Why mangsho (mutton) versus mutual funds was the burning question during the Lockdown Bengali New Year's Day. Finely Chopped Covid-19 Journal 15

Baby Loaf's chicken rice (I plated it too), basanti mishti pulao and kosha mangsho

14th January 2020

A fresh Loaf in the morning

K told me that Baby Loaf came into our bedroom at 5:00 am today and then got onto our bed. Something that he has not done in a while unlike what was his practise earlier. He lay down for a bit. She patted him. He licked her fingers. For the first time. He then went out of the room and came back in 5 minutes and gave a sharp meow. "Should I give him some food,' she said. "Yes", I replied sleepily and went back to sleep. She did the needful and went back to sleep too.

Baby Loaf came back at 7.15 am and meowed. This time I woke up. I knew that he wanted breakfast and I stepped out and gave him some food and went back to sleep.

He came back in! He meowed a bit and then jumped on the bed and settled down. I was ecstatic as he had not done this in a while. Spending time with us on the bed, that is. Unlike earlier, when he used to do so and disturb our sleep in the process. We miss that. I think I speak for K too.

Listening to my poila boishakh food stories

I patted him, massaged his head. Then I told him that it is the Bengali new year. Poila Boishakh. The first of the month of Boishakh. I told him about my favourite Bengali dishes to have on the day. Loochi chholar dal for breakfast. Pulao mangsho for lunch. Shorshe ilish and bhaat for dinner. I told him that I am not that much into mishti now. I told him about the different types of chops. Fish, mutton, veg. Then rolls.  How mutton rolls are the king of rolls. How when we would have alu rolls when I was in college and broke at the end of the month. (Watch an excerpt in the video below).

He listened. Resting in the loaf position. Eyes partially shut. As if he was visualising what I was telling him. I kid you not. Then he got up. Shook his head vigorously as he does after a nap. Stretched in the cat and camel pose. Left.

I went out to check and saw that he had settled onto the red cushion on the study bed which he has designated to be his bed. He was fast asleep. Like me as a kid, he too prefers to sleep in his own room. Apparently my Bengali festive menu discourse had calmed his mind and had taken him to a happy place.

The hunt for mangsho

Our early morning 'ghosts of Poila Boishakhs past' chat woke me up though. I felt restless. It was the Bengali new year after all. When K asked me yesterday about what I would like to eat, I had told her that I had no plans. All the Bengali restaurants here are shut as far as I know because of the lockdown. It was up to me to do something.

After the talk with Baby Loaf, I knew that I wanted rolls. And I wanted mangsho. Pathar mangsho. Mutton. Goat meat.

The question was, how? We get chicken here still but mutton, pork or buff or seafood is rare, if at all. I was a man on a mission. I dialled Jude Cold Storage. No one picked up. Then I got their number from the internet and called Joseph Cold Storage.  We had bought some excellent mutton from them a couple of months back.

Durand, the gentleman who picked up in a couple of rings of the phone, said that they were getting fresh mutton everyday!!! That he could let me know in an hour if he could find a delivery person and warmly wished me a happy new year when I said, "please do, it is the Bengali new year and I am craving for mutton."  I checked the watch. It was 7.50 am. That is early!

 I called at 9 am and sure enough, they said they could deliver if the amount was significant but the pickup would have to be at the gate. Payment unfortunately in cash. I ordered a kilo of mutton, boneless chicken thigh pieces and some drumsticks.

The mutton was Rs 1,000 a kilo versus 600 to 700 odd pre-lockdown. The quality was very good. They were the only ones to have it and given that it was a special day, I decided to splurge.

Dressing up the kosha mangsho

I must say that I am worried about how the prices of everything are going up. The prices of vegetables, grains and pulses, chicken, eggs, fruits and Nespresso pods are all going up in the local shops. Yet, they are our only hope right now with e commerce apps barely working. One is thankful to them but how will people manage if prices keep going up. I do hope that some sanity prevails. I feel blessed that we can currently afford what we need, but for how long? And I am sure it will be tough for so many people. The government has to do something. The authorities need to work on keeping distribution on to help keep prices real.

I wryly wondered if I would have been better off if I had invested in mutton and not mutual funds given the markets these days. (This is a joke and not to be taken as investment advice.)

Arun Prakash Roy told me on Twitter later that mutton in Bengaluru is Rs 1,200 a kilo at the moment and Rs 1,500 for prime cuts. Hence they had chicken on nobo borsho. Our neighbour, Erika, told me that mutton is available at Bandra Bazar for Rs 7,00 a kilo. "The quality is rubbish," she added.

Passing the Bandra Kitty Bugger test

I made a quick breakfast of an omelette and pav before I got back to the kitchen. I toasted some pav  on the pan and Baby Loaf, who is a Bandra boy, approved and then went off to sleep again. He usually wakes up when I go to the kitchen to make breakfast and had done so this time too.

What did I cook for Nobo Borsho? Read on. If you are a meanie and just want the recipes, scroll right to the end.


Chicken roll: 

Memories of the cooking stations of Kusum Rolls and Hot Kati Rolls, Park Street Kolkata

I reprised a recipe from the early days of our marriage when Bandra had no Kolkata roll shops. I would use Sumeru frozen Malabar parathas back then and saute chicken in a pan to make us rolls. This time I used ID Fresh Malabar parathas which I bought at Benzer Stores a couple of days back. These are not frozen. Are bigger and thinner than what the Sumeru ones used to be. You need to place them on a hot ghee greased tava and pat them from the top till they fluff up. You get a nice crunch at the end.

No, I did not make the parathas myself unlike what many on social media thought despite my writing 'readymade' parathas when I shared the picture. Do people read anymore? No, I have not been paid by ID Fresh to write this either. In case you were wondering. I confess that the lockdown does make me edgy at times. And for those who keep messaging me saying 'recipe please,' please check my blog and Instagram highlights first as I might have posted them there. And, if someone else had sent me a dish then I would not have the recipe. Rant over.

Chicken roll stuffing in the pan. Chicken first and then when half cooked, onions, chillies and capsicum

For the stuffing of the roll, I cubed the boneless thigh pieces and tossed them in hot vegetable oil after smearing the chicken with red chilli powder, garam masala powder, black pepper powder and salt. Then, as a tribute to Kusum and Hot Kati Roll of Kolkata's Park Street, I added some sliced onion, green chillies and capsicum. The latter is distinctive to these two shops. I tossed it together till the chicken was cooked. it took about 5 to 10 minutes to cook through.

K made the parathas as I was pooped after spending almost 2 hours in the kitchen by then and had gone to take a quick shower. I came back and made chicken rolls with the chicken mix and then added a squeeze of lime and some chaat masala at the end. That was our lunch. 

Chicken roll for lunch. I later made one in the evening and we shared that. It is more an evening snack after all.
We had one each and shared a bottle of raspberry from the crate Kurush and Rhea had given us.

Parsi Bengali cheers from one couple to another

Dinner (cooked before lunch)

Kosha Mangsho

Kosha mangsho. Worth its weight in gold.

I made the rolls at the end of a mammoth cooking session which had started earlier with my making kosha mangsho.

I decided to make the mangsho in an open wok for the first time and not a pressure cooker. The former is more traditional. I used my Chinese wok from Chiang Mai as I do not have a Bengali kodhai.

I made it sans tomato as that is more traditional too. My friend Soumik had messaged to wish me which was a coincidence as I was remembering the fab mangsho that his wife Ratoola makes at that point. She makes it in a kodhai too and does not put tomatoes. I prefer onion paste to chopped onions and more onions at that, while making kosha mangsho but used roughly chopped onions for convenience today.

'Koshano' in Bengali means dry cooking a dish with spices. This is the stage before you add water to a curry. The term kosha mangsho comes from this and it is meant to be a slow cooked dish. Served in weddings or at local roadside inns. Not cooked at home on a regular basis.

I did add water through the cooking process though to prevent the content of the pan from sticking. One has to stir continuously otherwise and the kitchen was hot and I was doing Instagram stories too. This was more practical. I am sure that Tagore would not mind this deviation.

The total cooking time from the time I added the mutton to the kadhai was close to 2 hours and the beauty of slow cooking shone through in the final dish. 

I have the kosha mangsho recipe on the blog but here is a quick summary of what I did:
  1. I heated mustard oil
  2. Then added whole spices: cumin, bay leaf, red chilli, clove, cinnamon, cardamom
  3. Then 3 sliced onions and a little bit of sugar for the onions to caramelise quickly (based on tips from readers)
  4. Then ginger and garlic paste in 2:1 proportion
  5. Then 800 g mutton (we kept a bit to add to the Parsi kala masoor K said she will make) and potatoes which I had marinated in dahi, red chilli, garam masala, cumin, coriander and turmeric powder. And salt.
  6. I stirred it for a while. Then added a cup of water. Brought to a boil and then let it cook for 20 minutes
  7. Then I removed the potatoes, added a bit more water and covered the kadhai with a lid and let the meat cook on a medium flame for about an hour and fifteen minutes. I kept adding water in between if the mutton looked like it would stick. 
  8. I added the potatoes back in and let it cook for another 30 odd minutes. Again adding a bit of water in between and at the end of about two hours, the mutton had cooked to satisfaction and had assumed a nice colour. Taking the potatoes out for a bit ensured that it did not overcook. A tip I have learnt from our cook Banu. 
  9. I added a touch of mustard oil at the end for zing

Mishti basanti pulao

Quick fix mishti pulao

To go with the mangsho I made a mishti basanti pulao. The sweet yellow coloured pulao which we have on special occasions. Kosha mangsho is dry dish and hence goes well with pulao or luchi. With a jhol or curry, white rice goes well. I don't think that my method is an authentic recipe but works well.

I boiled the rice first. I used long grained basmati as I did not have access to the short grained Gobindobhog which is the rice of choice for the Bengali pulao.

I then heated Jharna ghee (a brand of cow's milk ghee from Kolkata which I love) in a wok. To this I added some broken pistachios, cashews, a fresh green chilli, bayleaves, cardamom, cinnamon and clove. When this was slightly toasted, I added the rice. 

To that, salt, crushed black pepper and turmeric. The latter is for the yellow colour which gives it the name basanti. I gently mixed the rice with the spices and at the end added a bit of dahi with saffron shreds and powder mixed in it and mixed it. I let the rice cook on a low heat with the lid on the kadhai for five minutes. The turmeric smell was a bit strong and I wonder if I should have added less or put it into the ghee before adding the rice. In the traditional recipe the rice is cooked in the spice bed with water. That's for grandmothers and other experts to do. Not punters like me

And for Baby Loaf

I cooked for Baby Loaf for the first time ever today. Boiled chicken and rice with a recipe from the internet. Using the chicken piece that he had taken while I washing the meats. Don't!!!!

"Befitting the occasion," as our friend Pritha Sen said. "Why should Baby Loaf be left out?"

He was sleeping while I cooked and later had about two bites of it and that was it. Finally K said at night, "let's give him some of his regular cat food. He will starve!" He did have a couple of bites more but like I did at his age, he prefers outside food to home cooked!

This evening (15th April) sitting on the sofa which was his favourite spot when he first used to visit us but had abandoned of late

He had been a mix of being lovey dovey and then antsy, meowing to go out through the day. I let him out a few times but he wanted to go out more. I worry that he might go out of the building and come to harm. My concern is that he is sad and not naughty when he wants to go out. That makes me sad and which is why I now let him. I do not want to traumatise him.

He went out again at night. This time to our neighbours, the Badami's House. They love him and later brought our Dennis the Menace up just as finished dinner. I was tickled to hear that while the mum, Erika, knew what I was talking about, her 18 year old daughter, Gia, had not heard of Dennis the Menace. I blame Marvel Comics for that!

Shubho Nobo Borsho

It was a tough and exhausting session of cooking no doubt in the afternoon but the best realisation last night was when I looked into the missus's eyes and said, "there are enough leftovers and we do not have to cook tomorrow."

When I came to write in the evening. This is typical of my evening sessions. He snoozes. I write.

I realise that we have been really lucky to have had such a lovely day with such lovely food. I know that there are countless people suffering because of the lockdown. I just decided that I needed to cook us some good food today to get out of a funk. I did share some with a friend who lives down the lane and who has hurt herself in the kitchen and who looks after us so well herself and feeds us so often.

Then I told myself that no, we should not give up or give in. That the year will get better. And better. And then it will be the best of times. That we should count our blessings till then.

Trust me. Take care. Stay home. Stay safe. Wear a mask if you step out.

Here are some pictures of what we had last night from the family whatsapp group:

Noodles made by my mother on the new year in Kolkata
Air fryer veg chops made by my brother and sister in law in Gurgaon for dinner on the new year
My new year's plate of pulao kosha mangsho and salad in Mumbai

Here is wishing you a very Shubho Nobo Borsho (Bengali new year) for Baby, Mama and Daddy loaf. 

Family selfie to wish you a happy Bengali new year from Baby Loaf, Mummy Loaf and Daddy Loaf

15th April 2020

Another day, same old Loaf

Baby Loaf came in to our bedroom at 9.30 am today. I was sleeping still though we had gone to sleep before 2 pm after ages last night. He flopped on the floor. I got up and picked him up and placed shim on the bed and kneaded him and fussed over him. This time he licked my fingers!!!!

Fellow cat owners said that this is their way of grooming you and saying that you are now a part of their inner circle. K wryly said cat owners justify everything as such. Not that we are complaining.

Gr0omed by Baby Loaf

I was feeling lazy today and cheered up when I remembered that we have enough left to not have to cook today. I did make us a glorious breakfast of deem pauruti with matured English cheddar and a medley of leftover pav and multigrain bread.

One good thing is that K has begun to have breakfast thanks to the lockdown.
She had a bite 
more as she liked what I had made.

Baby Loaf had gone to sleep in his room by then and slept while I finished this post and woke up towards the end.

He finally began meowing at 2.30 pm which was an improvement as the morning was peaceful. I let him out as I got up to get ready for lunch. He came back soon, then out, then back again. I sat and spoke to him for a bit and then went to take a shower. Next I heard ,was the watchman calling to say he was downstairs!

We had our lunch and then I went down where I saw him sit quietly, and got him up. He came back and went off to sleep by my desk once he saw me start writing again.

Spot the Loaf

Lockdown leftovers

Leftover khichuri and freshly charred brocolli

Was today's lunch fancy too? It was leftover khichuri (I had cooked enough for 3.5) and the spicy Ram Bandhu chilli pickle from Nasik. I had planned to make begun bhaaja but I saw that the half cut piece of brinjal had got worms in it. I junked that and took out a broccoli that I saw inside. Tossed a few florets in a chilli coriander coconut oil with sesame seeds, pink salt, black pepper powder and podi powder from Kochi. Got a bit charred as I left it in the pan when I went for a shower but the end lunch was nice. Typical of the 'make the best use of what is at home' cooking that the lockdown has been about.

PS: Finally posting this piece. It is 7.30 pm. Baby Loaf is napping beside me as I do so.

Update: For dinner we had the leftover kosha mangsho and pulao (microwave dal and mangsho for K). The kosha mangsho didn't have gravy so would have been a bit less. Then I hit upon an idea based on my memories of the parar dokan roll shops of Kolkata and how they made mutton rolls. I heated mustard oil and sliced onion, capsicum, chillies and tomatoes (this didn't go into rolls). Tossed it in pink salt and black pepper. When done, added the kosha mangsho and a bit of water and cooked it for a bit. Turned out to be beautiful and went well with the pulao.

Links to the recipes of the dishes in this post:

  • Kosha mangsho
Instagram highlights

  • Pulao

  • Chicken roll