Shukto (Bittersweet vegetable medley with Bengali spices)

You know, left on my own I would perhaps not have written this post. And that is largely because I wouldn't have cooked shukto in the first place. This however doesn't mean that I have anything against the dish. Of course I don't. It's food after all! Okay fine, it contains eggplant and all, but I make it without that. So it's cool. It's a cult dish in Bengali households, something without which a Bengali food series CANNOT be complete. But cooking shukto is a monstrous task. I can't even imagine doing the entire thing on my own. Because let's face it, I love to cook and all, but peeling and chopping almost 50 kinds of vegetables (exaggerations are allowed on this blog) is not my idea of fun. The reason why I managed to pull it through this time was because I had Ma around who religiously did the not so fancy things of washing and chopping the vegetables (and adding an extra heaped tablespoon of sugar when I was not looking!).
Now what is shukto? Shukto is a bittersweet vegetable curry. Ewww!! Yes, that had been my reaction till the time I discovered that the best way to enjoy it was with a couple of green chillies and a dash of lime. The acidity and heat from those two components perfectly balance the bittwersweetness of the shukto. I know it's not the "proper" way to eat shukto and you totally run the risk of tampering with Bangali's pride...but who cares? You can use pretty much any unappetising vegetable in shukto, something that you wouldn't eat on its own. It's a great way to blindly gulp down all those veggies that you can't tolerate. But if you are as sly as me you would filter out the juice along with the potatoes and bori (and maybe a couple of pepe and kaanchkola) and pretend that you've had a lifetime's share of awful vegetables. See, I am such a preacher of incredibly good ideas!
Serves: An Army (Okay, 8-10 people)
Ingredients:

Potato, cut into wedges: 2
Eggplant, diced: 2 small (I skipped the eggplants as I'm allergic to it. But it's absolutely essential to shukto)
Sweet Potato/Ranga Alu, diced: 2
Green Plantains/Kachkola, cut onto wedges: 2
Papaya, cut into wedges: One-third of One
Drumsticks/DaaNta: 8-10 2 inch pieces
Long Beans/Borboti, cut lengthwise into 2 inch pieces: 3-4
Pointed gourd/Potol, diced: 2
Bitter gourd/Uchche, sliced finely: 1
Sundried lentil fritters/Bori: 10
Bay leaf: 1
Mustard seeds: 1 tsp
Fenugreek seeds: 1 tsp
Radhuni seeds: 1 tsp (Radhuni is apparently the key to shukto. I asked my mother what can replace it, she just smirked. But I guess paanchphoron or wild celery seeds might help a little bit, if you don't have radhuni)
Radhuni paste: 1.5 tbsp
Mustard paste: 1.5 tbsp
Coconut paste: 4 tbsp
Ginger paste: 3/4 tbsp
Ghee: 1 tbsp
Oil: as required
Salt, to taste
Sugar: 2-3 tbsp
Milk: 1/2 cup
Roasted paanchphoron masala:1 tsp (Just dry roast paanchphoron and grind them into a powder)

Method:

1.Heat some oil in a non-stick pan and fry the boris, eggplant, bittergourd, pointed gourd and green plantain separately. Drain and set aside.

2. In a deep-bottomed kadhai/wok, heat a little oil. Add bay leaf and let it splutter for 30 seconds. Now add the radhuni, mustard and fenugreek seeds. Keep stirring.

3. Now tumble the uncooked vegetables - potato, sweet potato, papaya, drumsticks, and long beans. Cover and let them cook for 10-12 minutes or till cooked through. Stir from time to time.

4. Add the fried veggies apart from the bittergourd and boris followed by the mustard paste, coconut paste and radhuni paste and salt. Mix well. Add just enough water to submerge the vegetables. Cover and cook for another 10-12 minutes till the vegetables are well done and absorb the flavours completely.

5. Now add the boris and bittergourd, mix well. Add ginger paste and milk and bring to a boil till gravy reaches your desired consistency.

6. Add sugar and ghee, give a final stir remove from heat. Sprinkle roasted paanchphoron masala and serve hot as the first course with plain rice.
Eat Like a Bong: Day 13
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