Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sovereign State #14: Bangladesh

The Menu:
Bengali Biryani (Spiced Basmati Rice with Pike)
Palak Masoor Dal (Red Lentils with Spinach and Fenugreek Leaves)
Chingri Malai Curry (Spicy Bengali Prawn Curry)

Okay kids, open your geology books.  Bangladesh is not part of India.  It was once but it's not anymore.  It was also known as East Pakistan for a while as well.  A couple of revolutions later the Bengali people forcefully freed themselves from the tyranny of the British and Pakistani rule to become their own sovereign nation.  Relatively peaceful since the 1970s the only threats Bengalis have had to face (aside from extreme poverty) are from man eating Bengal tigers and venomous vipers.

The cuisine of Bangladesh takes a few cues  a little from it's neighbors and being a fairly new independent country, it struggles to separate it's own culinary traditions from that of it's former landlords.  However, like any place creating it's own identity, Bangladesh is slowly starting to show the rest of the world it's own unique traditions and culture.  What is authentic Bengali cuisine?  Authentic just means honest in my opinion.  Every country has their own cuisine.  Every region of every country has their own cuisine.  Every cook from every region of every country has their own specific way to make these dishes.  If a Bengali makes a dish that is different than the way her friend down the street makes it, is it any less authentic?  The world is full of uniqueness, and if you stop and look around you just might learn something new.  Or at least rediscover something great.

Bengali Biryani is a tasty dish basmati rice cooked with toasted spices such as green cardamom pods, turmeric, cloves, and cinnamon cooked with with fish marinated in yogurt and spices.  Traditionally the Bengalis use a native fish called hilsa but I was not able to find such a fish here in Seattle.  I was told that the closest thing to it here was pike or shad.  I got some freshwater shad and after marinating it for an hour or two in the spiced yogurt I topped the fragrant rice with the de-boned fish and continued to steam until done.  The recipe I found had a few fundamental flaws in it and when I cook this dish again (which I will with some tweaks) I'll pull back on a few of the spices as they overtook any flavor that the fish once had.  I could see the beauty in the dish though and I know it can be great.

Asafoetida (also known as devil dung, stink gum, and food of the gods) is a strange spice.  Primarily used in Indian and Bengali cooking, it sort of smells like a roast beef dinner, salty blood, and ripe cheese all at once.  It also reduces flatulence so it's got that going for it.  Upon first smell asafoetida did not win my heart over.  However when you toast the spice in ghee (clarified butter), something lovely happens.  It takes on a nutty mild flavor similar to sauteed onion and garlic.  My cupboard has been taken over by the smell (which I have to say, it's grown on me) and my other spices are threatening to kick out their new roommate.  A Bengali dish that uses the pungent spice is Palak Masoor Dal, which is a soupy red dal (lentil) with other curry-esque spices and spinach and fenugreek leaves.  The dal is tasty, and unique with a slightly sour meaty taste (in a good way, not in a rotten carcass kind of way).  I'm now curious to cook other dishes with the interesting spice.  Asafoetida ice cream anyone?  Yeah, I didn't think so.

I love me some prawn curry.  Chingri Malai Curry is a tasty version of the dish with a few interesting spices to turn things on their heads a little bit.  The mustard seeds give the prawns a tart pungent kick and the toasted coriander and cumin bring an earthiness that a lot of curries miss out on (no, those aren't rat droppings).  It's a tomato based sauce infused with lemon and hot Indian green chilies.  Spicy, and umami, and sour and delicious.  Chingri Malai is a Bengali dish.  Everyone has a version of curry but this one is unique to Bangladesh.  My version may not have been one hundred percent authentic (but pretty damn close) but the respect and passion for cooking was there and hopefully I did the country of Bangladesh proud.

For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States


thelonelyradish.com said...

I love me some facts with my posts :) This all looks delicious.

Violet Séverine said...

me too! ;) Thank you dear.