From Cincinnati to Asia…it Bengs the question…

December 17, 2014

image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

What does Bangladesh even mean?! Bangladesh has gone by many names. Bangladesh, East Pakistan, more names that all essentially mean Land of the Bengals… ok that’s about it. I bet you know as much about this mysterious sub-continental realm as I, which is frankly not that much. Let us learn shall we?

Although one would assume the inhabitants would be called Bengali, this would only be partially correct. That term is specific to the ethnic group of Bengali descent in both this country as well as others such as neighboring India. The term to describe all citizens of the country is Bangladeshi, a slight but important difference. And there are a lot of Bangladeshi, ranking 8th in the world in country population. In 1947 when British rule on the region ended, the Bengal land was split along religious lines. The largely Hindu West Bengal became part of India and the more Muslim East Bengal became part of Pakistan. It would not be until 1971 that East Pakistan would gain independence.

 Prior to all of this, Bengal was one of the wealthiest parts of the sub-continent. Their strength dated back to ancient times when the region was known as Gangaridai (meaning wealth of the Ganges) by the Greeks. Taking advantage of the withdrawal of Alexander the Great’s Hellenic forces, the Maurya Empire was formed which ruled most of the Indian subcontinent. Their greatest ruler was of course Ashoka…the Great. Any relation to the Star Wars character Ahsoka Tano? Maybe. He is regarded as a caring and wise ruler, who referred to his subjects as his children.His carved capital image of four back to back lions is still the emblem of India today.

We should talk about the British I think, if only due to their enormous influence on the entire region. England was in control of the entire Indian region from 1858 to 1947. “But wait “, you say. “That is less than a century of rule, I thought they reigned longer?” You would be correct, as this period is referred to as “The Raj”, or “rule” in Hindi. The prior 101 years from 1757 to 1858 is known as “Company Rule”. And there is only one Company in the history of mankind which could pull off something like that, The British East India Company. Yes, the EIC ruled India longer than the actual British government. This began in 1757 with a victory at the Battle of Plassey against the last regional ruler of Bengal and his French allies from the French East India Company. Yes, the EIC had their own army, I didn’t really know that either. By 1778 the fighting force was 67,000 strong, bolstered largely by Indian troops, a majority of whom were Bangladeshi. This ultimately would lead to their undoing, as many of the soldiers (including the more formidable Bangladeshi) rebelled in 1857 which prompted the British government to take administrative control going forward. The EIC was dissolved and in 1876 Queen Victoria took the title of Empress of India. She regretted all the bloodshed and insisted on many things, including publicly guaranteeing religious freedom.

But what do they eat??? The cuisine mirrors that of a lot of other nearby locales. I am finding the most difficult part of this endeavor to be distinguishing between these similarities, but it is possible. As the main course I made my version of Chicken Khubani. “Khubani” is the Urdu word for apricot. In this adaptation prunes could be used as well, and I went with raisins as it was what I had on hand. The important element is the sweetness. The garlic, onion, and myriad of spices (including the once again important cardamom) provide a savory backdrop for the fruit to play against. The tomatoes are acidic by nature which once again is neutralized by the sweet. As a side dish I did a very simple recipe called Alu Posto (Potatoes with poppy seeds). The addition of as much green chili pepper as you are comfortable with provides a nice mild heat, while the turmeric turns them a vivid yellow. I just used some fresh jalapeno (seeds removed) from the local Worthington Farmer’s Market. I’ve had poppy seeds in my pantry since making Poppy filling for Rosh Hashanah hamantaschen several years ago so I was happy to find a new use. Overall the meal felt very…sub-continental…whatever that means.

 But can you imagine for a moment if Google or Macy’s or Starbucks had an army today like the East India Company? Picture a battalion of baristas, hacking their way through the Columbian rainforest to secure the coffee bean routes. Chilling stuff my friends.

Next we swim to Barbados, home of the bearded ones…Where I don’t fit in anymore!

 

  


Chicken khubani

3-4 servings

Ingredients:

16 oz CHICKEN BREAST, in large cubes

1 ONION, chopped

3 TOMATOES, peeled and cut

1.5 oz raisins

2 CLOVES GARLIC, chopped finely

PIECE OF GINGERROOT, grated (1 1/4 tsp powder)

1 CINNAMON STICK (1/2 tsp powder)

1/2 TSP PAPRIKA POWDER

4 CARDAMOM PODS, split open and use the seeds (4 tsp powder)

1 oz almonds chopped

——————————————

Directions:

– Fry the onion and garlic three minutes; add the chicken and fry until brown on all sides. Add all other ingredients except the almonds and add 1/4 cup of water, bring to the boil, put a lid on and simmer for 10 minutes. Take the lid off and boil on high heat until the sauce thickens. Take out the cinnamon stick (if used). Add the almonds.

_________________

Alu posto

Ingredients:

8 POTATOES, peeled and diced

1 ONION, chopped

2 GREEN CHILLIES, chopped finely

1/2 TSP TURMERIC

2 TBSP POPPY SEEDS

——————————————

Directions:

– Fry the onion three minutes, add the potatoes and stir fry 3 minutes more. Add the rest of the ingredients and 1/2 cup of water, put a lid on and simmer for 15 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: