In terms of looks, aloo posto is akin to the North Indian aloo ki sabzi, but when it comes to flavour, it is difficult to find a parallel.
Despite growing up in a Probashi Bengali family in Delhi, we have tried our best to stay in touch with our roots, and food has been one of our most effective tools. Some of my food habits are so peculiarly Bengali, that it is often a struggle to explain to people about the same. For instance, the urge to have rice, even in the afternoon. And if there’s rice, how can you miss out on the jhol. Jhol, for the uninitiated, is a runny gravy made with heaps of spices. Then, to break the monotony, we need our various bhajas, the multifaceted fritters that can be made out of anything, from eggplants to potatoes to fish or pumpkin flower, nothing is off-bounds, when it comes to bhajas.
Another, rather interesting ‘Bengali’ preparation is ‘Aloo Posto’. Bengal’s love affair with potatoes is not new, ever since the tuber, was introduced to Indians by the Portuguese, Bengalis developed a special penchant for the same. Today, you can find the tuber everywhere, from biryanis, to jhol, to bhajas. Like Bhajas, Aloo Posto is also a popular side dish, except it is not fried. In fact, in terms of looks, it is quite akin to the North Indian aloo ki sabzi, but when it comes to flavour, it is difficult to find a parallel. And that is because of ‘Posto’. Posto is a Bengali word for poppy seeds or oilseeds obtained from the opium poppy. The distinctly warm and nutty Posto are ground using mortar or pestle or blended into a powder. The potatoes are then coked with this ground posto, mustard oil, green chillies and Kalonji. Making super simple preparation a powerhouse of bold and pungent flavours. The natural starch and mildness of the potatoes ensures that the overall dish is balanced.
In a video with Bong Eats, Nobel Laureate and cookbook author Abhijit Banerjee noted that Bengalis long understood the importance of ‘accents’, the sharp ones, the sour ones, the hot ones. That you did not need 20 different ingredients to make a dish flavourful, and neither could a common Bengali household afford the same. So minimal ingredients, but impactful ones were used to make dishes stand out.
While it is true, that today, Bengali cuisine is renowned for its rich and robust fish curries and mutton delicacies, but it is simple lunch combinations like Aloo Posto, Dal and Bhaat, that continue to spell comfort for millions of Bengalis, both home and abroad. Not only is this combination practical, for say, a busy day, it is also very complete in terms of flavour and nutrition. Since Bengali cuisine draws a lot from Ayurveda, this is a key factor too.
Here’s a recipe of Aloo Posto, that you must try today, for your wholesome Bengali lunch.