Cooking With Lounge | Sumanto Chattopadhyay
Sumanto Chattopadhyay, like many other Indian men, learnt to cook “per force” while studying abroad. Though the executive creative director, South Asia, of Ogilvy and Mather Advertising (O&M), says he loves all kinds of cuisine, he was starved for Indian food in the US.
He still remembers his first culinary experiment. “I tried to cook cabbage, of all things. It was a disaster. I was drinking beer and poured some in. I thought it was such a clever touch, but it was ruined,” he says, as he laughs over that incident in his suburban Mumbai home. “I called mum the next time and she instructed me on how to cook chicken curry and cauliflower.”
Another experiment he tried while in the US was mixing equal quantities of condensed milk and evaporated milk and baking it in an oven for 45 minutes. “It’s an easy version of the Bengali bhapa doi,” he says.
Chattopadhyay’s Bengali family is quite accomplished culinarily: His great-aunt, the late Purnima Tagore (a descendant of Rabindranath Tagore), published a book of family recipes, Thakur Barir Ranna (Recipes from the Tagore Family). He says his mother takes this book with her everywhere, and copies were given to him and his two elder brothers, both great cooks.
On today’s menu is steamed white rice with kosha mangsho, a sautéed mutton which is a Bengali favourite. Fish, he says, is a daily Bengali staple, while mutton is made for special feasts. “It’s a tradition in my family to eat steamed rice and kosha mangsho on the Ashtami night during Durga Puja,” he says. Chattopadhyay has marinated the mutton in spices, aromatics and curd overnight, a crucial step in the process. He heats up some mustard oil in a pressure cooker, adds the marinated meat and starts to sauté on a low flame, a process which continues for quite a while. “The masalas have to fry properly. If you hurry through this step, the flavours don’t get into the meat.”
Well done: Chattopadhyay says slow sautéing is what gives kosha mangsho its flavour. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
As he stirs, he shares stories about growing up. He had a problem with that pincushion of the piscine population, beloved of his community—the hilsa. “As a child I could never eat hilsa the way Bengalis do, by putting the fish into your mouth with the bones, and then chewing it in such a way that you end up spitting out only a pile of bones. But when I returned as an adult to India (he studied in the US and Canada), I found it just came automatically to me. It must be some genetic Bengali trait kicking in,” he says.
He’s full of praise for Bengali cooking methods. “Though Bengalis are hard-core non-vegetarians, their vegetable dishes are brilliant.” They are lightly spiced to allow the unique flavour of the vegetable to stand out, instead of smothering it in spices. He recommends kalonji (black caraway or black onion seed) as a light spice suited to vegetable dishes.
Chattopadhyay reveals an insight into Bengali eating habits which film director Shyam Benegal once brought to his attention. “He told me that Bengalis are the only Indian community that eats in courses. They start with the sabzi, then comes the dal, after which is fish, then meat and last, the sweets. Or if you’re from East Bengal, you start with the dal.”
Despite his admiration for his community’s culinary prowess, Chattopadhyay, who has been with O&M since 1993, says he is an adventurous eater, especially while he’s travelling. He was appalled when colleagues started hunting for an Indian restaurant the minute they landed in Beijing. He’s sampled ostrich, deer and alligator meats, and eaten unidentifiable objects off street carts in Bangkok.
While reminiscing about batter-fried pumpkin flowers and the kochu (arbi) root that he ate as a child, Chattopadhyay pressure-cooks the mutton and gingerly chops coriander and chillies for the finishing touch—the aromatic ghee, cinnamon and cardamom garnish. Once the mutton is ready, the sizzling garnish is poured over. The taste and aroma of the ghee and the pungent cinnamon add to the complexity of the spiced gravy.
Chattopadhyay was like a nervous artist after his debut performance, but he needn’t have worried; the kosha mangsho was a sold-out show.
2 medium onions
1-inch piece ginger
6-8 garlic pods
8 whole dried chillies
½ tsp turmeric
4 tsp coriander powder
4 tbsp yogurt
Salt to taste
2-3 tsp ghee
Cinnamon stick, crushed fine
4-5 green cardamoms, crushed fine
Mustard oil for cooking
Green chillies and chopped coriander to garnish
Grind together the onions, ginger, garlic and red chillies and mix together with the turmeric, coriander powder, yogurt and salt (you can also add one grated tomato and reduce the yogurt to 3 tbsp). Marinate the mutton in this paste. If you can marinate it overnight, there’s nothing like it, but it should be marinated for a couple of hours at the least.
In a pressure cooker, heat mustard oil, add the marinated meat, cook for a little while on high flame and then on low heat till the oil separates—that’s when the masala is cooked. Add adequate water, about 1 or 2 regular cups, and pressure-cook for eight whistles and turn off the gas. If the mutton is marinated overnight, even six whistles should be fine.
Allow some time for the steam to settle, then open the pressure cooker. If you want to reduce the gravy, do so, with the lid of the cooker off. In a separate vessel, heat the ghee, add the cardamom and cinnamon, give them a quick stir and pour over the meat curry. Garnish with finely chopped coriander leaves and a couple of slit whole green chillies and serve with white rice.