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The Warm Hug That Is Sheddho Bhaat

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From a trusted recovery to a reliable palate cleanser after a string of festive feasts, the Sheddho Bhaat, or a lunch of fully boiled dishes, is the true celebration of the flavors of the season’s produce.

As I got older, and because of my ever-growing gastronomic curiosity, I realized that developing our palates is our own responsibility. There are so many things we love when we are kids that we slowly turn away as we grow older and we turn to so many things we hated when we were young. In my case, however, because I was a picky kid, and because I became an avid cook and scholar, my journey was one of constant exploration and discovery. There are so many things I wouldn’t eat when I was young, I hated so much that I’m almost ashamed to list them these days. I have written at length about my trip back to food and, subsequently, falling in love with fish. In addition to the shame, I also feel regret that I missed so many opportunities to have savored such culinary bounty.

One of the things I hated as a kid – and into my young adulthood – is Sheddho Bhaat. Sheddho Bhaat translates to “boiled rice,” but essentially means a lunch in which each dish is only a boiled preparation and does not involve any other form of cooking. It’s a quintessentially Bengali affair – I haven’t experienced such a meal practice in any other part of the country – and gets confused when 1) someone is sick or has a bad stomach, 2) when the cleaning lady is getting away. feels lazy or has run out of options and is too tired to find anything (this can happen right after the family returns from a long vacation and the helper has not returned to duty), and 3) like palate cleanser after a string of festive, whimsical and complete feasts. So after more than a month of gluttony – from Durga Puja to Diwali – the time has come for some Sheddho Bhaat.

Often also referred to as Bhaatey Bhaat, the boiled rice is served with a string of boiled vegetables, dal, and eggs, with sides of salt, raw onion, raw green peppers, butter, ghee, and oil. of mustard. The beauty of cooking at Sheddho Bhaat is that it is a one-pot meal. You throw in the vegetables and the shelled eggs with the rice, also throw in the dal, tied in a muslin pouch, and everything is cooked together. When finished, remove them, separate them and serve. You usually start the meal with boiled bitter gourd, then move on to boiled potatoes, eaten with butter, and then other vegetables, depending on season and availability. During summers, you would have boiled red pumpkin mash and potatoes after that. Or a boiled lady’s finger. In winter, you would have boiled radish. Many people also like boiled flat beans. Then you serve the Dal Sheddho, or any boiled dal of your choice (usually moong or masoor), and wrap the meal with hard-boiled eggs. Many people like to crush hard-boiled eggs with boiled potatoes. Many mashed eggs with the dal. Personalization is never criticized. Everything is served with a generous drizzle of mustard oil or ghee and a big pinch of salt, and crunchy bites of raw onion and green peppers for warming. In my family, a Sheddho Bhaat meal always ends with Doi Bhaat – rice mixed with Bengali red curd, Mishti Doi – for just that touch of gluttony.

It’s completely understandable if the kids aren’t fans of Sheddho Bhaat.

I realized, especially during lockdown, that our attitude towards cooking a dish or preparing a meal has a huge impact on its flavor. Cooking is an extremely organic process, with the dish becoming an extension of the person cooking it. Therefore, even if we reproduce our mother’s recipes, the same preparations will taste different. Food is alive. It is a living and breathing organism. Attention and care can turn even the simplest of meals into divine meals. The Sheddho Bhaat is a testament to this fact. If you cook a completely boiled meal with the attitude of cooking something unpleasant, just for fun, you will be serving something unpleasant. It is important to pick the vegetables correctly – the redder the pumpkins, the younger the beans and potatoes, the sweeter the radishes. Be generous with the drops of oil and ghee, the knobs of butter, and enjoy the flavors that fats bring to the plate. Sheddho Bhaat teaches us to absorb the true flavors of the products, without spices and without frills. There are few things as heartwarming as boiled moong dal, just dressed in salt and oil. It takes a mature palate, an intuitive palate, to soak up and experience every detail.

People around me are quite surprised when I pass out about Sheddho Bhaat. I am the man who spent three days preparing a Galouti Kebab (and other assorted Lucknawi goodies) for the whole family on Diwali. But I have a special place in my heart for boiled radishes and daikon. Cut them into long pieces, boil them until they are cooked but firm, let them cool slightly, then massage in salt and mustard oil. To be hot. To feel love. I learned the joy of boiled potatoes with rice with salt and butter by watching my dad eat them before I went to the office every morning when I was in school. I hated it at the time. But now that creamy fat and carbohydrate mash is a hug for the soul, especially on winter afternoons. I also realized that cooking dal with spices and fat for a long time in the heat kills most of its nutritional value. I have made a habit of boiling dal with lunch every day, and it has been a healthy and satisfying change. And, I will fight anyone for the most of a mashed pumpkin and boiled potatoes with mashed green peppers.

Eat Sheddho Bhaat when you are exhausted, need a meal that will make you feel right at home, and want to give your gut a healthy break. Or eat it like me, to really enjoy the flavors of the earth. Either way, any excuse will do.

Read also: Deep Fried: Kali Puja and the history of “vegetarian” mutton curry

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