Gota sheddho / casserole of whole lentils and boiled whole vegetables – a tradition reborn again.
Cultural diversity gives India a unique flavour and richness. Often with in the same community or region, the differences in culture, traditions, rituals and beliefs are so divergent from each other giving a different entity altogether. Like in Bengal, where Ghotis (those originate in West Bengal) and Bangal culture (people of East Bengal before partition of India) are so different from each other that we often remain ignorant of each other’s cultural values, food and rituals until the amalgamation happens in form of marriage or through other medium of cultural reciprocity.
In my Bangal home, we had never heard about this ritual of eating gota sheddho on the day after Saraswati Puja. In fact in our custom, there is a ritual of eating ” jora ilish / paired hilsa” on this day. Blissfully ignorant of such customs for long until I was married into ghoti family where these rituals are celebrated on much larger scale with festive fervor. Traditions are like these only, it kept flowing seamlessly through one generation to another and no one questions why and how it all began.
Saraswati puja also marks the beginning of spring in Indian calendar, when harsh cold waves began to retreat from the peninsula, the warmth of sunshine spreads all over the earth which looks beautifully painted in mustardy yellow, and green, weather is charming and pleasant . Large pots of khichuri and laba are stirred for the puja and air is filled with beautiful aroma of spices and of fresh harvest. The next day of Saarswati puja/ also known as Basant panchami (fifth day of the waxing moon) is Sheetal Shashti (the sixth day) when mothers keeps fast for the well being of their children. This day hearth is not lit and food cooked the day before is eaten cold.
I am not a ritualistic person and my belief systems and logic are not seeped in traditions, though it may have some unknown scientific basis to this observance to which I am ignorant, but when I first tried this casserole of whole lentils and boiled vegetables, I immediately loved it. I was completely sold out to the very idea of cooking a casseroloe of whole vegetables and lentils, wihtout any spices and oil. In one word it is hearty and healthy. Many said it is an acquired taste and every one cannot appreciate it but then my Ma-in law is considered an expert in making these dishes. I have learnt it from her and improvised (not that it is required) it with my choice of veggies and flavours.
Tradition dictates that it should be cooked on the day before, that is on Saraswati puja, as on Sheetal shasti hearth is not lit, but our belief systems would never let us follow these strictures and also idea of eating something cold especially the veggies and dals would never appeal to us. Hence I cooked this on the other day and eaten fresh.
So on that day, I went to my local farmer’s market and collected five different whole vegetables like small potatoes in their new jackets, baby eggplants, tender green peas in pods, seem (broad double beans), small size haricot green beans and two bunch of spinach with roots and shoots. The freshest and best of the produce goes into the pot, so while making this dish use the fresh vegetables and it makes all the differences in the taste. As peeling and chopping is not allowed, so try to pick the best vegetable from the produce basket, or better use organic potatoes. Else scrub the skin of the potatoes very well. Choose the eggplants that are light in weight, and without bore marks as that will ensure them free of worms and less seeds. Wash broad beans and peas in pod thoroughly and check against the light for sign of any worm infestation. The spinach should not be chopped and leaves and shoots should not be separated. Wash the roots thoroughly and scrape the roots with a knife. Use only good leaves, if there are any decomposing leaves are there, discard them. The whole black lentils (mashkalai in Bengali / sabut urad in Hindi) should be soaked for at least 10 hours as pressure cooking is not allowed. (I don’t know why, but it will be fun to try some new cooking methods. May be that it will alter the taste) . Preparation specially the washing part is bit tedious, so try to do it very carefully. I have also used a piece of ginger with skin on.
When it comes to food, there is only one rule – that there is no rule. So feel free to use your innovative ideas. I had flavored the casserole with whole dried bay leaves, whole black peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon stick. Plus I had also added two whole green chillies. Once washed, all goes into pot. First the lentils, followed by veggies. Add enough water just to cover them. Spinach with its roots and shoots intact goes last. Drizzle a spoon of mustard oil, throw the spices and green chilles and cover the pot. Use a close fit lid that will allow very low escape of steam. Use a large size dekchi or clay pot for that authentic flavour. Once the water comes to rolling boil, lower the heat, cover and let it stem cook for around 40 minute or till done.
- Whole black lentils (mashkalai / sabut urad) : 1 cup
- Small size new potatoes : 4 or 6
- Baby eggplants : 4 or 6
- Green haricot beans : 8-10
- Sheem ( broad double beans) : 8-10
- Green peas in pod : 8-10
- Spinach with roots and shoots : one bunch
- Ginger two inch piece with skin on
- Bay leaves : 2
- Black peppercorns : 8-10
- Green chillie : 2 whole
- Cloves : 2-3
- Cinnamon : a small piece
- Mustard oil : one teaspoon
- Ghee : drizzle just before serving
- Salt to taste (usually no salt is added in this dish)
- Wash the vegetables thoroughly.
- Read the last two paragraph of the blog for details,
- Soak the lentils for at least 10 hours
- In a big pot, add the lentils, followed by vegetables.
- Throw in the spices, chillies, stir in a teaspoon of mustard oil.
- Add enough water just to cover the vegetables.
- Then add the spinach with all its roots and shoots intact.
- Add salt if you are using it.
- Let the water comes to rolling boil and then cover with a tight fitting lid so that steam escape should be minimal.
- Cook on low heat till done.
- In between do not stir it with a ladle, just shake the pot lightly. If requires you can add more water,
- When it looks like a casserole, and all the vegetables, spinach and lentils mixed well, remove from the heat.
- Serve it at room temperature with drizzle of ghee on it.
It is a tradition to devour this delicious blend of casserole with pantha bhaat or cooked rice left overnight in a bowl of water. But the dish is good on its own, so serve it as you like it.