I had been following Sandeepa’s blog for a few years. Her stories always regaled me and her simple yet clever cooking always got me interested. When she announced that she was writing a book, I think I began checking her Facebook and Twitter updates with a greater sense of urgency. I must admit, the book makes it all more than worth it.
Bong Mom’s Cookbook follows the same inviting, conversational style that one falls in love with on her blog. The book is not your standard cookbook—it does not have a picture for every recipe; heck it does not have a recipe for every page, either! What it does have, is a treasure of warm memories from her childhood and early years in a new country interspersed with what I like to think of as recipe guidelines—recipes for real people. None of Sandeepa’s recipes are rigid or intimidating; instead, they offer you a window to a beautiful cuisine. Sandeepa invites you to believe that Bengali cooking needn’t be complex and initimidating—she urges you to see that it is quite possible to rustle up a delicious and indulgent breakfast of Luchi and Sada Aloo Chorchori without breaking into sweat. She regales you with stories of her school lunchboxes (and the ones she packs for her daughters), sends you off on a trip to your own childhood and leads you to look forward to elaborate sounding, yet easy-to-do mutton curries that will leave you with a warm glow inside.
And no, before you ask me if it contains a recipe for the perfect rosogolla, let me tell you it does not. It does, however, have easier recipes, lesser-known recipes of mishti—Patishapta and Malpua (the Bengali version, with fennel seeds and raisins) that will make you happy (and high) enough.
One of the most iconic elements of this book that sets it apart from the rest in its family is an entire chapter dedicated to vegetarian Bengali fare. Aptly named “By God! Bongs also eat Veggies!”, this chapter dispels all myths about Bongs being purely carnivorous. Aromatic spices waft through the pages as she talks about achieving “mashimadom” through dispensing bori (dried lentil dumplings) and fragrant Cauliflower Roast with Coconut. I can’t wait to try the Dhokar Dalna, but not before I read the “The New Bengali Vegetarian in a Box” for the fifth time. Such finesse of narrative, such soulful recitation of fond memories and is hard to come by, these days—and almost never in a cookbook. Take this character sketch on the Bengali “tiffin” for instance:
For a Bengali, jolkhabar or tiffin is as important a meal as breakfast, lunch and dinner. They revel in their “cha er sathe ta” culture, a take-off on the British high tea, where light sandwiches and pastries are replaced by liberal helpings of mustard oil. Depending on the gravity of the occasion, it can range from simplistic to an elaborate samosa-fish fry-luchi affair. At the most basic level of snack is muri-chanachur—puffed rice mixed with spicy chanachur—a homebody cousin of the sassy jhaalmuri.
What makes the “cook” part of the book most appealing for me is, Sandeepa does not attempt to trap you in mortar and pestle, or painstaking from-scratch coconut milk. She invites you to use frozen parathas so you can rustle up egg rolls in a jiffy—and that’s just what you need.
I made the Kolkata Egg Rolls from The Bong Mom’s Cookbook yesterday—they were done in no time and devoured in even lesser—bits of green chili, sliced red onion, fried egg, and Maggi Hot and Sweet Sauce et al.
Now you know what would make a great birthday gift this season.
This article was written by Gourmet Table Editor, Saee Khandekar.