We have a funny tradition in Bangladesh, where we invite guests over for “daal bhaat” (lentils & rice, two staple food items in Bangladesh which are present in nearly every lunch and dinner) but what we actually prepare for company rarely includes these simple everyday dishes. If you grew up in a Bangladeshi home, you’re well aware that just “daal bhaat” is never what you serve guests!
My husband, who is Sri Lankan, still doesn’t understand this concept. It’s beyond him why no one makes the simple yet utterly delicious lentils, rice and “bhortas” (any mashed dish in Bengali cuisine) when they have us over in Bangladesh, and why relatives insist on making the heavier, richer special occasion “dawat” (party) food for the visiting foreigner “jamai” (husband/groom) even though he prefers the lighter, simpler ones.
There is a distinction between many of the traditional dishes we eat in a Bangladeshi home on a daily basis and that which we often choose to serve guests or make on celebratory occasions, and two genres are rarely ever combined as part of the same meal. A few of years ago, when I started hosting supper club dinners at home in New York, I wanted to showcase both type of dishes at the same time and decided to serve a meal consisting of many small plates rather than one family-style dinner, as is traditionally done in our culture.
I started with Bangladeshi basics — rice, lentils and “aloo bhorta”, Bengali style mashed potatoes, and a spicy tomato bhorta. I reimagined how we serve these everyday dishes in Bangladesh and turned them into a plated introductory course, to give guests a taste of simple, vegetarian comfort food before we delved into more substantial fish and meat courses. The flavors were very traditional, but the presentation was not.
While the idea of feeding guests “daal bhaat bhorta”, and that too in small portions, is pretty much tantamount to sacrilege in Bangladesh, I now do this often as guests always love it! My mother would have been mortified though, so I won’t be telling her about it anytime soon.
I’ve received a lot of feedback on the way I plated these classic Bangladeshi dishes so I wanted to share my recipe for aloo bhorta and some plating and styling tips below.
If you make it please tag me (@noorieboorie or #noorieboorie) on Instagram so I can see and re-share.
You can shape the "aloo bhorta" into little balls by hand as I did here or scoop it into a small bowl for a neat presentation. If you choose to mold them into spheres, follow the instructions at the end for plating and styling tips.
If you make it this way, tag me on Instagram (@noorieboorie) so I can see and re-share!
- 2-3 medium potatoes, peeled
- 1-2 tsp mustard oil
- 1 small shallot or 1/3rd small red onion, finely chopped
- 1 fresh green chili or 1/2 tsp crushed dried red chili
- cilantro, finely chopped (optional, for color)
- salt to taste
- Boil the potatoes in a pot of salted water until tender.
- Remove potatoes from water, drain completely and let it cool.
- Add mustard oil, chilies, onions, cilantro (if using) and salt into a mixing bowl and mash everything together with your hands.
- Add the cooled potatoes to the mixing bowl and mash them (by hand or with a potato masher), making sure to mix well with the other ingredients.
- Adjust salt and any other seasoning as desired and serve with rice, lentils and curries.
To assemble daal bhaat & bhortas (as shown in photograph above): 1. Start by discarding any large whole spices like bay leaves and green chillies from daal. 2. Spoon the daal into a slightly inverted plate. A shallow plate-bowl works well. 3. Take a small greased bowl and press the rice inside it. Jasmine rice or other rice that is slightly stickier than basmati will work well here. 4. Release the rice onto a separate plate and carefully transfer on top of the plated lentils. 5. Spread a layer of chutney, achar or a bhorta like tomato or eggplant bhorta on top of the rice. 6. Place your aloo bhorta sphere on top. 7. Garnish the plate. (I've used onion sprouts in this photo, but anything green like cilantro, scallion, etc would add a good contrasting pop of color.)