I have for you today a recipe for a homely but essential dish from the Bengali repertoire: panch mishali torkari. “Panch” means five, “mishali” more or less means mixed, and this is by definition a dish that involves five vegetables cooked together (except when it involves four or six). It is a highly flexible dish. Classically, I suppose, you are most likely to see potatoes and radish and eggplant and snow peas/broad beans and pumpkin in it but really you can make it with whatever mix of vegetables you have at hand. This version, for example, uses asparagus, which you are rarely likely to see used in Bengali kitchens in a dish like this. The dish is a concept not a fixed list of ingredients—I make versions with zucchini and bell peppers as well. No matter what combination of vegetables you use, it is a good idea to have a mix of textures. The flavour of the dish is really carried by the ingredient that more than any other ties the Bengali kitchen together: panch phoron, the mix of five seeds that goes in almost ever Bengali vegetable and fish dish. When I first came to the US panch phoron was not easily found but these days you can purchase it easily in any decent South Asian grocery store. and if you live somewhere without a decent South Asian grocery store at hand you can even buy it on Amazon. Get some and get cooking (and while you’re at it, get some mustard oil too).
- Eggplant: 3/4 lb, cut into small pieces
- Pumpkin/squash: 1.5 lb, cut into small pieces
- Cauliflower: 1 lb, broken into florets
- Asparagus: 3/4 lb, each stalk cut into 3-4 pieces
- Spinach: 2 cups, chopped
- Panch phoron: 1 tblspn
- Dried red chillies: 4-6
- Turmeric: 3/4 tspn
- Sugar: 3/4 tspn
- Oil, preferably mustard oil: 2-3 tblspns
- Water: 1 cup
- Heat half the oil over medium-high heat in a large wok or similar and stir-fry the eggplant for five minutes or so. Set aside.
- Add the rest of the oil in the wok and add the panch phoron and dried red chillies. Saute for 30 seconds or so being careful not to let the chillies scorch.
- As soon as the panch phoron begins to pop add the pumpkin, salt, sugar and turmeric. Stir-fry for about five minutes.
- Now add the cauliflower, mix in thoroughly and stir-fry for about five minutes.
- Next add the asparagus, mix and stir-fry for about five minutes.
- Add half a cup of water, cover and cook over medium-low heat till the pumpkin is almost done and the water almost dried up.
- Uncover, raise the heat back to medium and return the fried eggplant to the pan. Mix and stir-fry for another five minutes, adding the rest of the water to keep it from sticking.
- Mix in the spinach and cook till wilted.
- Serve with chapatis or rice with moog dal and fish curry or another vegetable dish.
- Whatever combination or proportion of vegetables you use, the key is to add them in such a way that they all finish cooking at the same time and just begin to meld into one another.
- You can make this as a relatively dry preparation or with a little gravy.
- If you want to use less oil don’t bother sauteeing the eggplant separately first.