We have been followers of the blog Bong Mom’s CookBook (bongcookbook. com) for quite a while now. This reviewer has often turned to Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta’s trusty Bengali recipes on evenings when something quick but interesting is to be rustled up for dinner. So it was with a familiarity associated with knowing someone forever that we leafed through the Bong Mom’s Cookbook, Datta’s book based on her food blog.
The book is semi autobiographical – it records Datta’s life, her past, her attempt at navigating the tricky turns of Bengali cooking, and her life as a working mother in the United States. In between are woven recipes relegated to categories such as breakfast, dal and vegetarian fare (yes, Bengalis do turn herbivore occasionally), fish, meat, tiffin or snacks and a couple of pages on chutneys and dessert.
The narrative structure and synthesis of style and language recall her blog posts. There are moments that will elicit a few chuckles, and lots of clever observations about how the Bengali reacts to food, not a few of them requiring more than a passing familiarity with Banglaphilia, alas.
But the recipes will work for anyone. They remain true to their source culture, with little surprises that the blogger adds – for instance, an alu posto or potatoes cooked in poppy paste but with an addition of mushrooms or the bhaja mung’er dal or roasted mung dal with shrimp. We tried recreating the dal; having always eaten this fragrant roasted dish cooked with cauliflowers and peas and occasionally at wedding feasts with a delicious rohu fish head dunked into it. The dal was easy to make because of the precise instructions, right from dry roasting and boiling the mung to creating a bubbling hot-tempered broth that let the flavours of cauliflower and peas stand out, a clear hallmark of Bengali cuisine.
Bengali food is not overwhelmed by too many spices or masalas, instead every ingredient is allowed to blossom with its own individual flavour in the recipe. The shrimps added a nice crunchy touch to this otherwise vegetarian dal, but we would suggest you stick to the measure of dal strictly mentioned in the recipe, or else the shrimp will get lost. Our other attempt at making the author’s mother’s version of gol morich murgi or chicken cooked with black pepper was also met with success. The few key ingredients required in the recipe such as fresh ginger garlic paste, freshly crushed black pepper powder, lime juice and ghee worked wonders for the chicken. The dish was ready in 20 minutes and the addition of fried onions was just what was needed to perk this light dish up. Perfect to eat with roti or rice, we even mopped up the leftovers with bread the next day.
But we do wish that more of the gorgeous food photographs from the blog could have accompanied the recipes in this cookbook, instead of the token few that have been placed at the beginning and the end of the tome.
Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta, Collins, R350
By Amrita Bose on May 23 2013