Monday, May 7, 2018

Vegan Bangladeshi


Mixed Vegetables

Mixed vegetables with panch phoron

Don't worry about the title, I've not gone vegan. I'm just finally confident enough about my veggie cooking skills to share this recipe. I'm not sure quite why it took me so long to get here, but vegetables don't come to me as naturally as meat. I find it more difficult to get the flavours right, and the cooking times correct. However, I am trying to eat more of them, while at the same time cutting down on meat for health and environmental reasons. Right now I'm helping this process along with a bright and interesting recipe for mixed vegetables with panch phoron, a staple of most Bangladeshi kitchens. Aside from simple turmeric-and-chilli stir fries and hearty mashes, this is how I'd expect vegetables to be eaten in a Bangladeshi household. In our family, vegetables cooked this way could be served for breakfast, lunch or even dinner - though hopefully never all on the same day!

Panch phoron is a five-spice mix consisting of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, black mustard and nigella seeds. If you're not in Bangladesh, don't fret. The mix is commonly stocked in many Asian corner stores and supermarkets around the world. Of course, you can always make up your own mixture, using each component in equal amounts. My most vivid memories of panch phoron are from its use in pickle-making, along with cooking vegetables like this. In my mind, panch phoron is to cooking what colour-blocking is to the fashion world. In most dishes I make, the spices come together and create a unique new flavour - like a colour-coordinated school uniform. It's not so with panch phoron, where instead it feels like the different flavours all compliment and bounce off each other. If you're not Bangladeshi, this spice mix may feel like an acquired taste. 

The recipe below is quite long, but only because I've broken it down into simple, easy-to-follow steps. I would advise not using store-bought garlic and ginger pastes here. The short cooking time won't rid them of their vinegar-y smell. You wouldn't normally encounter chickpeas in this dish, but the eateries near my late nani's all make their shingara fillings this way. Inspired by them, I've included chickpea in my recipe too. It adds some protein, and helps me turn this into a one-dish dinner for weeknights.

Finally, a few notes on the cooking times. These will vary depending on the vegetables used. Fresh, younger plants will cook faster than the older and tougher. Equally, there will be differing opinions on what constitutes "cooked". Some people prefer everything in this dish to go soft and mushy, while others prefer their vegetables to retain a slight crunch. In our family, we opt for the crunchier version of this dish, unless we're serving it for breakfast. For breakfast, we cook this for longer than stipulated below, and with more water. The end result would be soft dollops of vegetable and a tiny bit of broth - ideal for scooping up with ruti! Do experiment with timings and combinations that suit your own preferences. The recipe below serves 4 as part of a larger Bangladeshi meal. 

  • 80.00 g of dried chickpeas
  • 1.00 medium onion 
  • 2.00 carrots (about 200.00 g)
  • 0.66 of a broccoli (about 230.00 g)
  • 1.00 medium courgette (about 100.00 g)
  • 100.00 g of green beans
  • 2.00 handfuls of peas
  • 2.00 cloves of garlic
  • 2.00 cm of ginger
  • 1.00 teaspoon of powdered turmeric
  • 1.50 tablespoons of panch phoron
  • 2.00 small bay leaves
  • Salt, to taste
  • Fresh chilli, to taste


  • Soak the chickpeas in water overnight. Drain before cooking
  • With a teaspoon, scrape away the skin of the ginger, and mince with a knife
  • Transfer the chickpeas to a saucepan, along with the ginger, half a teaspoon of turmeric and a little oil
  • Pour in fresh water until it just covers the chickpeas
  • Put the saucepan onto the stove, and turn the heat up high
  • Bring water to boil and turn the heat down to medium
  • Cook the chickpeas until they go soft. This should take about 15 minutes
  • Prep the vegetables while the chickpeas are boiling
  • Peel and finely slice the onion
  • Peel and crush the garlic
  • Peel the tough outer layer of the carrots if desired, and slice into bite sizes pieces
  • Similarly, chop the broccoli and courgette into bite size pieces
  • Put a large work on medium heat and add a tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • Add the onion, salt, half a teaspoon of turmeric and garlic to the wok. Stir everything together and fry for about 5 minutes, until the onion softens and is evenly stained by the turmeric
  • Add the beans, chilli, carrot and chickpea. Stir to mix everything together and cover. Cook for a further 5 minutes
  • Open the lid and add the courgette and broccoli to wok. Mix everything thoroughly

Vegetables pre-panch phoron

  • Add a splash of water (cold is fine), then cover and leave to cook for 9-10 minutes
  • While the vegetables are cooking, heat some oil in a small frying pan
  • To the hot oil, add 1.50 tablespoons of panch phoron and 2 bay leaves. Fry for 1-2 minutes then remove from the stove and set aside
  • After the vegetables have cooked for 9-10 minutes, add the fried panch phoron and bay leaves, stirring to mix thoroughly 

Panch phoron pre-fried separately

  • Follow up by adding the frozen peas, and again mix through
  • Add another splash of water then cook for a final 9-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft enough to eat
  • Serve warm with plain rice or flatbreads like ruti and porota 

Additional Info
This may be a little obvious, but play around with the vegetables depending on what's available locally and seasonally. And if this recipe seems a little complicated, our family also cooks a simpler, plainer version of this with cumin seeds, which I've written about before. The amount of turmeric is a preference, and its common for people to add more and turn the dish very yellow.

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