A Very Happy Bengali-Indian New Year

Celebrate the Indian New Year’s Day here in America.

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Be ready. Our New Year’s Day is coming up. We say, Shubho Naba Barsho.

The First Day or Pahela of a Bengali New Year happens in the middle of April. Indian calendars are lunar calendar, and the first month is called Vaisakh. The Bengali New Year therefore is called Pahela Vaisakh.

On the calendar, Vaisakh is the first month of a two-month summer. Scorching summer. In some places, it can reach up to forty degrees…maybe even forty five. Which is well above 100 F. Then appears the famous Bengali monsoon cloud with its famous, continuous rain, thunder and country floods. Frogs flourish. In remote villages, snakes flourish too. Monsoon also goes on for two months. Monsoon is followed by a beautiful, sunny autumn.

And so on.

Pahela Vaisakh, the New Year’s Day, is well known for its food and festivities. In other parts of India also, such as Punjab in the north or Assam in Far East, this day is celebrated with much fanfare. In southern state of Kerala too, this is an auspicious day.

In Punjab, it’s called Vaisakhi.

Bengalis love their food, and they love their festivities. The gods and goddesses have blessed Bengal – both the province of West Bengal where I came from, and also East Bengal that is now known as Bangladesh. My parents came from East Bengal, after the British partition.

In the Hindu Bengali community, Pahela Vaisakh is celebrated with a religious offering or Puja to Ganesha, the god of success. Traders and merchants in particular have their observance, before they ceremoniously begin their yearly accounts book. In Bengal, they call it Haal Khata, or the new ledger. Small traders and shopkeepers, whether it’s a sweet shop, grocery store, neighborhood book publishing business or a tiny hairstyling saloon, the owners make sure the decorate their shop with the ceremonious banana plants adorned with the sacred vermillion or sindur. The puja ritual is done inside by a Brahmin priest, and then the trader would have abundant food and particularly sweets to give away to local children or guests whoever show up that day.

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In a few places in India, people also fly kites on the New Year’s Day to celebrate the festivities. India is a very diverse country, where you can find different customs and cultures only a hundred miles apart. Some places fly kites. Some others places perhaps have a rowing competition.

Food, of course, is an integral part of any religious or social festivities in India. Bengali or Punjabi or Assamese New Year’s Day is no exception to the rule. But on the two sides of Bengal, food has assumed a very rich role in these festivities.

Many people in Bangladesh celebrate Pahela Vaisakh with an exotic combination of rice soaked overnight in water they call Pantaa Bhaat, and a special preparation of the famous Hilsa fish. There, they call it Ilish. The major rivers such as Ganges in West Bengal and Padma in Bangladesh are lush with this beautiful, shiny, silvery fish that is absolutely mouth-watering. No Bengali New Year’s Day celebration is complete with Pantaa-Ilish. It is a must. Add some hot green chili to the mix. That is, if you can take it.

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Ilish is cooked in many different styles in different parts of Bengal. Some bake it with special spices. Some put pieces of the fish coated with turmeric and salt in a soft banana leaf, and slowly cook it inside an earthen pot on a very low charcoal heat. The baked Hilsa is known as Bhapa Ilish. Some cook it with a generous amount of mustard seed paste, mixed with green chili. That curry is known as Sarisha Ilish. Then, some others would not wait much longer once the fish arrives either from the village river or from the city market. They would cut it delicately in large pieces, and deep fry in mustard oil.

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Absolutely heavenly – all of the above.

And of course, no lunch or dinner is complete in India and Bengal without its fabulous desserts. There are so many varieties of desserts and sweets there that one would simply keep counting them for the rest of their lives.

And mangoes. A very big part of the Bengali celebration. Unending varieties of mangoes, too.

That’s how life is like back there: full of food, full of fun, and full of family and friendship.

Be a part of this wonderful celebration.

Shubho Naba Barsho.

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Simple Indian Dinner You Can Cook Even On Weekdays

Simple Indian Dinner You Can Cook Even On Weekdays

Dear Friends of Mukti’s Kitchen:

This is a photo of a simple, home-made Indian dinner to let you know that you can cook it easily in a relatively short period of time. I invite you to try it too.

Why am I saying this?

Because, my husband made this dinner two days ago, on Monday, after coming back from work. He invited a friend to join him for dinner. Both men are now living in New York in this harsh winter all by themselves, because their wives are now traveling India and having a great time.

🙂

If he can cook it on a weekday after returning from work, you can do it too.

He said he made plain rice (draining off the starch), dal (lentils), cauliflower stir fry, some eggplant fritters dipped in besan (chickpea flower), a little tomato and cucumber salad with lime juice, and his favorite North Indian chicken curry. He made them all mild — spicy but mild — keeping in mind that his American friend does not like it too spicy or hot.

He kept a small amount of hot pickle in a small saucer, which he did not share with his American friend 🙂

I am glad he didn’t.

🙂

Have a wonderful day. I am returning to New York very soon.

Eager to see you and resume our cooking classes too.

Mukti

Mukti’s Kitchen (www.muktiskitchen.com)

Writing from Kerala, South India (literacy rate in this state is 95%)

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Writing from India :-)

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Dear Mukti’s Kitchen Friends and Supporters:

I’m traveling India right now, visiting various places to gather more knowledge about Indian cuisine with an emphasis on the health aspects of it.

Nancy Romer, a well-known food activist from New York and director of Brooklyn Food Coalition, is also traveling India with me. She is a wonderful friend and travel company. She is in India for the first time, and I’m helping her as much as I can to make her stay comfortable and enjoyable.

Do keep in touch. I’ll post more later. Right now, I’m posting a couple of pictures from Calcutta, where we are at present.

Tomorrow, we leave for a trip to South India.

Happy and excited.

Mukti

http://www.muktiskitchen.com

P.S. — Write if you can. My email is muktiskitchen@gmail.com .

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Head chef at Calcutta’s famous restaurant called Six Ballygunge Place.

Thanksgiving Day Recipe: Spicy Cauliflower Curry

Thanksgiving Day Recipe: Spicy Cauliflower Curry

Today’s Recipé

Spicy Cauliflower (Stir Fried) Curry

1. Cut one cauliflower in small pieces.
2. Cut one medium size potato in cubes.
3. Chop washed cilantro and cube a tomato. (You can also have fresh peas and green chili pieces ready.)
4. On a skillet, smear a dash of oil.
5. Throw half teaspoon of Five Spice mix, and warm (do not burn).
6. Stir fry cauliflower and potato pieces.
7. Add a pinch of turmeric power, grated ginger, and salt to taste.
8. Mix gently without breaking the vegetables.
9. When the cauliflower and potato are soft and brownish, add the cilantro and cubed tomato pieces.
(Add the fresh peas and green chili if you like.)
10. Turn off oven, and let it sit, covered.

ENJOY WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY.

🙂

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Diwali Cooking Class at CUNY :-)

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Mixed vegetable korma

This Sunday, November 3, I had a very enjoyable cooking class at Macaulay Honors College at City University of New York, CUNY. It also coincided with Diwali, the Festival of Lights.

Over one hundred students participated in an international food festival organized by the prestigious honors program at the university, and they invited Mukti’s Kitchen to be a part of it. It was truly a very enjoyable event.

I showed up with my pots and pans and spices at noon, against a very difficult traffic situation because of New York Marathon happening the same day. They closed down all the bridges and tunnels to drive from Brooklyn to Manhattan. My family members carried those big bags full of utensils and ingredients on the subway train and we made it on time. Thanks, public transportation. Thank you very much.

From 12 to 8 P.M., for 100 students and teachers, I taught how to cook: Samosa, Pakora (fritters), Dal Puri (handmade bread stuffed with dal), Vegetable Korma (stir fry), Vegetable Polao (fried rice), Chana Dal with coconut, Palak Paneer (spinach with Indian cheese), tomato chutney, Malai Kofta (stuffed vegetable curry), and … Carrot Halwa.

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Decorating on Diwali

I even posted the description on my Facebook page on the same day, and it generated a lot of positive responses.

The students who helped me out all day with chopping onions and rolling dough and frying fritters and stuffing samosas were simply great. I could not have done such a big job without them.

Dal Puri (Handmade bread stuffed with lentils)

Dal Puri (Handmade bread stuffed with lentils)

Thank you so much, everybody.

Anybody interested to learn (and eat)?

Join us on our next cooking classes. Visit my website.

Sincerely,

Mukti Banerjee

Mukti’s Kitchen

Brooklyn, New York

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Macaulay Honors College, CUNY

Park Slope Food Coop and Healthy Indian Food

Mukti's Kitchen on front page of Linewaiters' Gazette :-)

Mukti’s Kitchen on front page of Linewaiters’ Gazette 🙂

In the current issue of Linewaiters’ Gazette, official publication of Park Slope Food Coop, they published a front page article on Mukti’s Kitchen and how we cook and teach healthy and delicious Indian food here in New York. We are obviously delighted.

🙂

You can read the article here following this link. Feedback and comments would be much welcome.

I’m posting a few photos here and excerpts from the article below.

Happy Students and Me :-)

Happy Students and Me 🙂

“Banerjee always stresses
the healthfulness of home-
made Indian food. She
emphasizes the superiority of
Indian food prepared at home
as opposed to eating Indian
food out. She describes the
food in a restaurant as mass-
produced and made without
love. “Cooking is so therapeu-
tic, if you cook a good meal for
yourself and loved ones, it will
give you so much pleasure,
spiritually.” “
__________

Park Slope Food Coop is a great organization based in Brooklyn, where they sell healthy and nutritious and organic, toxin-free produce at a very reasonable price. It is incredibly popular with thousands of members taking advantage of it. It is a true cooperative and a progressive food movement, where members WORK to get the great products at great prices.

My family and I are very happy to be a part of this food and environment movement. The more we get involved with such movements worldwide, the better for us and our children.

Thank you, Park Slope Food Coop and Linewaiters’ Gazette for such an extensive coverage of Mukti’s Kitchen.

Spice Box :-)

Spice Box 🙂