Shubho Nobo Borsho
By shawkat osman
Nobo Borsho (Bengali New Year) festivities have their roots in the book-keeping ritual practiced by traders. After the ceremonial 'first entry' is made in the hal khata (new ledger book, bound in a piece of red cloth -- shalu), a trader, happy with what symbolically marks the beginning of a prosperous season, will distribute sweets to fellow traders, clients and friends.
The regular customers of a particular shop, industry or factory make a token purchase and clear all pending bills. A large parcel of sweets is carried back home, to be served later as dessert.
Around the early 1960s, Chhayanot (a school of music in Dhaka) began hosting a musical soiree Santiniketan-style, at Dhaka's Ramna Green Park under a banyan tree. Although only a handful of people attended it in the initial years, today tens of thousands arrive to listen in rapt attention as the teachers and students of Chhayanot welcome the Bengali New Year with songs and recitations.
The event is replicated all over the country and has come to be a symbol of the largest secular celebration of the nation.
A few young students of Rokeya Hall (a Dhaka University dormitory for girls) soon started selling panta bhat and deep-fried hilsa steaks to the crowds as they were about to disperse after the programme was over. Since then, and to the utter dismay of many, panta is considered by a few connoisseurs as the generic food of Nobo Borsho!
To rural people, whom these ladies tried to emulate, however, panta is a comfort food, a dish rustled up in times of distress when nothing else is available or everything is too dear.
Everyone, no matter how hard pressed, will undoubtedly treat themselves to something better on this day, which might open their luck with Lokkhi -- the goddess of fortune -- and ensure a supply of good food during the rest of the year.
Baygoon doi bhorta
Jali kumra bhaji
Shol macher bhorta
Hidol shutki bhorta
Baygoon doi bhorta (aubergine crush)
2kg baygoon (aubergines)
10 ripe tomatoes
3 tbsp ghee
8 red onions, chopped
5 cups doi (yoghurt)
20 green chillies, chopped
7 tbsp salt
2 tbsp sliced onions
2 tsp gorom moshla powder
Singe the aubergines on an open flame. Turn them frequently until the skin is completely charred. Rub off the burnt aubergine skin, using a moist kitchen towel. Mash the aubergines with a potato masher and set aside.
Put the tomatoes in boiling water, scoop out after 2 minutes and place in ice water. Peel off skin and chop the tomatoes into small pieces. Discard the skin and seeds. Set the tomato pieces aside.
Heat the ghee in a korai (wok); lob in the chopped onions and sauté until they turn golden. Using a slotted spoon strain out the onions, add 1 tablespoon water and grind into a smooth brown paste.
In a mixing bowl, merge the fried onion paste with the yoghurt. Add salt. Whisk well and set aside.
Into the ghee left behind in the wok, pour the aubergine mash, yoghurt mélange, green chilli, tomato and sliced onion. Mix well and cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, sprinkle gorom moshla powder and stir to mix. Serve at room temperature.
Shol macher bhorta (fish crush)
Bhortas are, generally speaking, a mash of cooked foodstuff, mixed with raw onions and spices. Thai people, whose basic cooking style is similar to ours, make bhortas of cooked meat as well.
Shol (murrel), the snakehead fish, is always sold alive, for a Bengali will not purchase such 'jeeol machh' (live fish) if it is not healthy, breathing, and 'kicking'.
For trouble-free handling, the fish is first stunned with a deft blow on the head, before being put in the shopping bag. Never freeze 'jeeol machh', for once the flesh gets cold, these become hard and unpalatable.
There are good reasons behind the trouble taken to keep them alive by putting them in a bucket of fresh water, from the moment they are caught till they get sold in the market.
2 kg shol (murrel) fish, dressed
1½ tsp turmeric power
1 tbsp red chilli powder
½ cup soya oil
200g of spring onions, chopped
2 cups cilantro, chopped
2 cups onion, chopped fine
3 tbsp mustard oil
3 tsp salt
Cut the dressed fish into several pieces; dust with turmeric and red chilli powder.
Heat the soya oil and deep-fry the fish on all sides, to make crisp. Remove from the flame and cool.
As soon as the fish pieces are cool enough to handle, break them with your fingers. Pick out all the skin and bones and discard. Disintegrate the flesh in the form of flakes and place in a mixing bowl.
Add the spring onions, cilantro, onions, mustard oil and salt to the mixing bowl.
Combine the fish flakes with the herbs and spices, mix thoroughly and serve at room temperature.
Roshun mangsho (chevon cooked with whole garlic)
1½ cups mustard oil
½ cup ghee
4 cups sliced onions
2 tbsp ginger paste
1 cup garlic paste
1 tbsp cumin powder
2 tbsp coriander powder
1 tbsp red chilli power
2½ tsp turmeric power
1+5 cups water
4kg goat meat, cut into 15 pieces per kg
20 cardamom pods, gently cracked
5x5cm cinnamon sticks, quartered
9 tsp salt
50 large garlic, whole
Use the garlic as you would use potatoes, just rinse them under running water and rub off the loose wafer-thin skin. While eating, the garlic is squeezed to bring out the soft pulp which tastes like bone marrow and the flavour, surprisingly, is very mild and not garlicky at all.
Heat the oil and ghee in a korai (wok). Lob in the onions. Sauté until translucent.
Add ginger paste, stirring continuously. Sauté stirring vigorously for a minute.
Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, red chilli, turmeric and 1 cup water. Mix well. Sauté stirring all the time until the moshla releases its aroma.
Now add the meat, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Swirl to mix well. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Drop the whole garlic. Cook stirring until these are coated with the moshla.
Add 5 cups water and salt. Mix well. Bring to a boil.
Cover with a lid. Lower the flame to its lowest setting. Cook until the meat is tender and the oil floats to the top.
Lebu dal (red lentils lemon flavoured sauce)
1kg mosur dal (red lentils)
2 tbsp ginger paste
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 tsp salt
6 cups water
20 green chillies
2 cups ghee
2 cups ponir (cottage cheese), cubed, slightly shallow-fried in ghee
4 gondho lebu (lemons), cubed
In a deghchi (pot), combine lentils, ginger, turmeric, salt and 6 cups water. Bring contents to a boil. Lower the flame and cook over slow flame, covering it partially with a lid, until lentil is soft but not mushy. Add the green chillies. Cover the pot with a lid and cook for 5 minutes.
Uncover and pour ghee in the cooking lentil. Mix in. Lower the flame further to its lowest setting. Add the ponir (cottage cheese). Cook for 2 minutes, folding in the ponir with the dal. Lift pot off the flame. Stir in the lemon pieces and cover with a lid. Serve after 10 minutes.
Pudina shorbot (mint drink)
5 litres soda water
2½ tsp ginger
3¾ cups sugar
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup pudina (mint) leaves
Blend all the ingredients in a food-processor. Strain through a fine sieve or muslin and serve with ice cubes.
Lau payesh (bottle gourd pudding)
1 cup + 4 tbsp ghee
5 tejpata (bay leaves)
20 cardamom pods, gently cracked
6 litres milk
2kg tender bottle gourd
1 cup almonds, sliced
1 cup raisins
The succulent skin of the lau (bottle gourd) can be sliced into thin, dry strips for cooking or used for making a bhorta.
Place a deep pot over flame and pour 1 cup ghee. Toss in bay leaves and cardamom when the pot heats up. Sauté for a few seconds.
Pour in the milk and bring to boil, reduce flame and simmer until milk reduces to 1/3 of its original volume.
Skin the gourd, cutting the flesh into 4 vertical wedges, cut off the seedy centre and discard. Retain the skin for other use. Grate the gourd wedges into thin spaghetti-like strips.
Boil enough water in a pot, soak the gourd strips and cook until they are done. Drain off the water, rinse gourd strips under running cold water. Tie the gourd strips in muslin, hang the bundle and let it drip until all the liquid drains off.
Heat 4 tablespoon ghee in a korai (wok), pour the gourd strips and sauté for a minute. Using a latticed spoon strain them out and set aside.
Strain the milk and put it back on the flame. When it comes back to a boil, add the gourd strips, sugar (depending on how sweet you want it to be), almonds and raisins.
Cook for a few minutes, stirring gently, until all the ingredients are properly assimilated. Take the pot off the flame and cool. Once cool, chill in a refrigerator until required for service.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Food: Sheva Catering Limited, 41/12B Jhigatola, Dhanmondi R/A West, Phone: 8115085, 9110399