Secrets of Bengali Cooking

Bengali food is unique among regional Indian cuisines in that it’s served in courses instead of all at once, a custom that likely derived from the French. It also incorporates an unusual range of unique flavors and aromatic compounds, a factor that may account for the popularity of Bengali cooking.

Bengal is situated the delta of the Ganges river, in the upper right corner of India on a map. It’s been host to a succession of foreign rulers which have left their influence on the cuisine.

The area known as Bengal includes West Bengal inside India and East Bengal in Bangladesh. It extends from the Indian Ocean to the edge of the Himalayas and is bordered by Myanmar to the east.

The river city of Calcutta, which is now called Kolkata, is probably Bengal’s best-known feature aside from Bengal tigers. The region has its own language and alphabet, so it’s not surprising that Bengali food is so distinctive.

Local dishes incorporate a range of fruits, vegetables and legumes, including potatoes, gourds and lentils. Unlike most parts of India, non-vegetarian cuisine prevails in Bengal. Fish is a staple of the local diet. Chicken, goat and mutton are featured regularly. Rice is served with first course vegetables and the main course. It’s also featured in desserts like chaler payesh. That’s Bengal’s version of rice pudding and what most of India calls kheer.

Indian food goes way beyond samosas, butter chicken and restaurant favorites. Fiery dishes from southern India and flavorful comfort foods from New Delhi often steal attention away from other worthy regions. If you’re ready to explore India’s richly varied cooking styles, Bengal is a great place to start.

Common Seasonings in Bengali Cooking

Mustard oil is the first choice for frying vegetables, fritters and meat in Bengali recipes. It has a high-smoke point. The distilled oil of mustard seeds lends a distinctive sharp, pungent, spicy and sinus-clearing flavor to regional dishes. Peanut oil or a neutral vegetable oil can be used in place of mustard oil in most recipes although you won’t get the same flavor.

Panch phoron, a five-spice blend, is used widely in Bengali cooking. This eastern Indian seasoning includes the seeds of fenugreek, mustard, cumin, fennel and nigella, which is also called kalonji or black cumin. To make your own, combine 1 tablespoon of each spice. In a hot pan without oil, toast the ingredients briefly. Remove the pan from the heat when their fragrance is released. Traditionally, the seeds remain whole, though you could use ground spices if you have them. Ready-made panch phoron can be found online or in well-stocked stores.

Panch Phoron

Panch Phoron, a complex aromatic spice mixture that makes a frequent appearance in Bengali cooking

Indian food presents infinite possibilities to the home cook. You can add some of this and a handful of that to create an impressive meal that’s different every time. Stir in plain yogurt after taking the pan off the heat. If you have carrots or leftover vegetables in the fridge, add to a curry. In the summer, fry zucchini and eggplants with the onions in a stew such as Maachere Jhol. You can also incorporate winter squash, potatoes and other vegetables that are available in every season. Indian food will surprise all of your guests. They will think you spent 10 hours when you spent less than one.

This is a guest post, with some editing and modification, from _Liz of TextBroker. I tried them as an experiment and learned something new about Indian food. Keep your eyes peeled for a tasty fish stew recipe, coming soon.

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