Panchmishali torkari is any Bengali mixed-vegetable preparation, in which the vegetables are first stir-fried and then steamed in their own juices till they are tender and well-integrated.
As you might have guessed, the stars of this dish are the veggies themselves. This is not a preparation in which you spice up things with ginger or cumin powder or red chilli powder. The only spice this recipe calls for is a touch of turmeric. Mostly, it relies on the salt and sugar to help draw out the moisture from the vegetables, and allow their flavours to mingle while cooked together. We don’t add water to form a gravy. Rather we cook this torkari on low heat, with the lid on, for nearly 30 to 40 minutes. At the end of this slow cooking process, it reaches a state where no vegetable stands out, yet each has still held on to its flavours and integrity.
Coming to the selection of the veggies themselves, some type of starchy item such as a potato or sweet potato is used. These, being otherwise neutral in taste, are the perfect receptacle of the juices from the other vegetables. The mushy texture is usually contributed by pumpkin, while radish is used for the more sharper notes. Some kind of beans (such as borboti or sheem) add crunch and colour. In the winter months, cauliflower lends the most sublime flavour to the torkari, in addition to providing texture. Finally, slimier vegetables such as brinjals, or cabbage or leafy greens that are prone to wilting on application of heat and salt, coat the mix with their juices and hold everything together.
There are several versions of panchmishali torkari. The choice of phoron (or tempering) will depend on the vegetables used. In this particular recipe, we are using potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cauliflower, borboti (yardlong beans), cabbage, and brinjal, with a tempering of panch phoron.
COOKING TIME 60 minutes
YIELDS 5 servings
|40 g||Mustard oil|
|2 pieces||Bay leaves (whole)|
|2 pieces||Dried red chillies (whole)|
|1 piece||Green chilli (slit)|
|1 tsp||Panch phoron|
|100 g||Brinjals (5-cm cubes)|
|200 g||Potatoes (4-cm cubes)|
|100 g||Sweet potatoes (4-cm cubes)|
|200 g||Pumpkin (4-cm cubes)|
|200 g||Cauliflower (5-cm florets)|
|100 g||Borboti or yardlong beans (5-cm segments)|
|100 g||Cabbage (5-cm segments)|
|½ tsp||Turmeric powder|
|2 pieces||Green chillies (slit)|
|10 g||Coriander leaves (chopped)|
|½ tsp||Bhaja masala|
- Kadai | frying pan
- Lid for the cooking vessel
- Khunti | long spatula
STEP I—PREPPING THE VEGETABLES
- Peel and cut the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin in 4 cm cubes.
- Cut the borboti, brinjal, and cabbage in segments of 5 cm each.
- Cut the cauliflower in florets, 5 cm large.
- In order to cook panchmishali torkari, the vegetables are stir-fried, and the order in which they are added to the pan depends upon their hardness. So, the potatoes and sweet potatoes, which are the hardest of all the veggies, are the first to enter the pan, followed by pumpkin, cauliflower, borboti, and cabbage. We deal with the brinjals separately, as explained in the next step.
STEP II—FRYING THE VEGETABLES
- Heat mustard oil in a pan till it starts to smoke lightly and the pungent smell is gone.
- Keeping the pan on medium heat, add in the brinjals and fry them for about 3 minutes till they are golden.
- Remove them from pan and reserve for later use. Frying the brinjals separately enhances their flavour.
- Now, in the same oil, add the tempering of dried red chillies, bay leaves, green chilli, and panch phoron. Panch phoron is a mix of the following whole spices in equal proportion: fenugreek seeds (methi), fennel seeds (mouri), mustard seeds (shorshe), nigella seeds (kaalo jeere), and a typically Bengali spice called radhuni.
- Once the spices start to crackle, add in the potatoes and sweet potatoes to the oil.
- Fry these for about 3 minutes before introducing the next vegetable, that is, pumpkin.
- Fry the pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and potatoes together for another 3 minutes before adding the cauliflower. Basically, at intervals of 3 minutes, we add the next vegetable and stir-fry it together with the veggies already in the pan.
- Once the cauliflower is fried, add the borboti, and then, after 3 minutes, the cabbage.
STEP III—STEAMING THE VEGETABLES
- Once all the veggies have been fried, add in the salt and turmeric, and stir them in.
- At this point, lower the heat and cover the pan with a lid. The salt will help release the moisture from the vegetables, and gently steaming them with the lid on will help soften them up.
- Cook the vegetables like this for about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. While doing so, be gentle, as the we don’t want the vegetables to turn into mush. (Always use a folding motion to stir the veggies around.)
- After 15 minutes, add the sugar and the fried brinjals, and cover and cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
- You will know that the torkari is done when the vegetables are completely tender and have integrated themselves into the dish, but still have the integrity to not fall apart to the touch.
- At this point, garnish with the chopped coriander leaves, green chillies, bhaja masala, and ghee.
- Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and allow it to rest for 2 minutes before serving.