Saraswati Pujo Special: Shojne Phool aar Topa Kuler Chatni (Sweet-n-Sour Chutney of Moringa Blossoms and Sour Berries).
Today is 1st February 2017, and this year, the Indian festival of Saraswati Pujo or Basant Panchami falls on this day! As a Bengali who studied in Raisina, New Delhi, Saraswati Pujo is nostalgia. It reminds me of the preparations done by the “senior students” in the school, days in advance. It reminds me of the Bengali-style Valentine’s Day, since this is the only day when we were allowed to dress up real fancy, all decked up in a Sari, and get all the attention from our friends. Saraswati Pujo reminds me of the “no-studies” day, full of fun and adda, and of course the Pushpanjali, Prashad and Bhog afterwards. The day when we worshipped our books, notebooks and pen, in hope of getting better grades. The day to touch the feet of elders and the teachers. For Bengali teenagers, this is also the day of infatuations and probably, the beginning of a new love relationship.
Saraswati idol in Goregaon (E), Mumbai.
Saraswati Pujo in my parental family during my school days in Delhi was also about Pandal-hopping with school buddies. The day reminds me of the yummy dish called “Gota Sheddho” that was compulsory to eat at home the next day of Saraswati Pujo (i.e., on Shitol Shoshthi). Gota Sheddho is a very traditional dish that has probably seen generations. It is a very healthy dish in which vegetables are cooked as a whole and with their skins.
Following the tradition, a Bengali eats the Topa Kul or any kind of Indian berry only after the berries are offered to the Goddess of Learning or Maa Saraswati on Saraswati Pujo .
Did you know that this is the day when a Bengali student can start eating the Kul or the berry (Ber in Hindi), after it has been offered to the Goddess of learning or Maa Saraswati? Don’t know about the present-day Bengali kids, but in our times, those Bengali kids (or students) who ate Kul before Saraswati Pujo had a strange feeling that they would fail in the exams! Childhood superstitions combined with shameless gluttony, you see.
Include these medicinal blossoms in your diet. Moringa flowers or Shojne Phool is one of the trending food ingredients in 2017, all over the world.
In my parental home, apart from Gota Sheddho, my mother always cooked a special sweet chutney on Saraswati Pujo. These two dishes were eaten at room temperature the next day (on Shitol Shoshthi). This very traditional chutney’s recipe was handed down by my Thakuma (paternal grandmother) to my mother, as it was compulsory for the Bouma (daughter-in-law) of the family to serve the Chutney (and Gota Sheddho) to all the members of the family. These two dishes served on the day after Saraswati Pujo were made on the Pujo night itself as cooking was not allowed the next day. As mentioned earlier, we ate the two dishes at room temperature, without even warming the food, following the age-old Ghoti (West Bengal) tradition.
The “Shojne Phool and Topa Kuler Chatni” is on the verge of being a lost recipe of Bengal.
The Shojne Phool and Topa Kuler Chatni has medicinal properties and provides relief to various ailments in the body, which happen due to the seasonal change during this time of the year. It is also believed that this chutney (Chatni in Bengali) acts as a preventive for Chicken Pox. It is traditionally cooked with Shojne Phool or Moringa flowers and Topa Kul or sour berries. If you don’t find Topa Kul, you can replace it with any kind of raw ber and little bit of tamarind paste. In Mumbai, I found a smaller version of dried Topa Kul. Although these aren’t pulpy and tart like the Topa Kul that we get in Kolkata, these serve the purpose, if used with a teaspoonful of tamarind pulp.
Hope you all will try this dying Bengali recipe. Happy Saraswati Pujo everyone!
Saraswati Pujo Special: Shojne Phool aar Topa Kuler Chatni (Sweet-n-Sour Chutney of Moringa Blossoms and Sour Berries)
[Always check the taste of the raw Moringa blossoms before making this dish. Don’t cook the dish with bitter blossoms.]
- Shojne Phool or Moringa blossoms: 1 cup
- Topa Kul or sour berries: 150 g
- Dried red chillies: 2
- Bay leaf (dried): 1
- Black mustard seeds: ½ tsp
- Tamarind paste (optional): 1 tsp (use only if the ber is on the sweeter side)
- Salt: ½ tsp
- Sugar: 2.5 tbsp
- Turmeric powder (optional, depending on family traditions): ¼ tsp
- Mustard oil: 2 tbsp
- Heat the oil until it reaches its Smoking Point. Reduce the flame and add the bay leaf, red chillies and the mustard seeds. Once the red chillies darken and become brownish, add the blossoms, turmeric powder (optional) and salt. Stir-fry for 5 min.
- Add the lightly smashed berries and turmeric powder. The berries are lightly smashed by pressing them a bit, so that some of its pulp comes out. This step is very important as the pulp will mix up with the chutney gravy and lend in a sour and slightly sticky consistency. Sauté for 10 min.
- Add the tamarind paste (optional) and sugar. Add enough warm water to submerge the contents. Give the chutney a good stir. Simmer the flame and cover the cooking utensil with a lid.
- Let the chutney come to a rolling boil: about 7 min. Let it boil for three more minutes. Switch off the flame and remove the chutney into a non-reactive serving bowl.
- This tastes better the next day. As a rule, don’t warm the chutney before serving. It has to come at room temperature before you serve it as a last course of a Bengali meal.
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