“It’s the sowing season. Our tables reflect this by using various forms of rice—khoi (popped rice), chire (flattened rice) and muri (puffed rice),” says Poorna Banerjee, a food writer and social media strategist from Kolkata. Steamed rice is a constant, raw rice is cooked with fish for muri ghonto and fragrant gobindobhog is used to make payesh (kheer).
The festive favourite luchi is a recent addition. The popularity of wheat in Bengali cuisine can be traced to the British rule. Now, one will find luchi on the Nobo Borsho menu accompanied by kosha mangsho, for the pairing is like poetry. But, a celebratory meal for new year is incomplete without rice.
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Then enters the Satyajit Ray of Bengali cuisine—fish. “A variety of fresh water fishes are cooked for lunch. In my family, this festive meal is more lavish than dinner. Even fish parts, like the eggs and head, are used,” says Sibendu Das, who shares culinary stories of Bengal on his Instagram account, Pickle to Pilaf. The multi-course affair is a dazzling array of fish cooked in different styles. It begins with macher dimer tok—a tangy watery stew flavoured with tamarind, pui shaak chorchori—water spinach sautéed in fish oil, macher bhaaja—anchovies or fillets fried in mustard oil and finally, there’s a curry cooked with a prized variety, like hilsa. Each morsel gets an extra kick with a squeeze of fresh gondhoraj lemon.
“If you still have space in your stomach after this fish course, dig into the mangshor jol (mutton curry),” jokes Das. The meal ends with a light runny chutney, like aamer ombol (raw mango sweet and tangy chutney). It acts like a digestive after a heavy lunch.
From regions to families, the new year menu is shaped by taste preferences, ingredient availability and even the freshness of fish. “If it’s a fresh catch, it will go into a simple jhol (watery stew) with spices like cumin and ginger. But if it’s not, spices will embellish it for an onion-based gravy,” explains Banerjee.
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In the vegetarian section, one will find dishes like shukto (mixed stewed vegetables). It is a fine balance of flavours with ingredients such sweet potato and bitter gourd. Bitter, or teto in Bengali, is a significant flavour. The new year meal must have lightly fried neem leaves, bitter gourd or eggplant.
A dessert may not be part of the main course, but the fridge is filled with mishti, from payesh, sondesh, langcha, chomchom and roshogulla. One may not have easy access to a Bengali sweet shop, so here’s a roshomolai recipe from Jugal’s, a mishti shop in Kolkata.
2 litres of full fat milk.
Half cup of beaten full fat yogurt or 4-5 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar.
2 teaspoons of all-purpose flour or maida.
4 cups of water.
2 cups of sugar.
Half litre and half cup of full fat milk.
1 teaspoon of cardamom powder or 2-3 green cardamom pods.
Half cup of condensed milk or little less than 1 cup sugar.
Chopped cashews and pistachios.
Pinch of yellow food color or saffron. (optional)
Heat the 2 litres of full fat milk in a saucepan. Keep stirring every 2-3 minutes.
When the milk starts bubbling, reduce the heat to low and add the acidic ingredient—yogurt, lemon juice or vinegar. Mix well.
After a few minutes, the milk will curdle to form chena or paneer.
Turn off the heat and let it rest for 2-3 minutes.
Then in a cotton cloth-lined strainer, drain the split milk.
Rinse it gently with cold water.
Squeeze the cloth tightly to remove extra water. Do not make the paneer very dry.
Now, place the paneer in a plate and start mashing it for 2-3 minutes with the back of your palm.
Add all purpose flour, mix well for another 2 minutes.
Now, make small flat balls out of the mashed paneer.
In 4 cups of water add 2 cups of sugar. Mix well and let the water come to a boil.
Then, add 5-6 paneer balls. Do not overcrowd the pan.
Cover the pan and cook on medium flame for 10-12 minutes.
They will double in size. Gently flip them and cook for another 10 minutes. Repeat this for the remaining paneer balls.
In the hot sugar syrup, add a glass of chilled water or 3-4 ice cubes.
Add all the cooked rasgullas and let them rest for 30 minutes.
In another pan, heat half litre and half cup of full fat milk.
When the milk starts boiling, add green cardamom, condensed milk and chopped nuts. Mix well and boil the milk for 10 minutes. Keep stirring.
Mix in the food color or saffron. Do not let the milk thicken too much.
Now, take a rasgulla and press gently to remove extra syrup. Repeat this with the remaining rasgullas. Then drop them into the hot milk mixture.
Cook for another 2-3 minutes on medium flame and turn off the heat.
Do not stir after adding the rasgullas to avoid them from breaking.
Hold the pan and gently shake it 3 to 4 times.
Let it cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate for an hour and serve chilled.