For ten days in May, Chennai burns. The locals call it “Agni Nakshetram” or “under the fire star.” The phrase has everything to make it a true Chennai term: it’s an amazing amalgamation of a reference to heat and astrology! This time, according to my reliable sources, the agni nakshetram started on May 4th.
Generally during such hot days, meat takes an effort to consume. I tend to stick to curds, yogurts, ice creams, and other cooling drinks. (Before some of you point it out, it’s no grammar error. The ice cream “becomes a drink” by the time I can eat/drink it!) So other meals also become comparatively light. By this, I don’t mean that we stop eating stove-hot food; we just go easy on the spices.
I made this yummy veg stew, which is like a Bengali version of the English stew, for dinner one of these days. It’s what my aunt in Calcutta used to make. You wont find this in any cookbook but most Bengalis may know how to make it. (I’m saying “may” with great trepidation because I’m still an outsider in this territory!) It’s simple to make and can be served with bread or rice. I prefer it with rice on regular days and with whole wheat bread on dieting days. I cook the old fashioned way, which means that I have a rough estimate of how much of each of the ingredients is needed and cannot ever remember the exact metric amount.
Potatoes – 2
Carrots – 2
Onions – 1
Cloves – 5
Cinnamon sticks – 2
Vegetable oil – as required
Salt – to taste
Chop the vegetables in more or less the same shape. For potatoes and carrots, it’s the ideal half moons. For onions, thin half moon slices.
Heat oil in a wok. Throw in the spices: cloves and cinnamon sticks. Toss them around for a while and then throw in the chopped onion slices. Stir them till they are translucent. Add the tomatoes; mash them till a tomatoish curry is all that’s left. Add the potatoes and carrots. Add enough water to cover all the veggies. Add the salt andaaz anusaar. Simmer till the veggies are all boiled. Your stew is done. Serve hot with rice or bread.
You can use ghee instead of vegetable oil for extra taste. For health reasons, I have left it out.
Bengalis generally like this stew a bit sweet, so after adding the salt, you can add a pinch of sugar, though I avoid this step as well.
You can make this into a chicken stew by adding boiled chicken along with the veggies.