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Chhenar Kalia – the savoury Bengali cuisine that became a part of Mahabhog in Girish Bhaban

16 May, 2023 16:23:53
Chhenar Kalia – the savoury Bengali cuisine that became a part of Mahabhog in Girish Bhaban

Any discussion about Bengal, the land of poetry, music, dance and legends, will remain incomplete without mentioning its varied range of cuisines. Khichudi, shukto, koraishutir kochuri, chingri malaikari, ilish bhapa and a lot more mouth-watering dishes make the cuisine an inevitable part of every food storytelling across the globe. Bengalis have always been very particular about their food and their taste buds develop since their very childhood. Most Bengalis are more or less food enthusiasts as their enthusiasm towards food is really commendable. A simple innovation of the Bengal cuisine “Panta Bhat”, served by Kishwar Chowdhury, had impressed the judges of MasterChef Australia, 2021. Hence, Bengal’s food is not to be underestimated.

Kolkata has a rich history too and looking back reminds us about the Bonedi baris or the traditional aristocratic Bengali households. For generations, these traditional households have been keeping alive the culture and traditions of Bengal alive through food and festivals. The food of Bengal has been a constant highlight in most of the stories and poems written by famous authors and poets. 

There stands a house among the towering buildings of South Kolkata that looks entirely different with a unique structure. This house is filled with old traditional memories and their Durga Puja is 192 years old. The Girish Bhaban or the residents of the ancestral house have worshipped Ma Durga every year without fail for generations. One of the highlights of the puja is their “Kathamo” or wooden frame which has been used in every puja since 1832. The idol is sculpted in their “Thakur Dalan” which is a big open space inside the house. The idol as well as the house is decorated by the members of the house. Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar had been a part of this Durga puja. Even Mahanayak Uttam Kumar was closely related to the puja. The Girish Bhaban was situated just beside Uttam Kumar’s house. Every year he used to attend the cultural festivities held in the Girish Bhaban during the pujas. The members of the house used to sing, act and had plays staged. Uttam Kumar too acted in some of these plays. The residents of Girish Bhaban have maintained the cultural rehearsals even to this date.

The story goes back to the early nineteenth century when Harachandra Mukhopadhyay came to Calcutta. He was a Brahmin from Dhamua, 24 Parganas and a priest. According to the family, he had saved money and had built the Thakurdalan along with the Bhadrashan in the Chakraberia area in Bhawanipore and started the Durga Puja in 1832. The present address of the house is 31, Girish Mukherjee Road. His son Girishchandra was a famous lawyer of the era. He was also a Sanskrit scholar. The puja became more famous in his era. He got some money from Vidyasagar and built the thakur dalan. Ma Jagadhatri is the goddess of their clan. The daughters and wives of this house are blessed by Jagadhatri’s mantra and can cook the 'bhog'. One of the Mahabhog of the puja of Girish Bhaban is Chhenar Kalia.

The recipe of the chanar kalia hence follows…

Ingredients needed to make 'chhena kofta'

200 gm of home-made chhena 
Half tablespoon of flour
Half tablespoon of red chilli powder
1/4th teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of nutmeg and mace powder
Half teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of pure ghee
Oil for frying

Ingredients needed for the kalia (curry) 

Two tablespoon of tomato puree
1/3rd cup whisked curd
4 tablespoons of cashew paste
1 teaspoon of garlic paste
1/4th teaspoon jeera
2 elaichi (cardamom)
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
2-inch cinnamon
1/4th teaspoon hing (asafoetida)
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 teaspoon Kashmiri red chilli powder
1/4th teaspoon garam masala
8-10 green chillis half cut
2 tablespoons of mustard oil
2 tablespoons of pure ghee
1 teaspoon of sugar
Salt according to taste

How to make the Kofta

Put the chhena in a bowl and add all the powdered masalas required in it and mix it thoroughly until it is well kneaded. Coat a plate in ghee, put the mixture on the plate and cut them in the shape of barfis. Deep fry them in oil. After it is fried, keep it aside. 

How to make the kalia-

After the pan is hot, add oil and 1 tablespoon of ghee. When the oil heats up, temper it with bay leaves, whole cumin seeds, asafoetida, jeera and garam masala. 

When the masalas start leaving an aroma, add the tomato puree. Add salt and keep stirring. Now add whisked curd, ginger paste, turmeric powder, and Kashmiri red chilli powder and cook it for 5 to 7 minutes, until you notice a layer of oil arising above the spice mix. 

Then, add cashew paste, sprinkle some sugar, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Now, add ¾ cup of hot water, mix well, lower the flame and cook again for 5 more minutes.

Now, add the chhena koftas in the kalia. 

Finally, drizzle some ghee and garam masala and you are done. Turn off the flame and let it simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. Serve hot with pulao, white rice, or paratha.

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