Sunday, July 15, 2018

SHUKTO (Mixed Vegetable Stew W/Coconut & Spices - BENGALI AVIYAL!)

Shukto
Shukto is a delicious Bengali mixed vegetable stew served with rice typically at the beginning of the meal. When I made it first, it was so reminiscent of the South Indian Aviyal, we called it the Bengali Aviyal!

I have adapted the recipe to make it dairy, gluten, and any added oil/fat free since the traditional milk, flour, and added fats are eliminated. The addition of sugar also is not needed as the sweet potato adds enough sweetness to the dish; but if you wish, a date or a teaspoon or two of maple syrup/jaggery maybe added. I added a little bit of coconut (yes, it adds a bit of fat) and rice to make the Shukto creamy; it is absolutely fabulous!

Although bitter melon is a traditional ingredient, it is an acquired taste; not even many Indian people like this bitter veggie! Besides, I did not have either fresh or frozen bitter melon or drumsticks. But even with all these omissions or perhaps because of them :D, the dish turned out quite delectable. 

NOTES:

Typically the veggies are cut lengthwise into wedges/julienne pieces equal in size and thickness. Some may need to be cut into 4, 6, or 8 wedges/julienne pieces depending on their size.

Turmeric is optional; however, I prefer to add it for all the medicinal value it brings to the table as well as its golden hue.

Coconut milk maybe substituted for the coconut; use about half a cup.

I leave the green chiles whole with just the barest slit at the blossom ends to make the dish mild as well as their removal easy. They maybe cored and finely minced also while still keeping the dish mild.

Panch Phodan, Phoran, or Foran is a spice mix that means Five Spices with equal amounts of the following whole seeds - brown mustard, nigella, cumin, fenugreek and fennel; check this recipe for details - it is used in making Kadhi, Zucchini With Besan, etc.

Ajwain is closely related to celery so celery seeds maybe used instead if ajwain is unavilable. 

For a traditional Shukto, add 1 Bitter Melon, 2 Moringa pods known as Indian Drumsticks, fresh or frozen, 2 Taro roots, etc. Other vegetables such as Ridge gourd, Bottle gourd, and/or Zucchini maybe added also.

Another ingredient is vadis or boris prepared from mung or other beans- these maybe purchased or homemade; they are usually cooked in oil until lightly browned and added to the stew towards the end of cooking. 

Serves: 6

INGREDIENTS

Masala for grinding:
1 Tbsp White Poppy seeds (optional)
1 Tbsp Mustard Seeds
1 Tbsp fresh Ginger
1 tsp uncooked Rice
1/4 cup Fresh or 2 Tbsp Unsweetened dried Coconut

Stew:

1 Green Banana, plantain or regular
1 Potato
1-2 large Sweet Potatoes
1 smallish piece Daikon/Korean radish or a handful of the small red ones
1 Japanese/Chinese type Eggplant
1 handful any type Green Beans/Hyacinth Beans
1 tsp Panchphoran
2 pinchhes Ajwain seeds (optional)
1-2 Indian Bay Leaves
1/4 tsp Asafetida (optional)
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1-3 hot Green Chiles, ends slit OR cored and minced
Salt to taste
3-4 cups Boiling Water 
2-4 Tbsp Cilantro, coarsely chopped

METHOD:

1. Make the Masala:

Soak mustard, poppy seeds and coconut in a little water for 10 minutes.

Make a smooth paste of the soaked coconut mixture along with the ginger adding water as necessary using a good blender. Pour into a bowl; use a cup of water to sluice the blender to gather up all of the masala and add to the bowl. Set aside.

2. Prep the veggies:

Wash all the veggies, drain. Lightly peel the deep green skin of the banana/plantain - a peeler makes it an easy job. Regular and sweet potatoes need not be peeled if they are organic; just scrub them clean with a veggie brush. Trim stems and tips from radish, eggplant and green beans.

Bowl # 1. Cut the radish, green banana, potato, and sweet potato into 2 inch long wedges/juliennes and keep together; these take a little longer to cook.

Bowl # 2. Cut eggplant and green beans (and other tender veggies that do not need much cooking time) into same size wedges/juliennes as the other veggies.

3. Make Shukto:

Heat a large wok or Dutch oven over medium heat and add panchphoron and ajwain. When the seeds start to pop, add the bay leaves and stir for a few seconds.

Add turmeric, asafetida (if using), green chiles, salt and the ground masala. 

Add the contents of Bowl # 1 (radish, green banana, etc) to the pot along with enough of the boiling water to cover the veggies; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover the with a lid. Cook for about 7 -8 minutes on low heat.

If using bitter melon and drumsticks, add them after bowl # 1 has cooked for 3-4 minutes.

Stir in the contents of Bowl # 2 (eggplant), add more boiling water if needed and simmer until the veggies are cooked, about 7-10 minutes or so.

Check the stew and add a little more boiling water as needed since Shukto should have plenty of sauce and not be too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in the cilantro and let rest for 10 minutes.

Fish out the green chiles (if they have been left whole) from Shukto and discard or offer to those who like to add a little extra spice to their plate.

Serve hot with steamed rice. Enjoy!!

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