Ask any Bengali, and you’ll surely find the mention of this vegetarian street food called “Mochar Chop” in their list of top ten Bengali snacks! “Mocha” is nothing related to coffee and chocolate for a Bengali, but is the local name given to banana blossoms. I strongly feel that Mochar Chop or cutlet made from banana blossoms, is one of the ultimate Bengali street food creations, which deserves every Bengali food connoisseur’s salute. When you taste this Vegan snack, the texture and taste of the croquettes feels like you are eating something close to a pulled-mutton kebab.
I adhere to my own ratio of three parts of boiled and strained banana flowers to a little less than two parts of mashed boiled potatoes. Other cooks might follow other ratios, but I am of the opinion that when you are making chops out of banana flowers, you should get more of banana flowers in each bite, rather than more of mashed potatoes. However, you must always keep extra boiled and mashed potatoes handy whenever making the chops, as sometimes, the chops might disintegrate upon plunging into the hot oil, and this happens when you haven’t squeezed the water enough out of the boiled banana flowers. In that case, quickly add more boiled potatoes, breadcrumbs and little salt to the dough/mash and the problem gets fixed instantly! Sometimes, the chops might also break into pieces (while frying) for another reason. This happens when the oil content is more in the dough, while cooking the mash with fried onions. Always keep the oil content in the dough as less as possible. For this to achieve, simply fry the onions in less oil.
There is a common myth that Bengalis eat only macher jhol (fish broth) and bhaat (rice). I am a hardcore Bengali myself. I will tell you that a true Bengali loves vegetables. And the way each vegetarian dish is made, especially by Bengali moms and grandmas, is a true example of patience and dedication. Yes, there are a huge number of Bengali vegetarian dishes to try out and it probably takes a lifetime to taste all the kinds! Vegetables are indispensable in every Bengali household…from thor (banana stem) to mocha (banana flowers), from neem pata (bitter neem leaves) to kumro shaak (pumpkin leaves and stems), from shojne phool (drumstick flowers) to alur khosha (potato skins), Bengali ladies have experimented enough with innovative vegetarian cooking. The older ladies in the house would always ensure to feed the vegetables first before serving out the non-vegetarian dish (es).
Mochar Chop (Banana Flower Croquettes)
[Mochar Chop requires a lot of patience. But at the end of the day, it is totally worth the effort. A little sweet taste, along with the robustness of homemade garam masala (called “bhaja moshla”), makes mochar chop such a prized Bengali dish. Please note that throughout my blog, I have different bhaja moshla recipes for different kinds of Bengali dishes. For Mochar chop, here is my bhaja moshla recipe: Roast 1 tbsp cumin seeds, 1 one-inch cinnamon stick, 4 green cardamoms, 6 cloves and one dried red chilli, until fragrant. Make a very fine powder and store in an airtight container. Make it to believe it: this Vegan Indian snack is just out-of-the-world!]
Boiled and squeezed banana flowers (mashed partially): 3 cups
Potato (peeled, boiled and mashed): 1¾ cup
Finely chopped onions: 1.5 cup
Grated coconut: 3 tbsp
Roasted peanuts (peeled and broken into pieces): 1.5 tbsp
Ginger paste: 1.5 tsp
Turmeric powder: ½ tsp
Finely chopped green chillies (variable): 3
Bhaja moshla: 2.5 tsp
Salt: 1.5 tsp for the dough and 1 tsp while boiling the mocha initially
Sugar: 1.5 tsp
Lightly fried raisins: ¼ cup
Cornflour: 2.5 tbsp
Bread crumbs for coating
Oil for frying onions: 2 tbsp
Refined oil for deep-frying
The first two time-consuming steps should be done a day before, just to save a lot of time. Wear plastic gloves when you are dealing with banana flowers, as these blacken the nails due to a good amount of iron in them. Take out the outer red cover of the flower. You can see a group of florets now. We need these for the chops. Separate all the florets in all the layers (inside each red petal). Discard all the thick red petals, until you almost reach the core where the petals aren’t red anymore. As you approach the core, the petals become interlocked. As these petals are comparatively much softer, we will chop off the whole little cone very finely, which we obtained from the inside part of a mocha. The separated florets removed initially also need to be finely chopped, but only after discarding the hard stick (stigma) and the transparent polythene-like part from each floret.
After removing the unwanted parts from each flower, these flowers are chopped finely and soaked in a dish of water with salt and turmeric powder. Soaking helps in getting rid of bitterness, if any. This water is strained after atleast three hours and discarded. The banana flowers are now transferred to a pressure cooker with some water and 1 tsp of salt. Let it have three whistles on a simmered flame. Immediately open the cooker and check the flowers. If hard, transfer back to the cooker and let the cooker achieve one or two more whistles. We don’t want the blossoms to be mushy, just a little soft to chew. Strain the blossoms out and squeeze the water from the mocha. The more you squeeze out, the better it is. After squeezing, the water is discarded and these blossoms are mashed a little with hand or the back of a spoon. Never use a blender at this stage. Gentle, incomplete and un-uniform mashing is needed for perfect chops! Keep this mash in the refrigerator if not using immediately. Make the chops within two days.
The next day, take three cups of the cooked flowers and mix (with hand) with the boiled and mashed potatoes. Add the finely chopped chillies, grated coconut, roasted peanuts, ginger paste, bhaja moshla, 1.5 tsp salt, sugar, lightly fried raisins and cornflour. Mix the dough lightly by hand. Ensure that the dough is almost uniform in ingredient distribution.
Heat 2 tbsp oil till it smokes. Add the onions and fry till golden-brown. Add the dough and mix the onions into the dough using a kitchen spoon. Cook for around 5 min, or until the mixture is dry enough to handle easily.
Switch off the gas and let the dough come at room temperature. Knead the dough very lightly by hand, just to ensure that the onions are uniformly distributed. Taste the dough now. Add more salt or sugar, if needed. The dough should taste slightly sweet.
Don’t omit the sugar from the recipe, for best results. Make flat discs from the dough and roll these over the breadcrumbs.
Heat oil for deep-frying. When the oil smokes, reduce the flame to medium and deep-fry the chops, till golden on both sides. Remove the chops with a perforated spoon into absorbent paper. Serve with tomato sauce and alfalfa sprouts, or your choice of salad leaves.