When I go to a Bengali restaurant for takeout, I usually overlook the greasy curried meat dishes or the fish floundering in murky masala waters and the bhortas that usually fall short of the homemade version. At most Bengali places, these dishes are laid out buffet style so you know exactly what you’re getting. I usually opt for one of the Biryanis (chicken or goat) and a side of some sort of mixed vegetable stir fry. These things always get me salivating. I guess it’s because they strike a fabulous balance of spice and sweetness. I’m not the type of person who goes gaga for sweet and spicy, but the sweetness in this dish is brought out by the slow caramelization of the vegetables (rather than sugar or honey) and just rounds out the flavor from the usual round up of spices, plus the extra Bengali zinger: pach phorom. Pach phorom is a combination of five aromatic seeds: black mustard, cumin, black cumin (also known as nigella), fenugreek (methi) and fennel. It can be found at any Indian grocery alongside all the usual spices. They have a licorice flavor, which adds an extra dimension to the dish’s flavor profile. This is important for vegetable dishes that have to compete with a follow up course of a rich meat or curried fish dish. This is something my mom made at the beginning of the week to just last the course of the whole week. It starts out with a base of softened onions, spices and garlic/ginger paste. You can play around with the vegetables to add your favorites, but to start, I used the two vegetables I found consistent in most Bengali mixed vegetable dishes: cauliflower and cabbage. Now, the two put together makes A LOT, so make sure your wok or pot is large enough to accommodate everything. I had to add the vegetables slowly, allowing some of the cabbage at the bottom to wilt and decrease in volume before adding more, and mixing to combine. While that goes, you’ll want to work on the second batch of veggies in a separate pan. I used just 2 cups of plain old frozen mixed vegetables. You can use the equivalent amount of zucchini, pumpkin, butternut squash, peas, string beans, whatever you like as long as you have a balance of green, orange, and white veggies. The cauliflower and cabbage steam in the wok for about 20 minutes. They get all tender and sweet. I ended up needing a shocking amount of salt but feel free to start out small and gradually increase to taste. Top with fresh cilantro. Serve alongside rice or naan or stuff inside a pita for a delicious wrap!
- 1/4 cup light olive oil or veg oil
- half a spanish onion, diced small
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp pach phorom
- 1/4 tsp chili powder (or more if you like it hotter)
- 2 tsp garlic/ginger paste (or 2 tsp minced garlic and/or ginger)
- 1 head of cabbage, cut into half inch strips
- 1 head of cauliflower, stalks and florets cut into half inch pieces
- about 5 green chilis (optional) with slits cut into them (also optional)
- 2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tbsp light olive oil or veg oil
- 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 3 handfuls of cilantro
- Heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and let soften for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, pach phorom, chili powder and garlic/ginger paste. Stir to combine. Add the cabbage in batches, allowing the bottom most wilt a bit before adding the next batch. Continue until all the cabbage is in the pot. Stir to combine. Next add the cauliflower, one batch at a time, ensuring everything gets an even coating of the oil/onion/spice mixture.
- Add the green chilis, salt, pepper, and water and stir to combine. Put the lid on and let it steam. It will take approximately 15 to 20 minutes for all the vegetables to cook through. Occasionally lift up the lid, and stir the vegetables, bringing the bottom vegetables to the top so everything gets an even cooking. Take care towards the end not to break apart the cauliflower florets.
- In a separate shallow fry pan, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium high heat. Add the frozen vegetables and remaining cumin, coriander and turmeric. Season to taste. Break apart with a wooden spoon and stir to make sure everything gets seasoned and cooked evenly. When heated through, turn off the heat.
- When the cauliflower and cabbage are cooked through, add the mixed vegetables and cilantro and stir to combine. Add a teaspoon or two more salt, according to taste.