Now that I have spent about two weeks on a vegetarian/vegan diet at the IYC, it’s probably a good time to reminisce about the food that I ate in Kolkata. Not that I am missing all the fish. Not at all! I think I am a vegan in omnivore clothing, my family will not like to hear this. This will probably prompt them to disown me, but I look forward everyday to the salads, lentils, grains and vegetables and come away feeling great!
I marvel at the elaborate menu that they think up. I don’t cook half that many dishes in any of the meals that I serve at home. Ahem! But then again, that is the “advantage” of an omnivore diet, throw in some kind of animal protein and a lot of the dietary requirements for vitamins and whatnot are taken care of. A vegan diet has to be carefully structured so that essential nutrients and minerals are not in short supply. So here every meal serves 2-3 kinds of vegetables, some fruit, 2-3 kinds of beans/legumes and 2-3 kinds of grains. I am already inspired to make improvements in the food I cook at home. Some more vegetables, some more grains, legumes more frequently, should be possible, hmm…
Sometimes I tend to take shortcuts when I know I could cook a bit healthier and serve more well-rounded meals. And yes, healthy does not have to mean a compromise on taste. Another challenge for all of us is of course time-management. That is the main reason why there are many busy days when I tend to fall into my automatic pilot strategy of throwing in a piece of meat under the grill, cook up some pasta or polenta, cut up some vegetables and call it a dinner. It does not make me happy, but it makes the men in the family perfectly happy and I tend to go with that.
But there is a way to do things so that both parties are happy – the true-blue carnivore and the wannabe vegan, and I occasionally remember to do that as well. But sometimes I just don’t give/have enough time for meal-planning. Don’t we all feel that time is in short supply!? But perhaps there is a way to plan, streamline and execute that makes sure that one does not spend too much time in the kitchen and yet our variegated dietary needs and taste buds are satisfied. Food for thought!
So back to Kolkata. I had this incredibly delicious dish of kochurloti which is basically the tender shoots of the Colocasia plant, cooked with a liberal dose of fresh mustard, chillies and a touch of coconut.
A lot like this dish here, except that that one was made in the microwave, while the kochurloti is actually slow cooked on the stove-top. As I mentioned here, or maybe I didn’t, there isn’t a vegetable that will not taste awesome when cooked with some coconut, mustard and chillies. Hmm…a lot of negatives. What I mean to say is that everything in this world will taste good with fresh mustard, coconut and chillies. But the key to enjoying such a dish is to have plenty of good rice at hand. This is not the kind of dish that one can enjoy with anything else.
Also mention-worthy is this dish of fish or maach, simply but oh so deliciously prepared with kalonji, tomatoes and fresh coriander.
Yum! The fish is called tangra in the local lingo – and it is a river fish. The smaller the fish, the tastier it is, although Bengalis tend to go for the big ones when serving guests. These ones at my parents’ home were also full of roe, a win-win situation for Bengalis, because if there is something we love more than fish then it is fish-roe, and when the fish is full of it, then we treat it with much reverence, handling the fish very carefully so that the roe does not fall out.
No we don’t like caviar, if you were about to ask. We think it is over-hyped. And that is all we shall say about this matter.
In the evening, I sauntered over to my uncle and aunt’s place, where I was treated to yet another traditional Bengali delicacy called muri-makha which is served with tea in the evening.
It is puffed rice or muri, seasoned with a touch of mustard-oil and curry leaves and mixed (makha) with liberal amounts of roasted peanuts and a delicious thing called chanachur. Chanachur is a mixture of fried lentils and deep-fried bits of chick-pea batter in various shapes, strongly seasoned with salt and spices. It is India’s favourite snack and available all over the country, and in Indian stores around the world, under various names like mixture or sev. Just look at the picture on the packet if in doubt, because they tend to be fairly illustrative. Sometimes they have more lentils and sometimes none at all, there could be peanuts and raisins and even cashewnuts. The spices could be different depending on which part of the country they were made in. But they are all deep-fried, well-spiced and seasoned and extremely addictive. You have been warned!
My aunt heated some mustard-oil (a Bengali touch) in a pan, spluttered a bit of mustard seeds and curry leaves, tossed the puffed rice in it and added some chanachur and peanuts. My uncle had it with the chopped onions, and I without. Delicious!