Alu Posto (Potatoes in Poppy seeds)9:43 AM
'Bengali girls have beautiful eyes' he told me with an intense look.
My heart threatened to leap out through my mouth and started beating so fast that I could hear it even in a food court full of hungry diners. This was our so called first official date after few casual outings and long chats over phone. and the totally smitten me wanted to impress him badly.
The light headed, visibly elated me wanted to stay composed so I quickly gathered myself and gave him the most angelic yet classy 'there, yet not too there' smile. while all the time my heart kept on humming 'he thinks you have beautiful eyes'.
He looked at me through his glares and said "I guess this has a lot to do with your food habit".
'What? food habit and beautiful eyes!!! Really? Is he serious?'
I was literally startled but could not afford to reveal that. my mind quickly started- searching for all the possible connections between food and errrr beautiful eyes. Is it spinach and carrots that brightens your eyesight, but Bongs are never specifially known for their love of these veggies. May be Fish. I mean aren't eyes shaped like fishes or for that matter Bengal's favourite summer vegetable Patol (pointed gourd). We often appreciate other's pretty peeps as 'patolchera chokh' (eyes which are perfectly shaped like pointed gourd).
but the brainstorming bore no result. I was clueless as ever and could not establish any believable connection.
He saw my quizzical look and smiled again.
"I mean Posto (poppy seeds). Aren't Bengalis fond of it? I have heard it induces sleep and gives you drooly dreamy eyes in turn."
Well the date and the relationship following that day's conversation dint go long but it made me take posto seriously. Well very very seriously. I mean am so serious about posto that sometimes I wonder why there is no Bengali surname called Postowala. If the Parsi's could bear surnames like sodabottleopenerwala or screwwala then why not Postowala. I would love to change mine to Postowala. Think of Sayantani postowala....I find it really enticing.
Unlike that relationship that dint last long, posto on the other hand has come a long way. It has a long history that traces back to 2700 BC when in Minoan civilization it was used for its medicinal purpose. These tiny kidney shaped white or black seeds are highly nutritious and are known to be a good source of anti cancer drugs. (source: Wiki)
This versatile seeds are used both in sweet bakes and savory cooking. While in Asia it is commonly a gravy thickener in West its black varieties are extensively used in sweet bakes. We Bengalis use it mainly to make a dish called posto where these tiny seeds take the lead and shine where as omnipresent potatoes take the supporting role to give body to the dish. But posto for not only means alu posto (with potao) rather we cook alu-jhinge posto (potato and ridge gourd), Patol posto (pointed gourd), bhindi posto (ladies finger), alu ucche posto (potato and bitter gourd), Peyanj posto (onion), jhinge chingri posto (ridge gourd and shrimp) etc. depending on the amount of water used it might range from jhol posto (runny) or bhaja posto (fried).
Posto bhate is another favourite dish where the poppy seeds paste is mixed with other ingredients and cooked in boiling rice. The end result is so soothing that after having it you will look for a bed to take your siesta.
So you can see posto for all us Bengalis is a very very serious thing. We love our posto and use it in almost everything. but today am sharing the easiest of them all, alu posto or potato cooked in poppy seeds gravy.
Potato: 3 medium
Green chilies: 2
Poppy seeds: 3-3.5 tbsp
Oil: 2 tbsp
Sugar: a fat pinch
To start with first we have to make posto bata or poppy seeds gravy. Its a really easy work if you have the traditional shil nora (shil batta or mortar and pestle) otherwise you can also use your coffee grinder or mixie. The problem of using mixer grinder is that even if you use the tiny chutney jar you need to grind much more poppy seeds than you need for this recipe. What I generally do is grind in bigger batch say 6-8 tbsp and save the rest in the freezer.
To make a paste take the poppy seeds in a small mixer jar and first dry grind it in short cycles (run the mixer for 30 seconds, scrape the sides again run the machine). It will be like coarse powder after 3-4 whizz. Now add little water (2-3 tbsp) and run the machine. Grind till you get a smooth paste with few grains (run for short cycles and if needed add little water at a time). If you dont have kids at home you might like adding one green chili in it as well.
Wash, peel and cut the potatoes in small cubes. Heat 2 tbsp oil preferably mustard and add slit green chilies. see it pop from a safer distance then pour in the cubed potatoes. Add salt and stir till oil coats it uniformly. Cover and let it cook till its soft (6-8 minutes) stir intermittently.
Now add the poppy seeds paste and start stirring it. Poppoy seeds have a tendency to stick at the bottom so be very careful and scrape the botom and sides while cooking. Cook for a couple of minutes till the raw smell is gone. Now add 1/2 cup of water. Check the seasoning and stir. Cover and cook till the gravy coats the potatoes. Finally add the sugar and one more green chili for flavour and serve hot.
A Homemaker's Notes:
I often add a small tomato after cooking the potatoes a couple of minutes. The tomato gets cooked by the time I add water and then just smash the tomato and mix it in the gravy. My son loves it this way but traditionally no tomato is used in posto.
Some people temper the oil with nigella seeds which I do when I add other veggies like jhinge (ridge gourd) or patol (pointed gourd). Some people temper with cumin seeds. Personally I dont like posto and jeere flavours together.
I often add cubed onions in my alu posto, which is a family favourite. I add the onions along with chilies and saute it till they turn translucent before adding the potatoes.