Thursday, August 4, 2016

Chapor ghonto...

Few days back I saw a meme that stated 'Vegetarian Bengali is a Myth'. My reaction was "are you kidding me!!!!". Really.. have you ever heard about aloo posto (Potato cooked with poppy seed), sukto (a bitter sweet vegetable stew), ghonto (vegetable mishmash), chochori (stir fried vegetables), the list is endless.
Unfortunately, Bengalis are universally labeled with mach-bhat (fish and rice) along with few cliche sweets like rosogolla and misti doi. Ask any celebrity outside Bengal they will try to say 'ami misti doi khete bhalobasi' (I love having sweet yogurt) in an obnoxious accent. I can ignore these useless attempt to win hearts by saying something that's written  either by their PR agencies or else said to increase their fan following. But when one call himself a 'Bong' and states that there is no such Bengali who follows vegetarian diet makes me think how much knowledge this new generation have about our rich food culture, and what makes them so irresponsible to make a comment in public forum and which gives a complete wrong conception about Bengali food.

Yes, I'm a Bengali. Born and brought up in Kolkata and have spent most of the time of my life in Kolkata. I'm proud of our culture and heritage. Being a foodie I respect every single cuisine in this world but at the end of the day only a proper Bengali food can satisfy my soul. Brought up in a joint family, I have seen my grand mother, mother, aunts cooking our everyday food. They used to effortlessly prepare a great balance of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food in the kitchen. While cooking there were so many strict rules, specially for the vegetarian cooking, which was treated sacred and kept apart from any non-vegetarian counterpart.

The reason behind the strict division of veg and non-veg food goes deep down. The Bengali vegetarian cuisine was predominantly mastered by the widows of the house. By social rules widows were supposed to wear white sarees without any jewelry, shave their head and were not allowed to have any non-veg food, not even onion, garlic, musur dal (red lentils). Don't get shocked, it was a practice just a few  decades ago and even in practice now in many interior parts of Bengal. So living under a dietary restrictions, they used to cook with minimal spices and all possible vegetables. These group of secluded and deprived women have a huge contribution is shaping up the Bengali cuisine. Without them we wouldn't have had the vast array of vegetarian dishes in Bengali cuisine which we all love. Knowing their stories I feel privileged and I specially dedicate this post to those who have tolerated the whims of the patriarchy.

Today it's about Chapor ghonto, a recipe I learnt from a Bengali vegetarian cookbook named 'Rokomari Niramish Ranna' by Renuka Debi Choudhurani. She was born in early 20th century in present Bangladesh and got married at the age of ten. She documented huge collections of recipes in her two books, one vegetarian and the other non-vegetarian. I found a recipe called Jhinge chapor ghonto in the vegetarian book and instead of adding only ridged gourd I added a variety of vegetables to make the dish.

Chapor ghonto, a vegetable mishmash gets an elevation by addition of lentil patties. Ghonto refers to any vegetable mish-mash. Why the name 'chapor'? The lentil patties added in this dish are purposely irregular in shape and pressed with hand while shallow frying. In Bengali when we pat someone or something we call it 'chapor' i.e to pat. As these rough  but more or less round shaped lentil patties are patted and pressed with fingers while making these so the name chapor ghonto. A wide variety of vegetables, like pumpkin, ridged gourd, eggplant, potato, pointed gourd, taro roots can be added in this dish. Or this can be made only using ridged gourd (jhinge chapor). The lentil used in this dish is split yellow peas, Matar dal. To bring the signature taste of Bengali cuisine use mustard oil to cook the dish.

Things need to make Chapor Ghonto:

(Serves: 4)

  • Potato (peeled and cubed): 1 cup
  • Pumpkin  (peeled and cubed): 1 cup
  • Eggplant (cubed): 1/2 cup
  • Ridged gourd: (scraped and cubed): 1 cup
  • Taro root (peeled abd cubed): 1/2 cup
  • Matar dal or split yellow peas: 1 cup
  • Ginger (grated): 1 tbsp
  • Black mustard: 1 tbsp
  • Poppy seed: 1 tbsp
  • Coconut to garnish (optional)
  • Bay leaves: 2
  • Dry red chilies: 2-3
  • Paanch foron or bengali five spice mix: 1 tsp
  • Green chilies: 2-3
  • Turmeric powder: 2 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar to taste
  • Mustard oil to cook

Steps of making Chapor Ghonto:

1. Soak the lentils overnight or for at least 3 hrs. Wash well and drain. Make a paste with a little turmeric powder, green chilies (depending on your taste), ginger (one teaspoon) and a pinch of salt. Try to add as little water as possible while making the paste. Keep aside.

2. Grate the coconut and keep aside. Adding grated coconut is optional.

3. Make a paste of poppy seed and black mustard seed with a pinch of salt and a green chili. Keep aside.

4. In a pan heat 2-3 tablespoons of mustard oil, when the oil is smoking hot take tablespoon full of lentil paste and shallow fry. While placing the lentil paste on the pan press it with fingers and make sure they do not have any definite shape. Shallow fry the rest of the lentil paste and keep aside. These are the 'Chapor'.

5. Cut the vegetables and wash well. Drain any excess water. Heat mustard oil in a deep pan or kadhai, when the oil is hot add the eggplant pieces and fry till brown, keep aside.

6. In the same pan add more oil if needed, when the oil is hot add paanch foron or bengali five spice mix, dry red chilies, bay leaves. As the spices release nice aroma add the potato, taro root (also add pointed gourd if using) with little salt and turmeric powder, cover and cook. After 10 min add other vegetables and rest of the grated ginger cover and cook it till the vegetables are done.

7. Add mustard-poppy seed paste mix well. Break the chapor or the lentil patties and add. Add salt and sugar to taste. If you like your dish to be spicy add green chilies.

8. Garnish with grated coconut and serve hot with steamed rice.

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  1. I barely cook such dishes and looking at yours, takes me back home. Gorom bhaat and tomar aye ghonto ta... SIGH!

  2. This was one of the earliest recipes I posted on my blog. I love chapor ghonto but never had it in my life and had no clue about it. I made the chapor but then they got assmilated in the ghonto :( It tasted great but next time I'll try to keep them intact. I'm actually planning to make it this weekend. Will post a picture if I do so. Bengalis are blessed with a rich cuisine of both vegetarian-non-vegetarian dishes actually. And I hate that "I love mishti doi" cliche too.

    1. Soma, add the chapor after all the veggies are cooked and mix then gently, the chapor will soak the juices from the vegetables but will not assimilated. Will be waiting for the picture.

  3. You are doing a great job--keeping our culture alive.Being a 58 year engineer I keep your recipes to try after superannuation.Keep it alive.

  4. Wow!!! This looks so beautiful, your blog reminds me of my ma's food ❤️��

    1. Thanks Dolphia for the heartwarming's cooking is such a treasure to all of us.

  5. Hello,

    In the jhinge chapor what all vegetables are used? Is it only jhinge??

    1. Yes, only jhinge. You can also add potato to that.