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Aloo posto and why a bengali girl can not be a vegetarian !

 

White poppy seeds

Notice the kidney shaped seeds, I never knew it until I took this macro shot !

Bengali women are perceived to be dominant, be it in *** or in living room discussions, they never refrain from showing their intellectual and cooking prowess, from music, cinema, sports, cooking to political debates, they have their say in everything and that they do with utmost conviction.

As soon as a guest entered a Bengali household, the women take the centre stage,  they will never quietly parcel the foods from kitchen and courier it through their kids, instead they will come and very emphatically will let the guest know that she has slaved in the kitchen for hours to prepare these delicacies for them, better eat it and appreciate it (well they poured all the love to cook for their guest too). This is an unwritten rule, and if the guest fails to appreciate it, husbands will politely put some sweet words in guest’s mouth, otherwise poor husband has to feel the brunt later. 😀

aloo posto bengali

When it comes to cook a vegetarian dish, Bengali women has once again proved their excellency, a vegetarian Bengali dish is not only healthy and tasty but is almost impossible to recreate it, to satiate the purist.

Before marriage I was an occasional cook, my chicken, egg and mutton curry has earned rave reviews even from the hardest critics, but never thought about cooking a vegetarian dish until I got married, the day I learnt that how difficult it was to cook a vegetarian dish, reason ??? yes there is a reason behind it.

Couple of years ago when on a whim I announced that I will turn into a vegetarian, my mom , my MIL and everyone around me gave such a scornful look, that I instantly dismissed the whole idea. Unlike in western world where being a vegetarian and vegan earn  accolades,  my family tried hard to suppress the news , but it spread like fire and I was soon labelled as a heretic.   REASON ??  For a Bengali, vegetarianism is a symbol of widowhood … !!!  🙁

white poppy seeds

This stems from the fact that in early 19 th and 20 th century, there were many food taboos imposed on Bengali widows and they were not allowed to eat non-vegetarian food and this tradition continues till the time of my grandparents beyond which it has been diluted to certain extent and almost become obscure now a days. A Bengali widow was not only restricted to have non-vegetarian food but also she was refrained from using onion, garlic and even red chilli powder, garam masalas and even masoor dal is considered as aamish or tamasik not satvik.

posto bata

Armed with only panch phoron, ginger, cumin, turmeric, green chillies and few fresh vegetables and greens, Bengali widows had attested their cooking prowess once more, made themselves indispensable in the kitchen, thus beating the system itself, by creating such delicacies that it was almost next to impossible to recreate them. Asserting to this fact, Bengali writer Chitrita Banerjee once said wittily that “it was impossible to taste the full glory of vegetarian cooking unless your own  wife becomes a widow “ in her book ( Hour of  the Goddess – “What Bengali Widows Can and Cannot Eat“).

We present today the classic “Aloo posto” without which any Bengali lunch seems unfinished. Posto( poppy seeds) is essential to Bengali household, no matter how much its price skyrocketed, and besides liberally being used in veg dishes, many Bengali fish recipes and chicken or mutton dishes also use posto in the recipes. And to me the best one is posto fritters with onions, which is meant to be eaten with steamed rice with a dollop of ghee !

Bengali aloo posto

Aloo posto and why a bengali girl can not be a vegetarian !
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Aloo posto or curried potatoes in clingy poppy seed paste with green chillies to heat it up a little.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Indian (Bengali)
Serves: 3
Ingredients
  • 300 gm : Potatoes (3-4 large potatoes peeled and cubed)
  • 30 gm : White poppy seeds (soaked in water to get 5-6 heaped tsp of paste / posto bata)
  • 5-6 : Green chillies
  • 1 tbsp : Mustard oil
  • 1 tsp : Nigella / kalonji / kalo jeera
  • A pinch of : Turmeric (optional)
  • 1 tsp : Cumin powder (optional)
  • Salt and Sugar to taste
  • 2 tsp : Ghee
Instructions
  1. Wash, peel and cut the potatoes into cubes.
  2. Soak the poppy seeds in little water for 2-3 hours or more, even overnight. Longer the poppy seeds are soaked, easier it will be to grind them in a paste.
  3. Chop the green chillies and use them with the poppy seeds while making a paste, add very little water to grind the paste. It will take around 10 minutes in multiple pulses and give your mixer a break for 2-3 minutes in between to cool off the heat.
  4. Heat the mustard oil in a pan till it reaches the smoking point.
  5. Temper the oil with nigella seeds, let it splutter.
  6. Add the potatoes, green chillies and a pinch of turmeric if you are using it.
  7. Fry the potatoes on medium heat, do not brown it.
  8. Add the cumin powder, if using.
  9. Add ½ cup water , salt and cover the potatoes, let it simmer on lowest heat till half done.
  10. Now add the poppy seed paste, coat the potatoes well with the paste, saute for couple of minutes.
  11. Adjust the seasonings, check for salt and add sugar to taste (usually ¼ tsp).
  12. Add water, cover it and let it cook till done, potatoes should not get mashed.
  13. This is a dry dish, so wait till most of the liquid evaporates.
  14. You can drizzle few drops of mustard oil or a spoonful of ghee over aloo posto to heighten the flavor.
  15. Serve aloo posto with steamed rice and dollop of ghee.
Notes
This is a very traditional recipe if you are not using the optional ingredients. Some like it without turmeric, some with turmeric. It is a personal choice. Posto bata or paste should have creamy and grainy texture, the grains should not be distinguishable. Keep the leftover posto bata in the fridge by mixing it with salt and few drops of mustard oil. It will not get blackened.

 

Myth 1 : Bengali cuisine is all about non-vegetarian dishes. The reverse is actually true.

Without a decent chorchori or shukto, a Bengali lunch remain unfinished. We have an array of vegetarian dishes, but most of them is equally impossible to recreate what we used to have at our home. However my aloo posto looks good, but it can not hold a candle to my thakuma’s ranna (my grandma’s cooking), so we refrain largely from showcasing these. We give high applause and accolades to all modern Bengali women who can whip up a decent chorchori.

Myth 2 : Aloo posto is all about heady things.

This is true that posto or poppy seeds and opium (a latex from the poppy) both are from the same poppy plant, but in no way after consuming posto bata, you will feel heady. Nor you can extract opium from poppy seeds. Ask any true blooded Bong, and they will vouch for it. If you think Bongs looks heady after consuming posto bata, well there may be another reasons for that. 😉

Have Happy day

Sukanya

21 Comments

  • Reply
    justagirlfromaamchimumbai
    April 3, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    Aloo posto is one of my favorite Bengali vegetarian food along with some Bhaja and Khumro. I am salivating now 🙂

    • Reply
      saffronstreaks
      April 5, 2013 at 10:19 am

      Hey hey, posto is pure bliss for a Bong. mine goes well with hot rice and biig dollop of ghee. 🙂

  • Reply
    Priya
    April 4, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Love this fabulous aloo posto, interesting to know the reason behind y a bengali girl cant be a vegetarian.

    • Reply
      saffronstreaks
      April 5, 2013 at 10:01 am

      Yes Priya, there are so many food taboos associated with Hindu culture, hopefully these will get declined with another generation.

  • Reply
    Soma
    April 4, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Hey! It’s a coincidence I suppose. I’ll post something tomorrow and I dedicated the post to the Hindu widows too.

    • Reply
      saffronstreaks
      April 5, 2013 at 10:05 am

      Hey coincidences are not accidental ! great minds think alike 😀 will read your post too. I have seen this in many Bengali families and have observed quite a lot. so when I read the same in Chitra banerjee’s book, I understood why cooking a bong veg dish is so difficult. But am against all such food taboos.

  • Reply
    Kitchen Queen
    April 4, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Nice to know about Bengali culture and food related to widows. I always love /adore Bengalis , they give culture, literature and how can i forget food too. posto looks awesome.

    • Reply
      saffronstreaks
      April 5, 2013 at 10:09 am

      Good to know Linsy about your love for Bengali culture. And am against all such imposed food taboos on Hindu widows. Hopefully this will change with time. Since making posto bata is so tiring in mixer, these are very occasional on our table. Glad that you loved it.

      • Reply
        Soumya Bose
        October 29, 2014 at 5:10 pm

        Thanks all for bringing forward the quintessential Bengali food and culture…just to add… perhaps Bengalis, at least urban Bengalis have long come out of these food or even social taboos…..that is the reason wht dowry marriages are really seen in a very low sight in the typical Bengali society and not supressingly glorified like in the Northern or Southern states (not implying that all in these staes support these ill-systems). And the grand daughters and sons of Bengal are making sure their widowed grandmas get a taste of their fav fishes and muttons at least in their old age!! 😉

        • Reply
          saffronstreaks
          November 3, 2014 at 6:18 pm

          Absolutely right Soumya. I always find our culture little progressive than others, things like dowry marriages are almost unheard of. Food taboos are so much ingrained in our Hindu culture that I sometimes feel that it will take leap of few generations to get rid of all such nonsensical customs. At my home, my grandma’s make sure that their widowed daughter-in-laws have their share of non-veg in thier menu. Though we would be equally delighted if they could adopt the same in their menu. 🙂

  • Reply
    Soma
    April 5, 2013 at 3:13 pm
  • Reply
    Suman Arthy
    April 6, 2013 at 7:18 am

    rich and creamy dish…

  • Reply
    veenashankar
    April 6, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Looks very creamy. never tasted before tempting

  • Reply
    elixir_of_life
    April 8, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Interesting post … lovely pictures and a great recipe 🙂

  • Reply
    amrita
    August 24, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    jhinge posto is also very yummy….thanks for the insight about hindu widows

    • Reply
      saffronstreaks
      August 28, 2014 at 7:31 pm

      Jhinge posto is the only dish I know how to use jhinge in any recipe. Jhinge is also sometimes confused with jhinga machli (shrimps) in hindi. 🙂

  • Reply
    Nupur
    May 25, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    lol Sukanya… didnt know that people think poppy seeds can make you heady. Funny that is 🙂
    On another note, I tried this recipe of yours today and it turned out super awesome. Will post it soon on my blog and send you the URL.

    Love
    Nupur

    • Reply
      saffronstreaks
      June 4, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      Thank you so much Nupur for loving it. Looking forward to your version.

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