While it is common knowledge that the Bengali cuisine is heavily reliant on the bounties of the river and the sea, many don’t identify vegetarian cooking as part of the Bengali fare. This is far from the truth really, and as my husband frequently loves to say, if it grows, Bengalis will eat!
I am no food historian, but as is common knowledge, two significant things contributed to the wide variety of Bengali vegetarian dishes. Firstly, prior to the Bengal renaissance, widows were treated pretty badly and had strict dietary restrictions. Non-vegetarian items were strictly prohibited, and so, a wide variety of vegetarian dishes were necessarily a part of the diet. Secondly, the Bengal famine together with the forced cash crop production during the British rule, resulted in the use of all scrap material. Stems, leaves, peels and skins were all tastefully incorporated in Bengali cooking to ensure zero wastage. The forced poppy seed production also led to the incorporation of poppy seed paste in Bengali food habits, which is now a delicacy.
While neither of these events were remotely happy, what emerged as a result of this bleak history, was a diverse cuisine, using ingredients and produce, that are not always commonly used in other Indian households. I have grown up eating (and loving) things that are unheard of, including stir fried potato skin with poppy seeds, bottle gourd/calabash skin and water lily stems, to name a few. My grandmothers, aunts and my mother excelled in these recipes and I try to use their methods and to keep the recipes as authentic as possible.
Chorchori is a mixed vegetable recipe, made with the discarded stems of the cauliflower or red amaranth or Malabar spinach. I used my mom’s recipe and slightly tweaked it by adding spinach and turnip. Avid the turnip if you hate it as much as my mom does. This is healthy, delicious and perfect for lunch!
You will need:
- Cauliflower stems: About 150 gms (cut into three-inch-long sticks)
- Pumpkin: 100 gms (cut into three-inch-long sticks)
- Spinach: 250 gms (chopped roughly)
- Pointed gourd: 100 gms (skin scraped and halved)
- Turnip: 1 (medium) (peeled, halved and cut into thin wedges)
- Potato: 1 (medium) (peeled, halved and cut into thin wedges)
- Indian flat beans: 5-6 (halved)
- Ridge gourd: 150 gms. (scraped, halved lengthwise and cut into three-inch-long pieces)
- Panch phoron: ½ teaspoon*
- Dried red chillies: 2
- Mustard oil: 1 and ½ tablespoons
- Sugar: 1 teaspoon
- Salt: to taste
For the mustard paste:
- Black mustard seeds (kalo shorshe): 1 and ½ tablespoon
- Yellow mustard seeds (holud shorshe): 1 tablespoon
- Green chillies: 1-2
- Small masala grinder
- Medium non-stick wok
*Panch phoron is a Bengali five spice mix. It includes equal parts of fenugreek seeds (methi), nigella seeds (kalo jeera/kalonji), cumin seeds (jeera), trachyspermum roxburghianum (radhuni) and fennel seeds (mouri/saunf). Replace radhuni with black mustard seeds, if not easily available.
Grind the mustard seeds (black and yellow), green chillies and a pinch of salt with a couple of tablespoons of water. Add a little more water if the paste is too grainy. The paste should be smooth and thick. Keep aside.
Heat the mustard oil in the wok and add the panch phoron and dried red chillies until it splutters. Add all the vegetables, except the spinach. Stir gently, cover and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the spinach, sugar and salt to taste and cover and cook for another five minutes. Check if the vegetables are almost done at this point. They should be cooked through, and not al dente.
In a bowl, mix one tablespoon of the mustard paste with a tablespoon of water to make a slurry. Add the mustard slurry to the wok, stirring thoroughly and adjust the salt if required. Cook on medium heat for another two minutes and serve.
Serve hot with steamed rice.