As with all dishes I have noticed each region and each family have their own recipe for these vegetarian dishes, each one claiming their recipe to be the authentic one. I would rather not get into that debate. The recipe of Shukto given below is what my mum cooked; she in turn learnt to cook it from senior members of her family.
July 25th was my mum’s fifth death anniversary, August 2nd was her 82nd birth anniversary and August 4th was this blog’s 6th anniversary. I started this blog with the intention of keeping a record of my mum’s fabulous cooking. As my mum passed away a few days short of this blog’s first anniversary, that wish of recording her dishes remained incomplete. I have added a tab (above) Ma’s Cooking listing out all the dishes that Ma cooked for this blog.
A few days before she passed away she had cooked Shukto. Bori (sun-dried lentil dumplings) is an important ingredient of this dish. A few months before my mum passed away we had visited Delhi, at Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park, the city’s Bengali hub we managed to get some boris, therefore my mum wasted no time in cooking Shukto. I remember her saying, "I have bori, now I can cook Shukto." Besides bori she also used to say that you must have plantains, shukto without bori and plantains was just not right according to her. Instead of potatoes she also preferred to use sweet potatoes.
Interestingly, this dish serves as an entrée. The Bengali meal is served in courses beginning with a bitter dish and ending with sweets. As bitter gourd (karela) is one of the ingredients in this dish, it is served first.
I decided to feature the dish in this blog. My brother got down to shooting pictures, but unfortunately I never got the opportunity of getting the detailed recipe from mum. Fortunately I had watched mum cook this dish in the past and had once also asked for the recipe. That was a long time ago, recently I managed to get all the ingredients and decided to dig into my memory and cook shukto, it tasted just like my mum’s that has emboldened me to post this recipe. What you see here is the photo of the shukto my mother cooked that day along with the photos of the vegetables she chopped that day.
The measurements are approximate; it would be wise to use your judgement.
- 2 or 3 medium sized potatoes or one sweet potato of approximately 150gms. You can use both the potatoes and the sweet potatoes.
- One bitter gourd (karela).
- One plantain
- One medium size radish
- Few boris.
- Approximately 150 to 200 pieces of aubergine (eggplant, also called brinjal in India.)
- Paanch phoron- the Bengali 5 spices comprising equal quantities of cumin seeds, nigella seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and fennel seeds.
- ½ teaspoon of ginger paste.
- Salt to taste and required quantity of oil.
Chop the vegetables as shown in the photographs above. You can, to begin with chop the potatoes as you would for thick French fries and match the shape of the aubergine, sweet potatoes, plantain and the radish to the shape of the potatoes so that there is some consistency.
As for the bitter gourd- cut the gourd into circular slices and then chop the slices length wise.
Stir fry the radish, keep aside. Likewise stir fry the bitter gourd and keep aside.
Dry roast the boris and drop them in warm water for a few minutes. This will prevent the boris from disintegrating during cooking. By allowing them to soak in the warm water the boris will at the same time be a little soft and absorb the flavours of the shukto.
Heat oil and add paanch phoron. (approximately ½ teaspoon)
When the paanch phoron seeds begin to crackle add the sweet potato and potatoes if you are using both.
Also add the plantain pieces. Allow it to cook then add the aubergine pieces.
After the vegetables have softened a bit add the fried radish and bitter gourd.
Add salt to taste and ginger paste. Stir fry for a little bit and then add water. Cover and cook.
After some of the water has evaporated add the boris. Cook till done.
Dry roast paanch phoron and dry grind it. Sprinkle this powder on the shukto before serving.
Some people in order to thicken the gravy mix a little white flour (maida) to a little milk and add it to the shukto. I have not seen my mum do it therefore I did not add the flour and milk mixture.
It tasted similar to my mum’s so I guess I got the recipe right.
What usually puts off most people about this dish is the inability to get all the ingredients at the same time. That could be one of the reasons why restaurants serving Bengali food may have this dish on their menu but seldom actually serve it. If at all they do serve it, then it is usually not the shukto that I know.
I like shukto, it is light on the stomach as it does not have overpowering masalas. I therefore plan to cook this dish even if I do not get all the ingredients, it might not be the traditional shukto but it will be a good vegetarian dish on its own, so readers I suggest you could try this even if you get a few of the vegetables listed above.