Mush gets no respect. It’s one step up from gruel, rhymes with slush, and features a character who regularly dresses in drag. “Why is that man wearing a dress? And why do those Koreans talk funny?” (Wait, that’s M.A.S.H. Never mind.) Most of my favorite foods are mushy: smashed potatoes, mushy peas—it’s even in the name!, bean puree, braised cabbage, the sludgy bottom of a big pot of lentil soup, the list goes on and on.
I realize now that the reason I love cauliflower is not just for its sweet buttery taste, but for the mush that it was always destined to be. It’s not the low-carb mashed cauliflower people who taught me this either, it’s the Bengalis. When my friend Shalini offered to share her favorite family recipe for cauliflower and potato chechki, I eagerly accepted. Don’t tell her this, but I’m nice to Shalini mostly to score Bengali recipes, especially since Bengali cuisine is not nearly as well known or imitated as the cuisine of northern India. She may be on to me though. I’ve noticed that she gives me only one recipe every two years, spacing them out all sneaky like. That reminds me, I need to pick up a tiara.
A chechki is a dish with vegetables cut into small pieces. This chechki uses the classic Bengali spice mixture panch phoron, generally equal parts black mustard seed, fenugreek seed, fennel seed, nigella, and cumin. Radhuni, hard to find outside of Bengal, is the traditional panch phoron spice used instead of or in addition to the mustard. Gernot Katzer at his phenomenal spice site suggests celery seed as a replacement. Not having tasted radhuni myself, I can’t verify that this is good advice, but if I’m extra nice to Shalini (whose mother just happens to have a large stash of radhuni), that may change. Being nice is both cheaper and easier than actually going to India, though that depends a great deal on how many carats each diamond in your bribing tiaras have.
Panch phoron always entrances me, both with its physical beauty and its complex flavors. In this dish, every bite is different—one bite has the flavor of sweet mustard, another bite the surprise of minty fennel, still another bite the bitter fragrance of fenugreek. Those spicy surprises are even more intriguing popping out from within soft bits of cauliflower smooshed into warm potatoes. It’s mush, and mush is comfort, and comfort studded with spice is a treasure. Think of it as a tiara on a plate.
BENGALI CAULIFLOWER AND POTATO CHECHKI
From Shalini’s mother
· 1-2 Tablespoons oil
· 1/2 teaspoon panch phoron
· Pinch or two of asafoteida
· 2 medium potatoes, cubed (I like Yukon Gold)
· 1 small cauliflower, cut into small pieces
· 1 teaspoon salt
· 1 teaspoon sugar
· 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
· 1 medium tomato, diced
· 1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger
· Minced cilantro
1) In a large pan, heat the oil until nearly smoking. Add the panch phoron, which should sputter, and add a pinch or two of asafoteida.
2) Add the potatoes and cauliflower. Stir for a few minutes, then stir in the salt, sugar, turmeric, and tomato. Cover the pot and lower heat to medium-low. Cook 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until vegetables are tender.
3) Remove the lid. If there’s any water in the pot, raise the heat to cook it off. Sprinkle with the grated ginger and cilantro to taste. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the dish rest for several minutes to develop aroma. Taste, adjust for seasonings, and serve.
- Link du jour
- More delightful mush, a recipe for Khichdi-Kadhi from Nupur from One Hot Stove.