The things we Bengalis eat!
Now, in this half Punju family, I bring in my bits of Bengali culture once in a while through sudden deep rooted bengali thinking. Like not letting any part of a plant go waste. If it is from a plant, it must be edible!
So, we have had Chorchori (mixed vegetable of greens) which contains the stem from cauliflowers, daal with seeds from ripe jackfruit, bottle gourd in all possible forms including skin, and of course, spring onion leaves subzi… things in heard of in Punjabis!
Today, post lunch as I sit typing this, I feel sated. Because my sudden indescribable urge to have thor or thod (the pronunciation is like “Thoda” without the “A” at the end) has been satisfied!
To the uninitiated, Thor is the stem of a banana plant. After banana plant bears fruit, the plant above the soil perishes, though roots remain. As per Bengali nature, we then proceed to use every bit of the plant, eating the stem (rich in nutrients) and using the leaves as plates.
The difficult part of making thor is the cutting and cleaning of it. If you know basic Botany, a stem of the plant carries sap to all parts of the plant. To do so, it has many fibres. So, the primary part of making this stem edible is making it fibre free. In Bengali, in rather basic terminology these fibres are called ‘chool’ (meaning hair – yuck!). The rest is easy peasy!
So, the first thing you do with Thor is get rid of the outer bark. Just slit the stem and peel it off to reveal the white, softer, moist inner cylinder.
Then, cut this cylinder into disks. The disks may not be thin – in fact dont make them thin. Around half an inch of thickness will suffice. While cutting the disks, the fibres will reveal themselves, holding the stem together. Just wrap the fibers around your fingers like thread spooling, and pull out as much as you can. You can also remove fibers after cutting the whole thor.
For me, I might leave out some fibers in the stem, and I dont want that fibrous feeling in the final subzi. So, I pressure cook the stem pieces, till they are well boiled, but still crispy.
Cut the disks into small cubes now.
The Thor is ready to be made into a delicious vegetable now!
In a kadai (wok), pour a little bit of mustard oil and let it get hot.
Add mustard seeds and dried red chili into this. Wait till the seeds start spluttering. Add the cut thor into this, and mix well.
Let it cook for some time.
Meanwhile, get ready some mustard paste. This can be done by soaking mustad seeds and then grinding them to a thick paste, or by purchasing ready-made mustard paste powder and mixing it in water to a thick paste. The latter tastes a little bitter, while the former is delicious!
In my case where “shorshe bata” (ground mustard) is a distant dream, I used the ready-made variety.
Add turmeric (haldi), red chili powder (mirchi) and the mustard paste to the thor and mix it well.
Now cover, and let it cook. The thor should release some water. If it does not do so, add some water and let it cook on medium flame.
After about 5-6 minutes, the thor will be ready for next steps.
Add around a tablespoon of sugar, and mix it in well till it dissolves into the vegetable.
Add salt to taste, and mix it in well.
The Thor Chhenchki is ready!
Eat it will hot rice and daal! It is a dry vegetable, and so its termed a chhenchki. And trust me, it does not taste good with roti.
The texture of the finished product is crispy and as my husband put it, ‘snacky’. The mustard is a crucial ingredient, and lends a lot of flavour in the dish.This is the ideal counter to the softness of rice mixed with daal. Yum!
The pressure cooking step is optional, but I like it because it dissolves the left over fibers in the veggie, I hate the fibers in my mouth while eating the crispy vegetable.
I really enjoyed this intrinsic bengali dish. I am sure many other fervent banana growing parts of the country make something similar, but adding the mustard makes all the difference. There is another variant which uses coconut instead of mustard, but thats for my next experience!
One foot long stem of Thor
2 tablespoon virgin mustard oil (shorshe’r tel)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (whole)
1 dry red chili (shukno lonka)
2 teaspoon mustard paste (shorshe bata)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (halud)
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder (lonka guro)
1 tablesppn sugar
Salt to taste
The short story:
Cut thor into disks ->remove the fibers ->pressure cook -> cut into small cubes
Kadai+Oil->heat + mustard seeds + red chili -> splutters -> +Cut thor bits ->stir fry
+ Haldi+Mirchi+Sarson paste ->cover & cook
+Sugar ->mix well +salt -> serve & Enjoy!