Today is Diwali. In West Bengal, the same festival is celebrated in a slightly different way. We worship Goddess Kali or Ma Chamunda, who is a wild avatar of the Supreme feminine power. While the rest of the nation worships Goddess Lakshmi and eats a strict vegetarian food, Bengalis eat a special kind of sacred mutton curry, called Niramish Pathar Jhol or Niramish Mangsho: the vegetarian mutton. Obviously, it is an oxymoron, as no such thing as a “vegetarian meat” ever exists.
Onions or garlic are never used to cook this festive Mutton Curry that is eaten on Diwali. Bengali Brahmins, a few hundred years ago, believed that onion and garlic are Amish or non-vegetarian products, so these are never used in cooking any kind of bhog for any God or Goddess in Bengal. However, the mutton curry made from the sacrificial goat to Ma Kali, was considered pure and sacred. This curry is eaten after Kali Puja on Diwali, the only difference being that goat sacrifice is thankfully banned in the modern day.
Many recipes exist for Kali Pujor Niramish Pathar Mangsho or Proshadi Mangsho. You can always omit potatoes from this recipe. However, I cook it in the way shown in the recipe. My recipe doesn’t use any tomato, vinegar or even cinnamon sticks (Cassia Bark). Simple ingredients and the best-quality freshly cut baby Goat’s meat or mutton are needed to make this meat prasad. To make the jhol or curry creamy, we add curd to this recipe, which also tenderises the meat by acting as a marinating agent. The Niramish Pathar Jhol is very flavourful and light. Since I use a generous amount of ghee, good-quality green cardamoms and home-grown bay leaves for this recipe, by the time the meat gets completely cooked, the whole house is filled with the aroma of cardamoms and the heady scent of slow-cooked mutton. It smells somewhat like Kheer or Paayesh from far, but as you go near the cooking pot, a beautiful waft of complex flavour notes will enamour you for sure.
Kali Pujor Niramish Pathar Mangsho or Proshadi Mangsho (“Vegetarian” Mutton as Kali Puja Prasad)
- Mutton with bones of a baby goat front-thigh meat: 1 kg
- Partially boiled and fried with ¾ tsp salt potato halves: 8
- Salt: 4 tsp adjustable
- Black salt: 1 tsp
- Curd: 250 g
- Turmeric paste: 2 tsp
- Ginger paste: 1.5 tbsp
- Freshly roasted and ground coriander-seed powder: 1.5 tbsp
- Freshly roasted and ground Paanch Phoron powder: ¾ tsp
- Best-quality granular cow ghee: 1 cup adjustable
- Mustard oil: ½ cup
- Sugar: 1.5 tsp
- Red chilli powder: 2 tsp
- Slit green chillies: 6
- Green cardamoms: 15
- Bay leaves: 4
- Cloves: 15
- Warm water: 1 litre
- Marinate the medium-sized mutton pieces with the 2.5 tsp salt, 1 tsp turmeric paste and the whole of ginger paste for 2 hours at room temperature. Add the curd and smear the marinated mutton with it properly, pretending to slightly mash the meat with the curd. Marinate again for 2 hours at room temperature.
- In a Kadhai, heat the oil. When hot, add the bay leaves, the green cardamoms and the cloves. After a few seconds, add the marinated meat, minus the extra marinade.
- Initially, cook on high heat for 15 min to seal the flavours.
- Reduce the flame to medium and cook the meat for 1 h, covered. Remove lid after every 10 min to stir the mutton.
- After 1 h, add the cow ghee. Add the potatoes, rest of the salt, rest of the turmeric paste, coriander-seed powder and red chilli powder. Sprinkle 3 tbsp water, so that the spices don’t get burnt. Add the extra marinade. Sauté continuously. Increase the flame and cook for 20 min.
- Add warm water, followed by black salt, sugar, green chillies and homemdae Paanch Phoron Powder. Give the Jhol a good stir. Adding black salt gives a lot of flavour to the dish.
- Continue to cook on a slow heat, lid-covered, until the meat falls off the bone.
- Alternately, pressure-cook on a slow heat until three whistles. Switch off the gas and open the cooker after 15 min.
- After offering to Ma Kali or otherwise, serve it with steamed rice.