Mochar Ghonto or মোচার ঘন্ট is a Bengali vegetarian dish with banana blossoms. It is an age-old traditional Indian recipe. The word “Mocha” does not relate to coffee in Bengali. Rather, it is the blossom of banana, which grows in plenty all over West Bengal. The best-tasting banana flowers are from those Banana trees which yield sweet bananas on developing. Few of the best Bengali vegetarian (and non-vegetarian) dishes have Banana blossoms or Mocha as their main ingredient. Pronounced as मोचा in Hindi, although the peeling of the banana blossoms is a bit time-consuming procedure, but the end result is very healthy and tasty.
The magic of this dish is the balance of spices and an interplay of different textures of banana blossoms, raisins, brown chickpeas and coconut.
In Bengali, the word Niramish means vegetarian. In traditional Niramish recipes, not even onion and garlic are used, as these are regarded as Amish or non-vegetarian by purists. Niramish Mochar Ghonto is one such Bengali Niramish or vegetarian dish that is cooked with this superb ingredient called Mocha. Once you understand how to clean and process the banana flowers, the rest of the recipe follows. It is one of the most iconic vegetarian dishes in Bengali cuisine, which is cooked without onion or garlic. This makes it an ideal recipe not only for the holy Durga Puja days, but also for all special occasions. There are a few non-vegetarian variations of the Mochar Ghonto, the best of which are Mocha Chingri and Macher Matha diye Mocha. While Mocha Chingri has a generous amount of prawns or shrimps in the same dish, the Macher Matha diye Mocha is cooked with fish heads of big-sized, river-water fish, mostly carps like Rohu (Rui Maach in Bengali) and Katla.
Also known as banana hearts, the banana blossoms cannot be used directly for cooking. The thick, purplish-maroon petals or bracts have to be removed first. Inside each petal, there are neatly arranged banana florets that are used for cooking. Even in each of these florets there are two parts which need to be discarded: one is the stigma and the other is the plastic-like petal.
We often add Daler Bora or Chaapor in Niramish Mochar Ghonto. Daler Bora are either fritters of Bengal Gram/Cholaar Dal/Chana Dal or fritters of the Bengali Motor Dal. Today, as I ran out of the pulses, I cooked my Mochar Ghonto without it. However, if you wish to add Daler Bora, you must soak a small bowl of Chana Dal or Motor Dal for four hours. Then, make a coarse paste with 2 tbsp grated coconut, 1 green chilli, some salt and little turmeric powder. Deep-fry spoonfuls of this batter and keep aside. When the Mochar Ghonto is almost ready, add these and cook for the last 5 min.
Everyone has their own family recipe of Mochar Ghonto, the recipe of which doesn’t alter much in Bengali families. However, it is the amount of each spice and the way you cook it, the time to cook, the flame, the textures, the garnishes and the presentation of this rustic Bengali vegetarian dish, that makes all the difference!
Looking for a kickass Bengali vegetarian starter recipe? Nothing compares the Mochar Chop (Banana Flower Croquettes). The recipe is in my blog Archives for those who are interested.
Preparing the banana blossoms or Mocha for cooking
Although I shared the method already long back in a separate post, here’s the method on how to prep the Mocha.
Preparing the banana blossoms for cooking should be done a day in advance, which saves a lot of time on the day of cooking. It is advisable to wear a pair of disposable gloves when you are cleaning the banana blossoms, as these blacken the nails due to a good amount of iron in them. Take out the outer maroon petals of the flower. Separate all the inner florets neatly arranged inside each purplish-maroon petal. Discard all the thick maroon 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 plastic-like part from each floret (as shown in the picture below).
After removing the unwanted parts from each flower, these flowers are chopped finely and soaked immediately (to prevent blackening) for a few hours in a dish of water with salt and turmeric powder. Soaking helps in getting rid of bitterness and somewhat metallic flavour, 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 soft enough to chew. Strain the cooked blossoms 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 uneven mashing is needed, as it gives a nice texture.
Banana blossoms are delicious!
In the West, people are now opening to banana blossoms, although many still don’t know about it. People around the world are trying it in salads, soups and stir-fries, apart from a host of starters and curries made in Asia. In India, many recipes exist outside Bengal, too! For example, down South, Banana Flower Poriyal or the Tamilian Vazhaipoo Usili (made with banana flowers and lentils) are a must-try. Banana itself is a favourite staple in Kerala and banana blossoms are popular among the Teluguites and Kannadigas. Even in North-Eastern India, it is cooked into many dishes. I have to try the banana-flower tea sometime soon, as it is considered very healthy!
Health benefits of banana blossoms
Banana blossoms are a part of South-East Asian Cuisine for centuries. Apart from India and Sri Lanka, it is eaten in Malaysia and Indonesia, too! Banana blossoms improves lactation in nursing mothers. Rich in iron, Mocha or Banana flower is a great immunity-booster and is a wonderful ingredient to keep Diabetes and Anaemia in control, according to researchers. It helps in repairing the ailments of the uterus. These are also good anti-depressants and anti-oxidants. As it is fibre-rich, it is great for those who suffer from chronic constipation. It is also rich in protein, calcium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and Vitamin E.
Niramish Mochar Ghonto (A Bengali Vegetarian Dish with Banana Blossoms)
- Banana blossom or Mocha big-sized: 1
- Medium-sized potatoes peeled and cubed: 2
- Raisins washed: handful
- Deskinned coconut pieces pea-sized, but cut into tiny cubes: handful
- Cinnamon stick: 1 inch
- Green cardamoms split: 4
- Cloves: 6
- Bay leaf: 1
- Dried red chillies broken into a few pieces: 2
- Cumin seeds: ½ tsp
- Ginger paste: ¾ tsp
- Homemade Cumin paste or powder: 1.5 tsp
- Turmeric powder: ¾ tsp
- Red chilli powder: 1 tsp
- Brown chickpeas boiled with salt: ½ a small bowl or a handful
- About ¼ th of a freshly scraped coconut; reserve around 1.5 tbsp for the garnish
- Mustard oil: around 10 tbsp
- Cow ghee: 1.5 tbsp
- Green chillies: 4
- Salt: 1.5 tsp adjust the taste towards the end
- Sugar: 1.25 tsp
- Bengali Gorom Moshla Garam Masala powder made with just Cinnamon, green cardamoms and cloves: 1.5 tsp
- Prep the banana flowers the previous day itself. It saves a lot of time and effort on the day of cooking. Please refer to the section “Preparing the banana blossoms or Mocha for cooking” in this blogpost for the same.
- Fry the potatoes with little salt and remove into a plate. Fry the coconut pieces until slightly golden. Remove into another bowl. In the same oil but in a low flame, quickly fry the raisins for a few seconds until these puff up, taking care that the raisins don’t get burnt. Remove into the same bowl in which the fried coconut pieces are kept.
- Heat mustard oil in a Kadhai. When the oil is really hot, reduce the flame and add the bay leaf, dried red chillies and the whole Garam masala (cinnamon, cloves and green cardamoms). Add the cumin seeds and wait until the colour changes to light brown. Using 3 tsp water, make a paste of the cumin powder, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, salt and ginger paste. Add it to the Kadhai on a simmered flame, stirring continuously.
- When the aroma of the spices emanates from the Kadhai (i.e., after around 2 min of cooking), add the cooked and semi-mashed banana flowers or mocha. On a high flame, cook it for around 15 min, sautéing continuously, until most of the water dries out. Add the boiled brown chickpeas, fried potatoes and freshly grated coconut. Also add the green chillies. Cook for 10 min, covered on a medium flame, sautéing twice in between.
- Open the lid. Sauté continuously, adding fried coconut pieces, raisins, sugar and the cow ghee. Also add the Bengali Gorom Moshla. Cook until little oil/ghee leaves the sides of the Kadhai. Check for the salt. In case more salt is needed, add at this stage and cook for 2 min, until well-mixed.
- Garnish with around 1.5 tbsp of freshly grated coconut. Serve the Niramish Mochar Ghonto hot with steamed rice.
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