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. 😀
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 … !!! 🙁
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.
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 !
- 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
- Wash, peel and cut the potatoes into cubes.
- 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.
- 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.
- Heat the mustard oil in a pan till it reaches the smoking point.
- Temper the oil with nigella seeds, let it splutter.
- Add the potatoes, green chillies and a pinch of turmeric if you are using it.
- Fry the potatoes on medium heat, do not brown it.
- Add the cumin powder, if using.
- Add ½ cup water , salt and cover the potatoes, let it simmer on lowest heat till half done.
- Now add the poppy seed paste, coat the potatoes well with the paste, saute for couple of minutes.
- Adjust the seasonings, check for salt and add sugar to taste (usually ¼ tsp).
- Add water, cover it and let it cook till done, potatoes should not get mashed.
- This is a dry dish, so wait till most of the liquid evaporates.
- You can drizzle few drops of mustard oil or a spoonful of ghee over aloo posto to heighten the flavor.
- Serve aloo posto with steamed rice and dollop of ghee.
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