Archive for May 2011
Since this dish is being cooked on day one of my visit to homeland, clearly this one is among my favorites. Between “posto” and “shorshe ilish“, it is hard to argue which one is the more quintessential expression of bangla soul. If you are thinking that being vegetarian or not produces a clear choice, stop right there ’cause Bengalis consider fish to be the vegetable of the sea. So there.
The key to this dish is the quality of the mustard paste. Poorly ground mustard paste will result in a bitter dish. So pay particular attention to the quality of mustard and how you grind it. Typically, hilsa fish is used for the dish but for those of you who don’t live in the vicinity of Ganges delta, weep and then feel free to improvise.
Writing from the Kolkata land. My mother is busy in the kitchen making some of my favorite foods. Posto is the Bangla term of a vegetable curry made with white poppy seed paste. One can use a variety of vegetables including potatoes, eggplant, or okra but my favorite uses ridge gourd.
Following recipe from my mother’s kitchen serves 6-8 people. One key feature of my mother’s cooking is use of mustard oil. The pungency of the oil does wonders to the flavor of the dish. Start with some fresh and young ridge gourd, about 1.2 kgs or so. Rinse, peel and chop (1/4 inch semicircular rounds) to make about 1 kg of gourd. Peel and chop 2 medium potatoes in 1/4 inch dice.
I am sad. I tried to be happy, I did. I went to the local gathering of ‘gourmet’ roach coaches this evening. I went with a smile on my lips, hope in my heart, and appetite in my tummy. I went because chowhounds said good things about the gourmet truck movement sweeping this land of expanding midsections. I checked out the event on facebook. I checked out the reviews on yelp. I found that foodies on the web were gushing about LA’s korean taco trucks, NY’s creme brulee cart, and SF’s Indian street food. I decided that I wanted to be with the cool kids. And so I went.
The setting was appropriately foodie-hipsterish in the parking lot of a sketchy strip mall at the wrong end of Palo Alto. Folks had brought their own chairs and rugs to sit on, their own significant others (I think) to canoodle with, and their own kids (I hope) to lend a home-y feel to the proceedings.
What made the evening promising was the Curry Up Now truck at the far end of the parking lot. With a Korean taco truck next to it. And a Vietnamese truck next to that. There were others too, but a plan was already forming in my gut. Some chaat from Curry Up Now, a spicy Korean taco to follow, and Vietnamese banh mi with which to end the meal. Shared between me and my better two-thirds this would be about the right amount of food. But, alas, there was no chaat at the Curry Up Now truck. They were already out of a few things, but they did have samosas. Jackpot, baby.
A samosa is a fried pastry shell most often filled with potatoes and peas, or daal, or minced meat. But that is like saying a 25-year old Lagavulin is some good booze. Where is the poetry in that? A samosa is a delicate balance of textures (crisp shell, soft filling), spices (fresh and aromatic, never dull and muddy), and proportions (neither the shell nor the filling should overwhelm each other). Curry Up Now serve their ‘deconstructed’ samosas with “spicy chickpea curry (chana), tomatoes, red onions, tamarind sauce, and a secret green sauce”. Yes, yes, yes.
A few minutes of waiting sharpened up the appetite. And then I got this. It looked like a blob of minced beef hiding some mysteries underneath. We dug through the beef and found a soggy thick-crusted samosa cowering below. Maybe there were onions and chutney as promised, but the flavors were so muddy that I had difficulty identifying them. There was no sour component – either a chutney or a squeeze of lemon – to cut the fat. I was expecting poetry and got airport-lit prose. Now you know why I am sad.