Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Bengali Suppers/#WFPB event

The only way to prepare corn

Because corn is in season, we started out with a corn appetizer:

Corn in the husk, soaked in water for a few minutes and then roasted in the oven on a baking sheet for 45 minutes at 450F. If you do this with good, fresh corn in the husk, you will taste corn so sweet, you will never have corn any other way again. No need for the traditional butter and salt, it is yummy  as is.

A Bengali Style #WFPB Dinner

We had cooked the Brown Basmati rice ahead of time (SWAD brand, in 10lb bags at Neerob Bazaar), opposite Neerob Restaurant on Starling Avenue.

We prepared four dishes under the guidance of Khokon, and with a fair amount of improvization, because he had to run back to the restaurant once or twice.

Cucumber salad

We cut the cucumber in small strips with a mandolin. We cut up a red onion and some peppers, and just used some lime juice and spices for a dressing. Obviously, you can vary the spices, dill goes particularly well with cucumber. The Bengali style is to add those mean little green chilis in the salad, whole, but that is not my thing, so if I use them, I will slice them up. For the occasion we made two salads, one with chilis and one without.
Green Chilis - handle with care!

Lentil Stew

Made with split red lentils, onions, garlic, herbs and spices and some water squash.
Herbs and spices included cilantro, some bay leaves, chilis, turmeric, panch puran (mixture of mustard, cumin, fennel, kalonji (black fennel), cardamom and you can use some liquid aminos to taste. You can vary the taste endlessly, with other spices, such as curry.
We used a water squash, and made a broth with the lentils and cooked them till they are soft - they practically dissolve.
Water Squash

The proper way of setting it up is to stir-fry the onions first, on high heat, stirring frequently until they begin to caramelize and then add some tablespoons of water to liquify it and prevent burning, then turn down the heat and add the garlic, chilis, and stir-fry it a few minutes longer and then add the cut-up squash, and enough water to make a broth that will cook the lentils, and you can add the rest of the herbs and spices to taste.

Caramelizing onions without oil

Caramelized onions are the universal foundation for cooking vegetable dishes and soups. Here are some instructions on how to caramelize onions without oil. Here it is from famous vegan chef AJ... notice you don't need a lot of liquid, but you can use either water, or veggie broth, or water with a bit of Bragg's liquid aminos. I personally make my own veggie broth once a month or so, and freeze it into ice cubes, and then I use one or  two cubes of veggie broth in your onions. You can also finish them off with balsamic.

By the way, if you're afraid of knives, you can use the Vidalia Chop Wizard, like Chef AJ demonstrates, but I don't have space in my kitchen for all these gadgets, and I like working with knives. So here is some advice on chopping onions.
OK, back to the cooking, the best way is to put the herbs and spices in by adding a little water or broth at the end of preparing the onions/garlic and chilis, so they are soft. Then, you add the cubes of water squash, and more water to cover it, with the lentils. The lentils will completely fall apart as they cook, so you will have a saucy substance that could also be a soup, or you can serve it over your rice.

Sautéed Squash

We also made some sautéed squash again, starting out with sautéed onions and adding garlic, some peppers, turmeric, and other spices to build up a broth, and we used a pumpkin and some yellow squash.

Sautéed eggplant

Same idea, with eggplant.

Boiled Poi Leaf (Malabar Spinach)

We used just the leaves, not the stems, and you can either boil them or steam them. On this occasion, boiling is all we did. Poi leaf is an interesting variation on spinace, it is a very different taste, but it is evidently a green leafy vegetable, and very healthy for that reason. Chewing leafy greens allows the formation of nitric oxide which keeps your endothelium healthy, hence you want to eat some form of leafy greens at every meal, ideally 4-6 "fist-sized" portions per day.

Bengali herbs and spices

  • Turmeric, you can use either fresh or powder, we used powder, but here it is both fresh and in powder form:
Fresh Turmeric at Al Aqsa
Powdered Turmeric at Neerob Bazaar

  • Panchpuran, you can buy the spices whole in a bag, or you can get it in powder form.
Our neighborhood is an absolute Mecca for herbs and spices, both at the Bengali vendors on Bangla Bazaar (Starling Avenue), and at Chang-Li Supermarket. The invitation is to go ahead and experiment away.


This meal was one powerful demonstration of the options you have in using a variety of vegetables with herbs and spices, to make a meal fit for a king. Where in spanish cooking you would use mostly rice and beans, in the South East Asian cuisine you use more likely lentils or chick peas, and you can easily put together

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