christ was offered ‘bitter water’. Hence, many Christians in Bengal break their 40 days fast with neem begun (which is bitter).
What is Neem begun? Is it tough to make?
No, absolutely not. If you compare this with making a normal shukto or making shukto with kolmi shaker Bora, then it’s very easy. The Neem leaves during these times are less bitter than the older ones. Neem leaves a tossed-in frying pan with some mustard oil till they are crispy. Eggplants or aubergines are cut into small cubes, marinated with salt and turmeric powder and then fried in the same oil. Then the neem leaves are either added whole to the begun or crushed and added to the brinjals. This tastes best when served with rice. This is one of those hard-hitting palate cleansers and if you love bitter on the shurur pate (as we call it the first course) then try this out.
Serving and storing suggestions
Neem begun is served with steamed rice and at the beginning of a meal. Neem leaves can be kept folded in a newspaper for up to a week. Once cooked, the dish can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
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- 1 no large brinjal
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- handful of neem leaves take as per your bitter tolerance
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp mustard oil
- salt to taste
- Wash the neem leaves under running water and spread them out to dry. In the meanwhile, wash the brinjals and cut them into small cubes.
- Add salt, turmeric powder and sugar to the brinjals and let it marinade for 10 minutes.
- In a frying pan, spread a tsp of mustard oil and brush it all over. When the pan is hot, spread the neem leaves inside the pan and on medium to low flame, constantly stir till the leaves crisp up.
- Once they are crisp, take them out on a plate.
- In the same frying pan, add the rest of the oil and when it is hot, squeeze out all the excess water from the brinjals and add the brinjals to the frying pan.
- Stir fry them till the brinjals have become soft. Then add the neem leaves. You can add them whole or crush them in your hand and add.
- Give everything a good stir. Check the seasoning and add more salt if required.
- Turn off the heat and serve neem begin with steamed white rice at the beginning of a meal.