Couple of days back someone asked on our food and travel group of the food stuff we would miss the most when winter is over. All vegetables! I thought. Summers is here are so hot and humid we are parched for veggies. Winters is when we get access to the entire load – like 80% of the veggy variety in about 20% of the summer prices. Really. I especially love the local greens, and we get some blossoms which are so special for their seasonal nature. I picked up some drumstick flowers from my local market this season, although I read somewhere drumstick flowers twice a year, including once in the summer months of March-April also although from what I gather it all depends on the climate of a place and that of Bengal and Southern states is quite conducive to these flowers so we see more of them. But the markets only stock it from time to time, its a novelty I cannot miss.
This was the first time I was cooking with the flowers, though I have done it with the leaves before, and I called up my personal encyclopedia on authentic bengali food, my mom. Oh that’s easy, just do a chechki, she said. “Chechki” is a term for bengali vegetarian recipes that use a stir-fry method with little oil and no or minimal water involved. The chechki starts with a tadka of your choice – ranging from panchphoron, mustard and red chilly or red chilly or radhuni phoron, or plain kalonji/onion seeds. Covering and cooking over low heat takes care of most of the cooking, and if it starts drying up, we only sprinkle water from time to time. Each vegetable is to be added as per the time it takes to cook, so that none is overcooked. Yes it does seem like a lot of supervision but the results are totally worth it.
I was missing my spice box of panchphoron so I put together a mix of radhuni (celery seeds), cumin seeds, saunf (fennel seeds) and dried red chillies for the tadka in mustard oil (pretty important).
- Drumstick flowers (Shojne phool): 2 cups
- Brinjal: About half a medium brinjal, cubed
- Green peas: Half a cup
- Green beans: half a cup (My mom suggested broadbeans but I had none that day)
- Panch phoron: 1 tsp (or any of the above tadka mix mentioned)
- Dried red chilly: 1 no.
- Turmeric: 2 tsp
- Mustard oil: 2-3 tsp
- Salt to taste
- Heat mustard oil in a thick bottom pan (preferably non-stick)
- Smear the brinjal with turmeric and salt, and fry lightly, keep aside.
- Add some more oil and the panchphoran/ tadka spices and red chilly, let it splutter
- Add in the drumstick flowers, green beans and the peas, season with salt and turmeric and stir and cook covered on low heat, sprinkling water if it gets too dry. The flowers release some water on their own.
- Add the fried brinjal towards the end of cooking.
- Serve with piping hot plain rice.
Optional: You could also add some fried and crushed daal bori (lentil dumplings) as garnish for texture.
Everyone kept warning me about the slight bitterness of the flowers, not that I did not know already. But trust me its so subtle, even more so when cooked with a combination of vegetables, that you will find the taste very endearing and unlike anything else you may have ever had.