I recently bought a copy of Bengali Cooking by Chitrita Banerjee. Part cook book, part autobiography and part of social commentary, I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to enhance his/her knowledge of Bengali cuisine. However, this book is not for the average cooking enthusiast (though there is a detailed glossary of terms and a few suggested menus at the end) as without a fleeting familiarity with the land and its people, the feelings of nostalgia which this book so easily evokes and which is so integral to the whole culinary experience, will be lost. Besides most of the recipes are not exact in nature and assume the reader is familiar with the kitchen and its many ways. On the other hand folks who are in touch with their roots might find this book too simplistic. As I belong to neither one nor the other group I thoroughy enjoyed reading the Chritrita Banerjee's descriptions of rural Bengal and her explanations of the various customs (some of which I carry with me till this day). For me it was like listening to one's favourite grandparent...something I missed out on while growing up.
As I walked by the greens section of the grocery section this weekend, I kept thinking about the "luxuriant greens" found along the waterways of East Bengal and about kalmi, kachu, koloi and other lyrical sounding greens she mentions in the book. Nah, shen-choy, bok choy and the choy words just don't have the same ring. And in between all this the Boy pointed out beet greens to me...yeah, beet shak...now that is a sign you don't ignore. So I grabbed two bunches of fresh beet greens with baby beets still attached and headed home and cooked it according to one of the many ways, Chitrita Banerjee lists in her book for cooking greens. Please note that mustard oil is essential to the dish and gives it a characteristic pungency. You may substitute it with peanut oil, in whihc case season the beets with a teaspoon of dry mustard.
Beet Greens - 2 bunches, chopped without the tough stem part
Beet - 1 medium, chopped into small cubes
Garlic - 1 large clove, minced
Panch Phoron -1 tbsp
Dry Red Chillies - 2, broken
Mustard Oil - 1 tbsp
1. Heat oil, add the panch phoron and red chillies.
2. Once the seasoning has started to sputter and aromatic, add the chopped beet and stir for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the the garlic and let the beet cook.
4. After the beet is half cooked, add the beet greens and season with salt.
5. Cover and cook till done. Check for seasoning one last time and serve with dal and rice.