Reposting this really old post from my ‘blissfully single days’ when I had cooked a Shukto following mommy’s recipe for a certain potluck. Well, it’s Poila Boishak, and I made Shukto yet again, and mom would be coming over to taste how I live up to it! This post is for KfB’s seasonal event marking Bengali New Year.
Not very many days back, I had attended a potluck where the theme was Indian regional cuisine. Quite naturally, being a bong, I could not be spared of the request for getting some fish. As the date grew closer, we figured there weren’t many vegetarian dishes on the menu, and I received a shout-out for bitter bong-style veggies. Now shukto is one dish most bengalis love to have but very few like to cook. ‘Baba boddo jhamela!’ (too much hassle!) is a common phrase I’ve heard from many at the very mention of cooking shukto at home. Most of us are better off leaving it to our ‘maa mashis’ (moms and aunts). I was too, until I moved to another city, away from my maa mashis.
Whenever I have had shukto, be at people’s homes or at restaurants, it has always been a different taste. Apart from some basic similarities, there were major differences in the way it looked or tasted, the consistency of the gravy, the dominant flavours, the gravy base, everything was different. However I have grown up to my mom’s version of shukto, the recipe for which she had kept a secret for all these years; when we had guests over, she proudly made this shukto and when they showered compliments and asked how, she just smiled and said, “I’m not telling”. She passed it on to me though, after I moved base, and told me ‘go ahead and earn some brownie points’! And I must say, I did, at least at this potluck. So here goes the secret recipe:
- Bitter gourd, 1-2 nos (small)
- Raw banana, 1 no.
- String beans, 10-12 nos
- Raw papaya, 1 small
- Drumsticks, 2-3 nos
- Eggplant, 1 no. (medium sized)
- Potato, 1 no. (small)
- Ridge gourd, 1 no. (optional)
- Lentil dumplings (bori), 6-7 (optional)
- Radish, 1 no. (optional)
- Panchforan, 2-3 tsp
- Mustard paste, 1 tsp
- Ginger paste, 1 tsp
- Milk, 2 tbsp
- Bay leaf: 1 no.
- Cornfour, 1 tsp
- Ghee, 2-3 tsp
Cut vegetables lengthwise into slightly rectangular shapes.Rub them with salt and turmeric and fry them individually (except the string beans) in mustard oil, till about half cooked. Fry the bori last, till it browns, since it soaks up a lot of oil and you wouldn’t want to feed it with all the oil it can guzzle up.
Next heat oil, add a bay leaf and 1 tsp of panchforan as tadka, add the string beans, fried vegetables, salt, sugar as per taste, and about a cup of water, cover and simmer till vegetables are cooked. Add the cornflour to the milk, and add to vegetables to make a whitish gravy.
Add the fried bori (lentil dumplings). Add in the ginger and mustard paste, simmer for two minutes and switch off the flame.
Dry roast and grind 2 tsp of panchforan. Sprinkle ground panchforan and ghee over the shukto before serving.
If you are among those who grew up on shukto with radhuni, and if you’re looking for radhuni in this recipe, please don’t. I have had some friends pouncing over me when I put up this recipe, but the ones who had tasted it at the potluck were secretly smiling, just like my mom. And I finally realised why she never divulged the secret. While knowlege is a good thing, sometimes its better to stay ignorant and enjoy the taste instead, without prejudice.
While it is free to experiments, its always good to have the grammar of such dishes right. In this case, onion, garlic and chillies and any other strong flavours should be avoided like taboo. It is supposed to be a subtle dish.