What does the Bengali New year mean to you ? Is it another date in the calendar where, if you are in Kolkata, there may be a holiday, meeting relatives or friends , visiting Dakshineswar or Kalighat temple or something else? If outside Kolkata, would it be celebrating alongside some cultural program with the local Bengali Association or a Bengali Lunch/dinner at an “Authentic” Bengali cuisine restaurant or may be…..? Till such time it means something it wont have a risk of turning into another date in the calendar.
When I was a child, there were two confusions – As mostly the English calendar was being followed in school and elsewhere, it was very hard to ascertain the particular English date when the Bengali new year (Poila Boishakh) would fall . Later I realized that it only comes in the month of April and that too somewhere in the middle of the month .
The other big confusion was the year in the Bengali Calendar which was completely different from the English calendar. This is used to be a favorite quiz questions by seniors of the house . Poila Boishakh tradionally also meant having to touch the feet of elders and seeking their blessings. Inevitably I knew I was going to be asked this question that which year was this. A little grown up, Baba helped me out in this with a very simple solution. All you had to do was subtract 600 from the current century to get the first 2 digits and add 7 to the last 2 digits of English year to get the last 2 digits.
Poila Boishakh also meant new clothes; the best a single earning middle class parent could provide in the not so robust economy. There were no malls , options were limited between few stores in Chandanngore( my home town) which would keep children’s stuff. Ma used to select herself and I was supposed to wear it after having a shower. It was a gift, but the touch and feel carried their blessings, bit of assurance of the guiding angel in life and loads of love . Nowadays Ma doesn’t gift me anymore. Her grandson has taken over that place and everytime I touch and feel his new clothes, I silently relive a slice of my childhood.
Food used to be an integral part of Poila Boishakh and Ma definitely used to cook some specials for lunch. I am sure all the mothers cook some specials which lingers in the taste buds for lifetime. Madhushree dug out one such from her mother’s cook book.
Bhekti Tok Jhal Mishti (with Raw Mango, Mustard and Dates)
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cooking Time: 15- 20 Minutes
|Bhekti||500 gms (abt 4 pieces)||Raw Mango||1 small|
|Dates Seedless||4 -5||Mustard Paste||3 tbsp|
|Turmeric Powder||2 ½ tsp||Red Chili Powder||½ tsp|
|Panch Phoron *||1 tsp||Mustard Oil||2 – 3 tbsp|
|Green Chili||1 -2||Sugar||1 tbsp|
|Salt||As per taste||Water||As per requirement|
A very simple yet lip smacking recipe. The very thought of dates in a fish curry sounded weird to me. I learnt this recipe from my mother and indeed it turned out quite interesting. Here it goes.
(* For those who do not know what is a panch phoron. It is quite widely used in most traditional Bengali recipes. “Panch” means 5 and “Phoron” means flavor. It is basically a mixture of cumin seeds, fennel seeds, nigella seeds, mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds in equal quantities, measured in weight. )
- First marinate the fish in salt and 1 tsp of turmeric powder. After 5 – 10 minutes, shallow fry in a little bit of mustard oil. The fish must be very lightly fried.
- Take the fish out and keep aside.
- In a wok, heat mustard oil and add the panch phoron. The seeds will start to splutter. At that point add the dates. Immediately, reduce the heat or else the panch phoron will burn.
- Add the balance turmeric powder, chili powder and little bit of salt.
- In low flame, cook the dates till they are soft and mushy. It takes about 3-5 minutes.
- In the meantime, skin the raw mango and deseed it. Then make a paste of the same in a grinder.
- Once the dates are mushy, add the raw mango and continue cooking and stirring from time to time.
- After a couple of minutes, add the mustard paste.
- Keep stirring so that it doesn’t catch at the bottom of the wok. It takes a few minutes for the raw mango to cook completely.
- Add a little bit of water (as per your choice of consistency).
- Add the fishes and bring the gravy to a boil.
- At this point, split the green chilies and add to the gravy.
- Add the sugar and then finally check on the seasoning.
Serve hot with steamed rice.