Back in Bengal, one of my favourite dishes was something called kochurshak or kochurlati, the stem or leaves of a green plant belonging to the taro family, prepared in mouth watering ways. Unless one is living in a concrete jungle, access to this plant is easy. It grows wild, especially in the rainy season, sprouting in any patch of earth that it finds. If one doesn’t feel like tramping around in the mud, it usually suffices to ask the maid to get some on her way to work. Then she cleans and chops it up so that it can be cooked, with spices and coconut or, now get this, fish head! Yes, never expected that did you? And yes, it is out of this world!
But anyway, never mind all that. These kind of plants don’t grow in the temperate parks and gardens of the places that I have lived in so far. Instead Bengalis like me make do with asparagus. The texture of an overcooked asparagus is very similar to the texture of kochurshak. If that sounds unappetizing, it’s because you haven’t actually tasted the original dish made by my aunts!
I have a cousin who has lived abroad even longer than I have and she first told me of her success with recreating her mother’s speciality with asparagus. She told me the recipe many years ago, and I had listened with the kind of detachment that comes with the conviction that I shall never venture to make this dish, ever. Why? Because I could never see myself pressure-cooking asparagus. I happen to love it too much. Plus, kochurshak is one thing, but in general, I don’t appreciate mashed up vegetables that much, especially if I like them already in a crunchier form. But on the other hand, you would never be able to eat koshurshuk lightly cooked, no, that kind of vegetable has so many daggers behind its back that overcooking is the only way to make sure that your throat does not swell up like a cushion. Ha! Ha! Are you aghast? Just goes to show how much trouble people are willing to take to make something edible, isn’t it? Doesn’t it remind you of olives??
So the other day, I found a happy medium. I made asparagus with coconut and nigella and it was quick, easy and good. It could have been better, if I did not have guests who cannot eat spicy or strongly seasoned food, because back home this kind of dish is made with a lot of green chillies and needs to be salty. But if you ever decide to make this dish, you need not feel held back, let yourself go. You will be rewarded! Myself, I doctored the leftovers for myself the next day and sighed with happiness.
RECIPE: ASPARAGUS WITH GRATED COCONUT
1 kg fresh green asparagus
1 tsp oil
Green chillies, as many as you can tolerate (optional)
1 tsp nigella seeds
1/2 cup freshly grated or frozen grated coconut
- Snap off the woody ends of asparagus and discard.
- Heat oil in a large frying pan.
- Slit or break the chillies and add.
- Add the nigella seeds
- When the chillies get brown spots, add the asparagus.
- Stir fry till bright green and add the coconut. If using frozen coconut, add with the asparagus.
- Add salt to taste, generously.
- Stir fry to incorporate and until coconut loses its raw smell and remove from heat.
- I like to have a bite in my asparagus, but you can cook it till it is more tender.
- Serve as a side dish or as a main course with rice for a light meal, with a bowl of lentils.
Note: You might get frozen taro leaves in specialty food shops that cater to African and South Asian people.