Cooking was an unexplored territory, an unfamiliar subject for me for a very long time. Ma had tried to feed in some knowledge telling out aloud out the name of the phoron and masala as she served the dish, but I was busy gobbling down mouthwatering homemade food. After all only a hostel bred soul knows the pleasures of savoring flavors of ghar ka khana. And my Bangali soul in Chennai was starved for some alu-jhinge posto, korola bhaja, and masurir daal. Needless to say, her attempts to educate me in the ways of the Bangali rannaghor were unsuccessful.
Little did I know that my self-imposed state of blissful ignorance was soon coming to an end. The situation presented itself to me when I traveled to Amreeca to join my better half (A). Realization hit me soon enough that no more could I feign ignorance and turn my back on the kitchen. There would be no raandhuni didi making a miraculous appearance to save me. Reluctantly I surrendered and took charge.
Ma was besieged with long phone calls, Skype sessions, and urgent Whatsapp messages. These were my primary learning tools and she was my guide. I made gradual progress and successfully made a few gourmet Bangali dishes. Later on when I was bold enough to experiment and trust the tastes of other fellow Bangalis, I began referring to various food blogs.
The result is great gastronomic satisfaction. A very important ‘state of being’ for a happy Bangali soul. Here are my few tips on setting up your Bangali rannaghor:
Phoron seeds: It is used essentially for tempering and is a must have in any kitchen. Stock up kalo jeera (kallonji/onion seeds/nigella seeds), sada jeera (cumin seeds), sorshe (white or black mustard seeds) and the most important of all, paanchphoron (mixture of mustard, nigella, cumin, fennel seeds).
Bangali gorom masala: My pack of MTR Garam Masala tells me that the usual garam masala is a blend of “coriander, red chilies, black salt, black pepper, nutmeg, dry ginger, dry mango, fennel, cumin, caraway, mace, clove, capers, bay leaf, fried gram, star anise, ajwain, big cardamom, cinnamon, cardamom, and asafoetida”. On the other hand our Bangali gorom masala is relatively simpler yet strong blend of four spices, labongo (clove), elaich (cardamom), dalchini (cinnamon), and tej patta (bay leaf). Prepare some in advance to keep it handy for future meals.
Sorshe tel: Mustard oil is another essential commodity in your rannaghor. You will need it to fry the fish, to make authentic Bangali khabar like posto, lau-chingri, or kosha mangsho.
Sunrise sorshe masala: This is my packet me rocket wala masala. Grinding sorshe can be a pain, and perhaps knowing about my innate jugaad wala habit, Ma handed me several packets of this sorshe powder. This has been my best friend in all those times when I wanted to prepare machher jhhal (spicy fish curry prepared with mustard paste).
Explore and experiment: Dont be afraid to experiment with the local flavor and vegetables. Read up on food blogs on how to use the locally available vegetables and substitute them for our familiar sobjis. For example, squash blossoms are excellent substitutes for kumro r phool (pumpkin blossoms).
Hope this post helped you in identifying the needs of your new rannaghor. All the best setting it up!