Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Inner Bengali And The Green Beans Bhorta

I have told you about my pan-Indian looks, about my inner Malayali. Now here's another story.

 A few months ago, a relative of mine wrote his life story in which he mentioned my great-grandfather (henceforth referred to as GG), who was his uncle. Apparently, my GG liked living well and was given to spending a lot of money. One of his expenses, I hear, was on getting a cook from Bengal to come down to where he lived in current-day Andhra Pradesh and make rasgullas for him and his family.

 I wish my grandmother was around to tell me more about GG, who died before I was born. I knew he was wealthy and had a temper, but not much beyond that.

 Many years ago, even before the blogs came into my life, I discovered Bengali cuisine through a book. I took a fancy to it and would often make something from that book, a no-frills affair which tried to pack three or four recipes into a single, short page. I usually experiment with vegetarian food as it's simpler and I took a liking to mustard oil and panch phoron. I even made a chorchori with vegetable peels!

 Gradually, the blogs, including my own, entered my life, and during some discussion in the comments, Sandeepa once asked me if I was Bengali, or if The Spouse was. We are not, but I wonder if my GG's predilection for rasgullas and the length he went to for them, commissioning a Bengali cook, worked its way into the gene pool and manifested as my love for Bengali food. I don't eat even one rasgulla a year, somehow, but I do make something or the other from my Bengali cookbooks.

Now, of course, I have one more, Sandeepa's, and what I found utterly fascinating in that book was the green beans bhorta, a Bangladeshi recipe.

 It HAS to be a thick paste she said, when I checked with her, and I was a little disappointed, because I thought it would be another chutney, and a chutney's nothing exotic for us in the South, if you kept aside the fact that it was made green beans. I would have liked it to be a coarse, multi-textured affair, just so it would be new and different. And the recipe called for fried shrimp to be ground with the mix too - I thought I would fold it into the bhorta but I ended up grinding them in anyway. (My inner Bengali prevailed.)

 I was wrong - it was as unlike any chutney I've ever made or eaten, or even unlike any Bengali food I've ever eaten or made. It calls for sauteing, in a little mustard oil, a small onion, sliced, four to five cloves of garlic, eight green chillies and four cups of chopped green beans, in that order, till the beans are cooked. Cool it down and grind it with half a cup of grated coconut and fried shrimp. It has to be a thick paste, so if it has become loose or watery, dry it up in a lightly oiled pan. Garnish it with chopped coriander.

 I made enough for three meals and finished it in two days. The shrimp is optional, of course. When ground, it imparts a rather strong flavour/aroma to the mix, and you can choose to leave it out or retain it as garnish for a variation.

 Here's the bit of Sandeepa's book that stuck in my mind. Food, she says, is "life wrapped in a soft egg roll with slices of crunchy onion and bites of feisty green chilli." She arranged for me to get a copy of the book, and as soon as I got it, I read the introduction (and the acknowledgements where yours truly is mentioned). This sentence is from the introduction. I got thinking about life, eggs, onions and chillies and even made omelettes for dinner the next couple of days! The book is as hilarious and as full of joie de vivre as her blog. I know that whenever I want a laugh, all I have to do is read a chapter, or even a portion of it, and I'll be happy.



  1. I have many inner people too who keep surfacing every now and then! :-)

    Now that you have tried it, I think I should make the bhorta too - the shrimp in it is intriguing indeed.

    I loved going through Sandeepa's book too!

  2. I am still waiting for her book to ba back in stock in Amazon. Hi hi you know they say bengalies and malayalees have lots in common .

  3. I am 75 pages into the book and this is the one recipe that stood out, so far. very different from anything i've made!

  4. I like what she has said about you've got me thinking of onions and green chillies and something to roll them up in.

  5. As you probably know, I have also gone on at length about how I have trouble explaining where I am from! I dont think I look particularly South-Indian, My tastes are a mix of south and east, thanks to growing up in Orissa, and now with a Punjabi spouse from Hyderabad, the cultural and culinary confusion is complete! :D
    I am sure the love for Bengali food is part of your gene-memory! The dish looks truly intriguing. I love Bengali food and thought I was quite familiar with it, but this beans dish is totally new to me! Trying this out real soon :)

  6. Forgot to ask - no need to add salt?

    1. Sorry, Swati, I did add it somewhere along the way, at the time of sauteeing and then checked again for taste before I ground it.

  7. Hey Sra
    I lost my comment I see. Had left one last week :(
    Anyway, tell me why people like roshogolla so much ? I am one bong who sure doesn't :) I would rather take jalebi or kalakand. I am lacking Bong genes.
    But your grandpa must have been quite the gourmet to get someone to specifically make rasgullas.
    The beans bhorta looks exactly how it should.


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