The Banana tree is omnipresent in Bengal; not only is it an integral part of auspicious activities, festivals and rituals, but the plant has great intrinsic value. Just like the coconut tree, every part of the banana plant is used, be it for food or other purposes, and we Bengalis have found varied uses of the Banana plant in our cuisine; the leaves are used for steaming, the stem (thor) and the flower (mocha) are both used in cooking extensively, just like the raw and ripe banana. We even eat the green peel…cooked of course 😛
Mochar Ghonto is essentially a dry dish; ghonto, in Bengali means ‘to mix’, stemming from the word ‘GhaNta’, a mish-mash. This preparation is unique for its subtle flavours; a little spicy from the ginger and garam masala, a little sweet because of the coconut, and the banana flower adding a wonderful crunchy texture.
For the uninitiated, Mocha (pronounced ‘mow’ as in lawn mow and ‘cha’ pronounced as in chalk) is the flower or blossom of the Banana plant. It has a dark-reddish maroon colour bract or layers of bracts, inside which sit the florets. These florets are what are eaten, albeit after a thorough peeling, cleaning, chopping, etc.
The only tricky bit about the Banana blossom is peeling it; the florets are eaten after discarding a hard plasticky bit and the string-like stigma, both of which are inedible. Once the florets are chopped, they need to be soaked in some water (or turmeric water). Be careful though, don’t drop any on yourself, or the stain will remain there, forever!
Once you get over the whole shindig with the cutting, the dish is a breeze to prepare. Here in Kolkata, we get chopped mocha from the market, as in, you tell the vegetable seller to chop and keep the mocha aside, and you collect it later.. because frankly, the only person with the expertise to peel mocha in my house, was my Didu (grandmother) and she’s no more. Of course, my parents caaaaan do it, but, you know, jet age and all 😛
Mochar ghonto is a delicacy rarely prepared in homes these days, mostly due to the reasons mentioned above. But frankly, it’s so delicious that one can’t help but want to eat it on a daily basis. This version is the no onion-no garlic one, perfect for veg days or festive fasting, etc. The non-veg version, Mocha Chingri, is made with prawns, and is equally delicious.
- Banana flower – 1, peeled and chopped
- Potato – 2 small, cubed
- Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
- Bay leaves – 2
- Ginger paste – 1 tbsp
- Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
- Red chili powder – 1/2 tsp
- Cumin powder – 1 tsp
- Coriander powder – 1 and 1/2 tsp
- Garam masala paste – 1 tbsp (mix homemade garam masala powder with a tsp of water)
- Musoor dal er Bori (Lentil dumpling) – 10 to 12 fried
- Oil – 1 tbsp for cooking
- Ghee – 1 tsp for garnish
- Grated coconut – 1/2 cup plus a bit for garnishing
- Salt – to taste
- Sugar – 1/2 a tsp
- Clean the banana flower first; peel the outer layers and remove the florets inside. Discard the inedible parts, and dunk the edible bits into a pot of water.
- Once all of the mocha has been peeled and cleaned, chop them up and boil with salt, in a pressure cooker.
- Drain and keep aside.
- Heat a pan with oil and fry the bori, until they turn golden..(this will be very quick, they burn easily, so just toss quickly and take off the heat).
- Now, add the cumin. Once they sputter, add the bay leaves and let turn fragrant.
- Add the sugar, and let caramelize.
- Add the potatoes, and turmeric and fry them well.
- To this, add the ginger paste, and saute until the paste gives off a fragrant aroma.
- Add the boiled mocha, and stir until mixed.
- Add cumin powder, coriander powder and salt.
- Mix and cover with a lid, allowing potatoes to soften; the mocha will release water as well.
- After 5 to 6 mins, stir the mixture once and add the fried bori.
- Cover again with a lid and let cook until potatoes have softened and all moisture from the mocha has dried up.
- Finally, add the shredded coconut, ghee and garam masala paste and cook for 2 to 3 mins.
- Serve with a garnish of some crushed bori and some more coconut.
- Enjoy with piping hot ‘sada bhaat’ or plain rice.