Bengali cuisine is often misinterpreted as a collection of only fish recipes and sweets. But there are endless numbers of vegetarian dishes consist of different tastes. Some of the very popular vegetarian recipes are ‘Dhokar Dalna’, ‘Niramish Mochar Ghonto’, ‘Chanar Dalna’, ‘Peper Dalna’, ‘Lau Shukto’ etc. Some of them are very simple and some of them are with complex intricate layers of taste like ‘Shukto’. It is the dish that is a must in any Bong occasion, be it a marriage, first rice ceremony, birthday or any other occasion. The bitterness of bitter gourd (uchhe or korola) with sweet taste of sweet potato (ranga aloo) with ‘bori’ (sun dried lentil dumpling) with other vegetables like eggplant (begun), green banana (kanchkola), potato (aloo), drumsticks (sojne danta), white radish (mulo) and flat beans (shim) makes this dish a wholesome bitter-sweet Bengali vegetarian curry. There is one exclusive spice that many Bongs prefer to use while preparing ‘Shukto’ is ‘Randhuni’. It has similarity with both looks and taste with carom seeds.
A typical Bengali platter starts with a bitter note with ‘Shukto’ then goes through savory tastes like ‘dal’ (lentil soup) with some fried veggies or veg fritters, some veg or non veg curry (torkari, dalna, ghonto etc), some non vegetarian curries with fish or meat and end with a sweet note with ‘chutney’ and sweets. So Bengali traditional spread is consists of each and every taste and flavor. Bengali style mixed vegetable curry or ‘Shukto’ is a soothing rustic bitter-sweet curry which clears your system and taste bud perfectly before you dig into the huge platter of a typical Bengali meal.
The veggies I have mentioned above are mostly available in winter. You can always substitute radish and flat beans with snake beans (borboti) and colocasia (kochu). You may use the veggies mentioned below in any combination but you cannot cook ‘Shukto’ without the bitter gourd as one of the veggies. The sundried lentil dumplings or ‘bori’ is another unavoidable ingredient of ‘Shukto’. The important thing to remember is to understand the layers of taste to be present in the gravy is bitter-sweet-creamy but never hot. Here is the way ‘Shukto’ is cooked in our home ……
- Wash all the veggies in same size and thickness. (As shown in the picture)
- Heat Mustard Oil in a wok and fry ‘Bari’ in medium-low heat and keep aside.
- Fry the eggplant pieces sprinkling some turmeric powder and salt. Take out from oil and keep aside.
- Next fry bitter gourd very well.
- Now add 2 tsp ghee in the remaining oil. Put in 1 tsp panch phoran, randhuni (optional), bay leaf, dry whole red chilli. Fry till all the spices crackle and exudes aroma.
- Now put in all other vegetables one by one and sauté in medium heat for 5-6 minutes.
- Add 1 ½ cups of water, fried bitter gourd and salt.
- Add ginger paste and sugar. Cook for 1-2 minutes and then add mustard paste. Cover and cook till all vegetables are done.
- Lastly add fried ‘bori’, fried eggplant and milk. Cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Meanwhile in a separate pan dry roast the remaining ‘panch phoran’ and crush it in a coarse powder with the help of mortar and pestle.
- Check the consistency of the gravy. If required add some water. Bring it to a boil. Add 1 tsp of flour. Mix very well.
- Transfer ‘Shukto’ in a bowl. Sprinkle the dry roasted ‘panch foran’ powder and 1 tsp ghee. Serve with steamed rice only at the beginning of the meal.
~ The bitter gourd is compulsory to ‘shukto’.
~ Traditionally all the vegetables are deep fried separately for cooking ‘Shukto’. But you can sauté all vegetables together to avoid using more oil. Just fry the bitter gourd, eggplant and ‘bori’ separately.
~ Cut all vegetables in equal size so that all vegetables can be cooked properly.