At Kweepees with Rakhi Dasgupta
While eating at ‘Kewpie’, an iconic Bengali restaurant in Kolkata I came across a dish called ‘Monama’. A cauliflower “shorshe” preparation slow braised in local mustard and nothing else. Rakhi Dasgupta, the owner and an authority on Bangla food demystified the unique name in our conversation later. To understand the importance of the name it is important to understand the contribution of the widows of Bengal to Bengali vegetarian cuisine. Living in out- houses and cooking with very limited ingredients, widows created a cuisine that is resourceful, highly nutritious and superbly creative. Most of their food was ‘shudho’ that is without any onion and garlic and used not more than 4 ingredients. The Dal badi that you cannot imagine the Shukto without is also a gift of the widows because lentils were the primary source of protein in their imposed vegetarian diet .Over many years , elements of this this creative food became mainstream and that is how the Bangla ranna (household kitchen) became vegetarian. Coming Back, ‘Monama’ was actually Rakhi’s great grand aunt, a widow.
What was surprising was that I got my next lesson in resourcefulness from another widow. Shanti Devi from ‘Khejarli’, a Bishnoi village outside of Jodhpur. She Raised a family of four making rotis for the local ‘Anganwadi’. Shanti Devi’s kitchen and store had less than 10 ingredients between the millets, spices, dairy and sun dried guar, ker and sangri. I had two of the most resourceful and yet the tastiest dishes I’ve ever had. One was ‘Rabodi’ a simple sabji made out of sundried jowar papads and ‘Raab’ a buttermilk drink thickened with bajra flour. Between my understanding of her language and her understanding of Hindi I definitely managed to figure out that she could cook more that 50 dishes from these ingredients.
Actually being resourceful is being Indian and the same principle applies to our kitchens. All of us remember growing up in Families where our grand moms got upset at the slightest wastage and the sabzis of the oddest vegetable parts like the Cauliflower stems were a cherished delicacy .We have always celebrated resourcefulness and Monama Just bought it all back for me .
Broken Rabodi (dried corn and Jowar papads ) – 2cups
Curd – 1/2 cup
Sesame Oil – 2 table spoon
Jeera (cumin seeds) – 1/2 tea spoon
Red chili powder – 3/4 tea spoon
Turmeric powder – 1/4 tea spoon
Coriander powder – 1 tea spoon
Salt – according to taste
(Add 4 cups Hot water to the rabodi, cover it and keep aside)
- Heat oil in a pan and add cumin seeds.
- Add red chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and salt in curd and water.
- Now add this mixture to the cumin pan and cook until the oil comes up.
- Mix boiled rabodi and water in a pan and cook it for 5 minutes