It’s the custom in the Bengal region of north-east India to start a meal with a bitter dish. Shukto achieves this through the use of karela, a bitter gourd readily available from most Asian grocers. If bitter isn’t your thing you can simply omit this vegetable and use any of your favourite ones.
Two other flavours are common in Bengali dishes, mustard in the form of seed, the oil or kasundi and panch phoran or five spice. This dish combines all these flavours for a traditionally sweet dish with a mild bitterness – or leave out the bitter and keep it sweet.
Shukto - Bengali Mixed Vegetable Curry
Potatoes are popular in Bengal. Sweet potatoes are added for extra sweetnessm to balance the bitterness. If you're not a fan of bitter replacet the bitter gourd (Karela) with any gourd or courgette for equally delicious results.
Many Shukto recipes don't use onions. I like to add them as they add texture to the sauce and sweetness to the dish.
- 1 medium onion sliced
- 2 medium potatoes peeled and diced
- 2 medium sweet potatoes peeled and diced
- 1 green banana peeped and sliced
- 1 karela (bitter gourd) or a non-bitter gourd of courgette, sliced
- 1 bunch of french or runner beans topped, tailed and sliced
- 1 large carrot scraped, topped, tailed and sliced
- 1 tbsp black or yellow mustard seeds or either 1 tsp of kasundi or even a tsp of good ready prepared mustard
- 1 tbsp ginger paste
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 - 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp panch-phoron (5-spice)
- 3-4 tbsp mustard or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup water
Prepare mustard paste
- soak the mustard seeds in a little warm water for 20 minutes and pass through a blender create to a smooth paste
- Alternatively use a teaspoon-full of Kasundi or good ready prepared English mustard
Prepare the ginger paste
- Pound an inch of ginger to a fine paste in a mortar and pestle
Prepare the panch-phoron spice blend
- Add equal quantities of Cumin seeds - Fennel seeds - Fenugreek seeds - Nigella seeds and - Lovage seeds (radhuni, wild-celery) or black mustard seeds to an electric spice / coffee grinder to make a fine powder
- check our panch-phoron post
Pre-prepare the karela. These steps help temper the bitterness:
- Scrape the outer bumps with a knife. Slice the karela thinly, put into a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let the karela rest for 20-30 minutes then squeeze out as much of the jouice as you can and finally run under a tap to remove all the salt
- In a wok or large deep pan heat the mustard oil
- Add the onions and fry until translucent - about 5 minutes
- Add the panch phoron and ginger paste and fry, stirring, for a few seconds, so they release their fragrance
- Add the turmeric, chilli and mustard paste (or kasundi) and cook very gently until the oil separates signalling that the spices are cooked
- Add all the vegetables and stir fry for a few minutes until tey are well covered in the oil-spice mix
- Add half a cup of water and salt to taste, then coveer and simmer until the vegetables are tender, adding more water as needed.