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Exploring the cuisine of eastern India


Bengalis are one of the most food and culture obsessed people in India. They are commonly compared to the French in that regard, as dining and entertaining are such an integral part of their culture. What makes Bengali cuisine so unique is the variations and complexities that are a result of practice and delicate subtlety. Now a new cookbook brings this distinctive culinary experience to home kitchens in the US. In ‘The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles’, author Rinku Bhattacharya explains the food and culture of her native homeland in Eastern India and showcases the recipes that are at the heart of Bengali life.

The book gets its title from the five-spice blend Bengalis call panch phoron. This spice blend consists of five whole spices in equal proportions: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fenugreek seeds, and fennel seeds and is at the heart of Bengali flavors and the individual spices form the basis of the Bengali pantry.

“The Bengali diet leans heavily on vegetables, rice and fish. Bengali cooks prepare a variety of imaginative dishes using the many types of vegetables that grow in the region year round,” Rinku explains. “A traditional Bengali meal sequence involves eating through a rainbow assortment of vegetables, and then finishing off usually with a fish dish, but sometimes mutton or goat. Since Bengalis rely on seasonal foods and usually eat what is available, meals are prepared in small quantities so cooking is a daily ritual.”

With over 180 easy-to-follow recipes incorporating a balance of traditional and contemporary recipes, The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles showcases the best of the Bengali table. The book begins with a thorough introduction to Bengali culture and cooking, including sections on spices, ingredients, and equipment. Recipe chapters cover Rice & Breads, Lentils, Fried Vegetables and Fritters, Vegetarian First Courses, Vegetarian Entrees, Eggs, Fish, Chicken & Poultry, Meat Dishes, Chutneys & Relishes, Drinks & Snacks, and Desserts.

Rinku has adapted the cuisine for the American kitchen and markets making it easy and accessible to find ingredients. Some of the recipes in the book include tempting dishes like Eggs Cooked in Caramelized Onion Sauce; Crisp Lentil Cakes in Curried Gravy; Lentil-Stuffed Puffy Breads; Tart Pigeon Peas and Green Mangoes; Lightly Spiced Pan-Sautéed Okra; Green Plantain and Taro Cakes; Golden Cauliflower in Orange Mustard Sauce; Slow-Cooked Rice with Saffron, Shrimp and Rosewater; Steamed Mustard Fish Wrapped in Banana Leaves; Red Snapper in a Coconut Tamarind Sauce; Pickle-Spiced Lamb Curry; Coconut and Cardamom Fudge, and Milk Cake.

The Bengal region is made up of the Indian state of West Bengal and the country of Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal). The food of this area comes from a long history of influences, both foreign and South Asian and stems from the historical invasions and trade links it had with many parts of the world.

For anyone who loves to cook and experience food of different cultures, The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles is a fascinating culinary journey without ever having to leave the kitchen.

Rinku Bhattacharya was born in Kolkata, and moved to the US about 25 years ago. A doctorate in business, she has been teaching cooking classes for the last seven years at her home, community college, and Whole Foods Market in Westchester, NY, where she lives.

Rinku has a natural passion and love for regional Indian cuisine and uses it to share and connect with her cultural heritage. She has travelled extensively and specializes in adapting Indian cuisine in global environments and kitchens. Her deep commitment to using seasonal ingredients for Indian cooking is reflected in her recipes. Rinku writes a popular blog, Cooking in Westchester, and a weekly column "Spices and Seasons" for the Journal News online, Small Bites.

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