Planning A Bengali Vegetarian Lunch? Try These Delectable Dishes
Image Credit: Shukto | Image Credit: Google

Bengalis are frequently referred to as "Bhaat-e-macch-e Bengalis," but not many may know that their vegetarian fare is no less, proving otherwise. Though Bengalis enjoy fish, but their vegetarian dishes include different kinds of leafy, green, and non-leafy root vegetables. Since there is no inclusion of onion and garlic, panch phoron, or the five-spice blend and ginger plays an important role in most dishes.

History Of Food

According to food historians, Bengali vegetarian cooking was initiated under the influence of the Vaishnavas. This major trend began during the medieval period when the Vaishnavas, especially the followers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, gave up eating non-vegetarian items. The Hindu monks' anti-slaughter philosophy evolved, resulting in the expansion of the Bengali vegetarian diet and a new chapter in vegetable cooking.

In the 14th century, the Vaishnava followers of saint Sri Chaitanya boosted the addition of vegetarian dishes to Bengali cuisine. It is believed that the Vaishnavas were the ones who included dal in the Bengali diet as a substitute for fish protein.

In the early 18th and 19th centuries, Hindu widows from the Brahmin and Kayastha castes were forced to give up eating fish and meat. This resulted in the innovation of a rich and diverse range of Bengali vegetarian dishes. Under the umbrella of a strictly patriarchal society, it is said that the widows had to live a celibate lifestyle, void of all pleasures, to stay pure and committed to their deceased husbands. As a result, they were forbidden from preparing dishes that included meat, fish, onions, garlic, and strong spices that were thought to be aphrodisiacs.

Having been left with limited options, slowly, the innovative dishes made from the available veggies by the widows gave rise to Bengali vegetarian dishes. They introduced items like poppy seeds (posto) to the boiled potatoes, thus giving the dish the name "aloo posto." They also came up with delicacies like labra torkari, begun pora anddhoka'rdalna, a curry made of lentil paste shaped like dumplings.

If you are planning to explore Bengali vegetarian cuisine, here are some of the dishes you should try:

1. Shukto: Bengalis adore sweet treats, but when it comes to the subtly bitter shukto, they are the masters. It is a mixed vegetable recipe with the goodness of raw banana, potato, karela (bitter gourd), drumsticks, and beans. It is the first thing that is served as an appetiser at any Bengali spread.

2. Dhoka’r Dalna: One of the most popular vegetarian dishes among Bengalis is dhoka’r dalna. Dhoka is made of steamed lentil paste that is given the shape of a cube or triangle. It is usually made with chana dal and dried white peas. The dumpling-shaped lentils are then fried and added to the curry, called dalna.

3. Basanti Pulao: This traditional Bengali rice dish is served during Saraswati or Durga Puja. This delicious rice recipe pairs well with dishes like dhokar dalna or aloo’r dom. Basanti Pulao is slightly sweet and prepared with the fragrant, small-grain "Gobindobhog" rice.

4. Aloo Posto: When potatoes were introduced to India by the Portuguese in the 16th century, they immediately became one of the major ingredients in Bengali cooking. Bengalis started experimenting and came up with many unique dishes. One of them is called "aloo posto." Boiled potatoes are cooked in a mix of poppy seeds and mustard oil, and kalonji is a delicacy loved by millions.

5. Mocha’r Ghonto: It is a vegetarian dish made with banana blossom. In mocha’r ghonto, coconut and chola (Bengal gram) are added to enhance the flavour. The banana blossom is washed, made into a coarse paste, and cooked with ginger and jeera as phoron. It is mainly served with rice.

6. Chana'r Dalna: It is a traditional Bengali vegetarian recipe made with cottage cheese and potatoes. The cottage cheese is made into balls, or koftas, and cooked in a lightly spiced and subtly sweet curry with potatoes. In Chana'r Dalna there is no inclusion of onions and garlic, but rather a fresh ground paste of cumin and ginger.