For as long as I was in Kolkata (26 years), Durga Pujo had meant something completely different to me. While the rest of city worshipped, hopped pandals, sang, danced, dressed in the most colorful apparels, ate at seasonally proliferating eateries, and photographed the resplendent city, I spent (although I did all these too), willingly and cheerfully, most of my time in kitchens (both family and industrial). My mom prepares the ritualistic bhog for our community pujo and my dad is a caterer, which means that pujo seasons are especially busy for our family. Given my genetic predisposition to culinary adventures, I spent my pujos either helping my mother in the kitchen, or observing my dad give instructions to the line cooks in the tarpaulin covered terrace kitchens in pujo baris that perpetually smelled of luchi and bel-pata. I spent my pujos around large brass pots of melting khichuri, delicately spiced seasonal vegetables, eggplant fritters, the last of the year’s mangoes smelted in sweet chutneys, and sweet and creamy rice puddings.
So, when I say I miss pujo in Kolkata, I mean that I miss woking in my family kitchen with my parents and friends. There is a thrill to working with banana leaves, coconuts, ghee, and gobindobhog chal as the dhaks drum up their invigorating rhythm, while your friends gasp in awe of your potol coring and shukto making skills. 😀 I do, of course, miss the meaningful chaos of Kolkata during pujo, the glimmer of the million lights and the elegant art that adorn the city, the intoxicating clouds of incense and dhuno that engulf the city, the joy of celebration, and the warmth of togetherness; but pujo, for me, is mostly about Bengali food. It is impossible to recreate the sight, sound, and feel of Kolkata pujo in the US, but, luckily, the smell can be easily imitated (minus the bel-pata), thanks to the desi ghee, and dhuno that I smuggle annually.
This pujo season, I will share with you some of my most favorite family recipes that compensate for the lack of Kolkata pujo atmosphere in my life. The first is a bhetki macher paturi or bekti wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. The only problem is that I get neither bhetki, nor banana leaves in the US (and neither thor, nor mocha) :P. So, I use other leafy vegetables for wrapping. Cabbage leaves, kale leaves, and mustard greens work fine. I use flaky white fish like cod, tilapia, or flounder instead of bhetki. I tried with salmon for the first time, and that came out just fine too.
Macher Paturi recipe
Level: easy Prep time: 10 mins Cook time: 15 mins Total time: 25 mins Serves: 2
250 grams of tilapia/salmon/cod (2 filets)
2 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp ground mustard
2 tbsp grated coconut
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp mustard or canola oil
salt to taste
green chilies to taste
1 whole cabbage
Cut each fish filet into 2-4 pieces, depending on the size.
Put all the ingredients in a grinder, except the cabbage. Using a little water make into a paste.
Marinate the fish in this paste and let sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
If you are using banana leaves, cut away the hard stem like portions. Then cut each leaf into several pieces depending on the size of the fish filets. Ideally the wraps should be three times the size of the fish, otherwise the marinade will escape.
If you are using cabbage leaves, remove the core of the cabbage with a sharp knife and immerse the cabbage in a pot of salted boiling water. Let it sit for 3-4minutes. Remove and refresh with ice cold water. Now, very carefully, peel off the leaves one by one. You want to use the soft pliable leaves for wrapping. Carefully remove the stem like portions from the leaves to prevent them from breaking when folded. Individually wrap each piece of fish with a leaf. After wrapping, tightly secure the wraps with kitchen twine.
Alternately, you can remove the outer most leaves from the cabbage (because they have the largest surface area), place a piece of marinated fish in the hollow of the leaf along the ridge, bring the edges together and secure with toothpicks (as shown in the pictures).
You can either steam the paturis for 12-14 minutes, using a bamboo or metal steamer. Or you can bake them in an oven preheated to 350°F. Arrange the wraps on a greased baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the fish is done. To avoid scorching drizzle some oil on the wraps before baking. Serve with steamed white rice.