Bengali Summer Lunch Series : Day 5
That quintessential Bengali summer meal of kalai dal and posto et.al, as no discussion on summer lunches are complete without posto, the white poppy seeds which has bestowed Bengal with a unique and rare culinary gift.
Today, posto is almost synonymous with Bengali cuisine and no other cuisine of the world has such prolific and enthusiastic use of posto as seen in Bengali cuisine. Though the seeds, both white and black are extensively used in Arabian and other Mediterranean culture but not in the same manner and not with the kind of love and devotion to posto as in Bengali cuisine.
But Bengal’s beloved posto, the unique culinary gift to the world has a dark history of systematic exploitation of people of the region, by the then British merchants and rulers, who had suddenly realized the opium as potential business opportunities to fill their coffers, specially in China where the drug was deemed illegal.
Thus started the ugly opium war that has reshaped the China’s economy and political standings forever. And had rapidly transformed the fertile green agricultural lands of western most part of West Bengal (Birbhum and Bankura), extending upto Chota Nagpur areas in Bihar and also in Orissa into crimson fields, that reeks blood and sweat of the people of the land.
And once again, it has been proved that desperation and necessity is the mother of all innovations, inventions and new ideas , ideas that has reshaped the world economy, and a culinary inventions in this context. Through trials and tribulations, the leftover huge by product of this opium trade, the dry seeds of poppies had first found their way through the rustic kitchens of farmer’s wife as the famous aloo posto, and after it has tasted the success their, later has sneaked into aristocratic urban Bengali households, in their fancy fish and meat dishes.
Thus born Bengal’s famous aloo posto, amidst a desperate attempt to survive through against all odds. Since then, there was no looking back. Those tiny white seeds were on winning streak thereafter. It has embraced every food, from vegetables to lentils to fish and meat in its fold and had ushered a new life into them, thus giving birth to a different class of cuisine.
After discovering the nutritious, goodness and gastronomic qualities of posto, we Bong had taken posto very very seriously. As long as posto is there, Bong women can turn even vegetable peels, scrapings and flowers as in sojhne phool posto (moringa flowers) into culinary delicacies. Its true. Try it next time. Not just aloo posto, there is whole world of posto and posto etal out there, waiting to to be discovered.
Posto is best enjoyed as posto bata, a thick paste of soaked posto seeds, salt and green chillies. This posto bata can be eaten raw or steamed like bhapa posto mixed with roughly chopped onions and green chillies that goes heavenly with steamed white rice with drizzle of extra virgin mustard oil. Posto with mustard oil is one killer combo. This posto bata can be added to number of vegetables as in aloo posto, aloo-jhinge posto, another hot favourite, potol posto with pointed gourds, begun posto with eggplants, and even ucche posto with bittergourds. The same posto bata can be added to fish and chicken even as in rui posto with rohu fish, chingri bhapa – another heavenly delicacy where posto meets its soul mate in mustard paste and chicken posto. However, posto elevates the vegetables to another level as compared to non-veg food.
Apart from these, posto r bora or poppy seed fritters are another classic favourite. With plain masoor dal it taste simply blissful on hot summer days. Pyanj posto is another way to indulge in ambrosial posto meal, whereby crispy fried onions, and slit green chillies are added to coarsely grounded posto bata which is then fried in oil till it turns brown and crunchy.
Here is how to make posto bata.
- White lentils, urad dal : 1 cup
- Fennel and cumin seed paste : 1 tbsp
- Ginger, chopped : 2 tsp
- For tempering -
- Green chillies : 2-3
- Cumin seeds : 1 tsp
- Bay leaves : 2
- Poppy seed paste with salt and green chillies : ½ cup
- Coconut, scraped : 2 tbsp (optional)
- Dry poppy seeds : 2 tbsp
- Salt as per taste
- Finely chopped green chillies : 1 tsp
- Rice flour : 2 tbsp
- Oil for shallow frying
- Sliced onions : 1 big size
- Slit green chillies : 2-3
- Posto bata / posto paste with green chillies: ½ cup
- Mustard oil : 2 tbsp
- Dry posto seeds: 2 tbsp
- Soak the dal for 2 hours. It will help to cook the dal easily.
- Pressure cook the dal, with turmeric powder, ginger, cumin-fennel seed paste upto one whistle. Grain should not get mushed.
- If not cooked, then add more water and close the lid and get it cooked till done.
- Add more water as per require consistency. SOme like it thick, some like it watery thin.
- In a tadka pan, add ghee around 1 tbsp. Temper it with cumin seeds, bay leaves and green chillies.
- Add this to the dal and stir in it.
- Mix all the ingredients listed in a bowl. With little water, make a thick paste.
- Heat oil in a pan. Roughly shape the mixture into roundels and fry them in hot oil till golden and crisp.
- Heat oil in a pan. Fry the sliced onions till lightly brown. Add the green chillies too. Next add the posto bata with little salt and sugar as per taste and fry them in hot oil till everything turn into beautiful brownish mixture. And also oil should starts leaving the edges by this time.
- This will take some time, so better you do it in steel pans. It will brown them quickly.
- Once done, sprinkle dry posto seeds and stir fry them once again for 2-3 minutes.
- You will feel the crunch while eating.
- Serve it with steamed rice and extra drizzle of mustard oil.
This was our concluding post on Bengali Summer Lunch Series.
Hope you have loved it.
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