Bengali Labra Tarkari
Bengali Labra tarkari and bhoger khicuri is God’s own food, where food meets faith. In Bengali culture, any pujor bhog is incomplete without bhoger khicuri and labra tarkari .
Labra is not your typical mixed vegetable dish but it is a medley of assorted vegetables (seasonal at times) thrown together. They get cooked in their own juices, embraces each others flavour and in the process lose some of their individual streaks. Thus acquiring a unique taste and can not be recreated if you omit some or include others.
Bengali Labra Tarkari / Sabzi – God’s Own Food ?
Labra is a medley of seasonal vegetables cooked together, with minimal of spices used. So that the real flavours of fresh vegetables can shine through. But it is much more than that.
Bengal was always the extraordinarily fertile land, suitable for paddy cultivation. The huge networks of rivers criss -crossing the land, makes fish as primarily source of protein. Hence fish and rice has emerged as staple diet for the people of Bengal and for the God’s too. Thus we have the tradition of offering fish to our Goddess too.
But during Bhakti Yug, with the emergence of Vaishnav bhakti cult, a major shift had occurred towards the vegetarianism and arguably this has influenced and shaped the vegetarian cuisine of Bengal. Dal has become popular and so as cooking of vegetable dishes without onions and garlic.
There are ample references scattered through out the mid century texts (written around 15th century) mentioning the khichuri and labra (under a different name though) , as a primary bhog being offered to deities. An offering which is still being practiced in many Thakurbari (deities home) and temples.
Here is How To Make Bengali Bhoger Khichuri .
Thus how bhoger khichuri and labra becomes God’s own favourite food and without which no pujor bhog is complete in Bengali culture.
How To Make Bengali Labra Tarkari For Pujor bhog ?
As I have mentioned before, labra or labda is seasonal medley of vegetables cooked together, without onions and garlic. So during autumn, vegetables like cauliflower with its green stalks essentially get featured in labra sabzi. Autumn is also the time when we celebrates Durga pujo and Kojagari Lakshmi pujo. So pujor bhog prepared during this time will essentially features cauliflowers, sheem (broad beans / hyacinth beans) sweet potatoes and radish in labra tarkari.
In Summer or during Spring (during Saraswati pujo), gourds like ridge gourd, sweet pumpkin are also used.
Again the composition of labra recipe varies from family to family. In our family, I have never seen adding taro roots, raw banana, drumsticks in labra. But it is mandatory in some families. So as the spinach or pui shaag (malabar spinach). In our family we do not add any kind of greens in labra tarkari.
Hence the look and feel, the taste and texture of labra tarkari entirely depends upon what vegetables goes into making the labra.
In earlier times, banana blossoms and banana stems were essential in making labra, along with chalkumro (Indian pumpkin / white pumpkin). With the advent of time and colonization, new vegetables began to find its place in the labra tarkari. Broad beans, potatoes, sweet pumpkins are all later age additions to labra.
How I made Labra Tarkari / Bhoger Labra ?
First and most important, for preparing labra is to buy fresh vegetables. Labra will never taste good with refrigerated vegetables. Freshness of the vegetables is the key factor here. So that you can enjoy and get the maximum flavour from the vegetables. If vegetables are that fresh, you would not need to add any spices at all.
What I add in labra – generally I add potatoes, sweet potatoes, sweet pumpkin, borboti (yard long beans), sheem (broad beans), radish with its green stalks which adds lots of flavour and brinjals. I also adds handful of shredded cabbage too. If I get good quality cauliflower, then I will add that and will skip the cabbage. Cabbage gives little body to the dish and sheem and brinjal makes labra quite mushy. Beautifully offsetting the crunchy texture of radish and cauliflowers.
Vegetables that has more cooking time goes in first, and vegetables that cooks fast, are added last. I generally do not fry the individual vegetables separately but I cook them on high heat for considerable time. So that the vegetables are fried or sauteed lightly.
Also, I generally do not add water in labra, hence the emphasize is more on getting the vegetables as fresh as possible. Fresh vegetables invariably releases lots of water and the labra gets cooked in the vegetable’s own juices.
While making labra tarkari for pujor bhog, I would love to add banana stems and coconut too. Banana stems adds nice crunch to the dish and coconut brings that festive touch to the dish.
How To Flavour Labra Tarkari ?
Main flavour of labra comes from the freshness of the vegetables. Apart from that Bengali panch phoron (five spice blend) is an essential tempering spice blend for labra. Together with grated ginger, bay leaves and dry red chillies. It is entirely optional to use cumin and red chilli powder in labra. I however add these two but very little, almost negligible.
Bhaja moshla / Bengali roasted spice blend is another important flavoring component of labra. Last but not least, a generous drizzle of ghee takes the humble labra to another level, an offering fit for the Goddess.
Labra Tarkari Pujor Bhog - Bengali Mixed Vegetable
- 1 Big Potato
- 1 Big Eggplants / Brinjal (cut into chunks)
- 250 gm Yellow Pumpkin
- 1 head Cauliflowers, small
- 1-2 White Radish
- 1-2 Sweet Potatoes
- 2 Cups Barbati / Yard Long Beans
- 250 gm Sheem /Broad Beans
- 1 Banana Stem, small
- ½ Cup Coconut, shredded
Spices And Condiments
- 2 tsp Panchphoron (Bengali five spices) see note
- 2 tsp Ginger Paste
- 1 tsp Grated ginger
- 1-2 Green chilies
- 1-2 Dry Red Chilies
- 1-2 Bay Leaves
- ¼ tsp Cumin and red chilli powder (optional)
- 1 tsp Turmeric powder
- Salt and Sugar to taste
- 2 tbsp Mustard Oil
- 1 tbsp Ghee
- 1 tsp Bhaja Masala (Bengali roasted spice blend) see note
- Wash , peel and cut the vegetables. Potato , sweet potato, pumpkin, brinjal into chunks. Try to maintain same and similar size.Radish into 1 inch baton. Yard long beans, broad beans into 1 inch size. Cauliflowers into small or medium size florets.Dice the banana stem.
- Try to maintain an equal proportion of all the vegetables. If brinjal and broad beans are more than the other veggies, let it be. Overall, in labra we try to maintain all the vegetables in equal proportion like 1 cup measure for all veggies.
- Heat a kadhai or large pot. Heat the mustard oil to smoking point. Reduce the heat and temper the oil with 1 tsp panch phoron, dry red chillies and bay leaves.
- Next add potato, pumpkin , cauliflower and brinjal. Saute them on high heat till veggies are little tender. This will take around 5-8 min.
- Next add the ginger paste. Add mix it with the vegetables. Fry for 3-4 minute more till the rawness of the ginger is gone.
- Add rest of the vegetables, keep sauteing them on medium heat. Add salt, turmeric powder and keep on frying for 5 more minute.
- You can add 1/4 tsp cumin and red chilli powder now. This is optional and traditionally not added.
- Add the green chillies now. Cover with a tight lid, lower the flame and let it cook on slow heat for 10 minutes.
- Vegetables will release lots of water and it will get cooked in its own juices.If that does not happen, then add 1/2-1 cup warm water and let the vegetables cooked till done.
- When all the vegetables are soft and tender, cooked through and brinjals are mushy, labra is done.
- Now add the grated coconut and 1 tsp sugar. Give everything a nice stir. Check for the salt. If needed, add now. Switch off the heat.
- Lightly roast the remaining 1 tsp panch phoron and crushed it coarsely.
- Heat some ghee in a tadka pan. Add the grated ginger. Fry for few seconds. Add the roasted panch phoron and immediately add this to the labra. Give a nice stir.
- Sprinkle bhaja masala / roasted spice blend over the labra. Close the lid and let it stand for 10 minute.
- Serve bengali bhoger labra with khichuri / khichdiIt also goes well with the luchi / poori too.
What To Serve With Labra ?
Bhoger khichuri and labra – the universal combination and a marriage made in heaven, blessed by the Gods themselves.
Labra goes equally well with poori / or luchis and I love to relish it , specially the leftover labra. It always taste better the next day.
Is labra a healthy vegetable dish ?
Definitely a very healthy vegetable dish. An assortment of seasonal vegetables , when they are at their peak of nutrition, cooked in most healthiest way possible. With minimal of oil and spices, so that flavours of the vegetables can shine through.
Best way to include the goodness of assorted vegetables in your diet.
Looking For More Bengali Mixed Vegetable Dish ?
Bengali Gota Sheddho (A ritualistic preparation of whole vegetables with whole lentils)