Bengali infused take on Purim
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Bengali infused take on Purim

Marla Cohen is a freelance writer. She lives in Rockland County.

Purim, the raucous holiday that urges us to eat, drink, and be merry enough so that we cannot differentiate between the names of Haman, the villain, and Mordechai, the hero, often arrives in the calendar at around the same time as the Indian holiday of Holi.

Holi, also known as the Holiday of Colors, resembles Purim in spirit, permeating the streets of India with joyous exuberance. People smear one another with bright paints, or squirt colored powders at one another in celebration. The stories that accompany each holiday share some similarities, including a righteous hero who refuses to bow down to a wicked king and a plot to kill the hero and his followers.

So “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles: Exploring the Cuisine of Eastern India” arrives just in time for us to find something festive and a little different to serve at our Purim seudah, the traditional meal eaten on the day of the holiday.

The book is not written specifically for people who keep kosher, but it has many vegetarian options and recipes that can be prepared as written or adapted to the kosher kitchen. Written by Westchester resident Rinku Bhattacharya, it gives a sense of her Kolkata childhood and a bit of history and geography about the Bengal region, often known as the “land of rivers.”

Bhattacharya has adapted the foods she loved from her childhood home and thrown in influences from other countries, such as Tanzania and Kenya, where her father was posted on business. She offers simple instructions and straightforward definitions of Bengali ingredients and techniques. Her approach seems more tailored to a Western kitchen than are many Indian cookbooks, which overwhelm with a plethora of ingredients and instructions that would daunt the best time manager.

In the Purim story, in which the Jewish Esther marries the Persian King Ahashverosh, and later saves her people, the king rules from “India to Ethiopia” (from Hodu to Kush). Hodu in Hebrew means both India and turkey, and in some circles (not mine!) turkey has become a Purim dish.

In that spirit, I’ve adapted Bhattacharya’s recipe for koftar jhol, or curried turkey meatballs, for your Purim feast.

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

Meatballs

1 lb. ground turkey
3 green chilies, finely chopped
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. garam masalao
1 tsp. cayenne
2 tbsp. lime juice
1/3 c chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. vegetable oil

Curry sauce

1 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1 red onion
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
3 green chilies, finely chopped
2 tsp. commercial curry powder
1 tsp. sugar
2 c water, vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 c light coconut milk

Preparation

Meatballs

Heat the oven to 375 F. Mix the turkey chilies, ginger, garam masala, cayenne pepper, lime juice, cilantro and oil. Grease a baking pan. Shape the meat into walnut-size balls and place in a single layer on the pan. Bake the meatballs for 15 minutes, turning them once.

For the sauce:

While the meatballs bake, heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the cardamom pods, clove and cinnamon stick and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring well for about 10 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the tomatoes, chilies, curry powder, salt, and sugar and cook until the tomatoes are soft.

Mix in two cups of water or broth and bring to a simmer. Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and heat through. Serve with basmati rice.

Indian spice blend available at Indian markets and specialty food stores like Fairway

For another recipe from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles: Exploring the Cuisine of Eastern India,” go to the Cooking with Beth Blog at www.jstandard.com.

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