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Memories in a Bract Food explorations in India

Passport & Plate - Mochar Ghonto

India | Thursday, 13 March 2014 | flickr photos



Ingredients

(Serves Four)
1 Banana Blossom
½ Coconut
Ginger
Cumin Seeds
Green Chillies
Mustard Oil
1 Potato
½ Cup Horse-gram
Bay Leaves
Turmeric Powder
Cumin Powder
Red Chilli Powder
Coriander Powder
Garam Masala Powder
Ghee (Indian Butter)
Salt & Sugar as per taste


How to prepare this recipe

Cleaning the Banana Blossom -
- Apply mustard oil to your hands thoroughly
- Tear open the crunchy outer bracts
- Each bract will reveal a bunch of pale yellow sweet smelling flowers
- Pluck out the bunch of flowers
- By gently pressing the base of the flower, remove the hard central stamen, and a plastic like petal from the base.
- Throw away the inedible parts and keep the flower
- It is very very important to do the cleaning otherwise your dish will be bitter and inedible. Make sure the stamens are removed from every single flower
- Chop the flowers and immediately put them into a bowl of salted water to avoid discolouring
- Keep on peeling the bracts till you reach a central conical shaped heart and no more bracts can be peeled out
- Finely chop the heart and dunk it in the salted water as well


Make a smooth paste of the ginger, cumin seeds and green chillies (traditionally done in a stone grinder but can be also done in a mixer/food processor)

Scrape the coconut in a ‘boti’ - a scraper (this can also be done in grinder/food processor) but the soft and flaky texture can be only achieved through a boti


Boiling the flowers -
Drain out the salt water in which the banana flowers has been soaked
Take fresh water in a boiling vessel and drop the drained banana flowers in it
Add ½ tsp of salt and ½ tsp turmeric powder
Boil for 20 minutes on medium flame
Drain out the hot water and let the flowers cool
Mash them gently with you fingers

Separately boil the horse-gram with a pinch of salt
Drain and keep ready

Cut the potato into medium sized cubes

Cooking the Ghonto -
Heat a wok on the stove
Add 2 tbsp of mustard oil
When the oil begins to smoke add 2 dry bay leaves and 1 tsp cumin seeds
Add the chopped potatoes and fry for 2 mins
Add 1 tsp of the cumin-ginger-green chilli paste prepared earlier
Add ½ tsp each of turmeric, red chilli, cumin powders and
1 tsp of coriander powder
Add the boiled horse-gram fry for 2-3 mins

(keep sprinkling water from time to time to avoid the powder-masalas from burning)

Add the drained and mashed banana flowers and mix well with the other ingredients
Add half cup water and fry for another 2-3 mins
Add ½ tsp sugar
Add 2 tbsp of the grated coconut and fry for another minute
Finally add 1 tsp garam masala and 2 tsp of ghee

Stir gently for a minute and shut the stove

Garnish with a green chilli and grated coconut. Serve hot with steamed rice


Eat with your fingers!


The story behind this recipe

While growing up, summer meant two months of long vacations at my grandmother’s house in Calcutta, West Bengal. The lazy, languorous days spent in the glow of my grandparents’ affection, was highlighted by food experiences straight out of a traditional Bengali kitchen!

My grandmother’s kitchen would open to the gentle but distinct aromas of the Bengali five spice. Early in the mornings, straight after a hot cup of Darjeeling tea, grandfather and I would set off for the daily trip to the quaint open market to buy fresh fish and vegetables. The haphazard thatched stalls scattered around a little pond would be bustling with people. The rich, deltaic soil of West Bengal provides a bountiful basket of fresh greens and vegetables, some of them very unusual in other parts of India. A common plant is the banana, and every bit of it is eaten – the fruits, flower and stems, while the glistening green leaves are lopped into pieces to serve food.

“Dida, we’ve bought mocha today,” I’d yell running through the kitchen door and push my sleeves up in ready anticipation for the elaborate cleaning ritual. An important part of cleaning the banana flowers would be to rub your hands with mustard oil, so that the sticky sap didn’t stain your fingers black. It was also very important to remove the stiff matchstick-like stamens out of each flower, as it would make the dish inedible otherwise, Dida would explain.

My favourite part was to prepare the scraped coconut; an essential flavouring element, and which I learnt to do at a very young age. It was done on a ‘boti’ or an iron scraper. The texture of coconut scraped in a boti cannot be achieved from food processors. By holding the half shell of a broken coconut in a specific direction and scraping it in a rhythmic manner against the serrated head of the boti, a small mountain of snowy coconut flakes would collect on a plate underneath. I stole a few mouthfuls of the tender, milky flesh, and then proudly presented the rest for the mocha.

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