Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Saraswati Puja and the Nostalgic Gota Seddho (Whole Lentil and Vegetable Stew)


Friday, the 15th was Saraswati Puja or Vasant Panchami or Shree Panchami, call what ever you like. This day the Ma Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge, Music, Art and Culture is worshiped and it also its marks the beginning of Spring in India.

Growing up, my mom used to do a simple Puja at home and offer sweets and five kind of fruits to the deity and then rush to a family friend's house where the celebration was on a much larger scale. Me and my sister would go there the night before with our books and help with the decorations. Books, pens, ink pot, musical instruments, paint brushes were also worshiped along with Ma Saraswati. Girls usually wear yellow sarees, though I always made it a point not to do so. I remember rubbing my self with turmeric and mustard oil paste before my shower on the day of the Puja. After the Puja was over, we had to write the words "Om Saraswati Namaha" (Reverence to Goddess Saraswati) on a Mango Leaf with a Bamboo Pen dipped in a clay ink pot filled with milk. Needless to say, the whole process was tedious and frustrating at times. Down the years, we switched to notebook and gel pens. Actually, there are so many sweet and silly memories associated with this festival that I am finding it extremely difficult to concise it in one paragraph.


Along with Saraswati Puja, comes two very nostalgic food memories - Jora Ilish (Two Hilsa fish are cooked together in a light watery gravy with vegetables) and Gota Seddho (Whole lentils and whole vegetables are cooked together to make a light stew).

Jora Ilish is a Bangal (people originally from East Bengal, now Bangladesh) tradition, whereas Gota Seddho is a Ghoti (people originally from the state of Bengal) ritual. Though me and Sam both are Bangals, we both were raised in Ghoti-centric neighbourhood. Every year, the day after Saraswati Puja, we would wait for various sized steel tiffin boxes to arrive. Each one carrying a delicious Gota Seddho, with a distinct character of its own. While "Dui nomborer dida" (grandma from apartment 2) made her Gota all mushy and slimy, with extra doze of Mustard Oil, potent enough to clear the sinus, "Chaar nomborer Kakima" (aunty from appartment 4) made a hot-sweet-tangy version by adding Kul (Its called Ber in Hindi. Don't know what is it called in English. Please enlighten). Her veggies and lentil were just boiled to perfection.


Gota Seddho literally translates to "Whole Boiled". Whole Lentils, either Black Urad Dal or Green Moong Dal or in combination are boiled with whole vegetables like baby eggplant, baby potatoes, baby sweet potatoes, peas in pods, seem (broad beans) and spinach. As per tradition, 5 kinds of vegetables are added. Everything must be whole, no chopping allowed. Everything is cooked in a huge pot called "Handi" and once the veggies and lentils are cooked to perfection, its drizzled with mustard oil. This is perhaps the simplest of all recipes that I have shared in my blog. It is a prepared on the day of Saraswati Puja and eaten 'cold' on the next day, the day of Sheetal Shasti.


Every family has its own magical recipe. And since it was never cooked in my home, I took the liberty of recreating the Gota Seddho, the way I liked it. Puritans please pardon!

Of all the Gota Seddhos that I had in my life, eggplant, potatoes, sweet pea in the pod and spinach were more or less common. Some even added Broad Beans (Sheem), baby sweet potatoes, Sojne Phul and even Kul. Here I could find neither find Sheem nor Sojne Phul nor Kul. I just used what ever was in my pantry on a windy Friday afternoon.


Since its a very simple recipe without any major spices, make sure the vegetables are at their freshest. The "process" is pretty simple. In a big pot dump the soaked lentils and the veggies, throw in few green chilies, a teaspoon of whole peppercorns and few thick slices of ginger (skin on); salt and sugar. Boil till the lentil are cooked through. You can even pressure cook everything for one whistle.

Once everything is cooked, drizzle a healthy doze of pungent Mustard oil. Enjoy "Cold" with rice or by itself.





Recipe Snapshot: Gota Seddho (Whole Lentil and Vegetable Stew)

Serves: 4 serving
(1 serving = 1 cup)

What I used:

Black Urad Dal - 1 cup, soaked overnight
(Green Moong Dal can also be used instead or in combination)

Spinach - 1 bunch, washed thoroughly

Baby Potatoes - ½ lb (I used Yucan Gold, but red skin potatoes would have been more delicious)

Sugar snap peas - ½ lb

Baby/ Petite Eggplant - ½ lb

Potol/ Pointed Gourd - ½ lb
(not a classical vegetable for the occasion,but they were so cute and petite that I just had to include)

Green Chilies - 4-5 nos, with stem on

Ginger - 2" piece, thickly sliced with skin on


Whole peppercorn - ½ tsp
Sugar - 1 tsp

Salt - 1 tsp + as per taste

Water - 2-3 cups

Mustard Oil - 2-3 tbsp

(Other vegetables like broad beans, sweet potatoes, petite red radishes can also be used.)

What I did:
1. Soak the Urad Dal or Moong Dal overnight.

2. Wash all the vegetables thoroughly.

3. Dump all the ingredient except the mustard oil in a pig pot and boil till the lentil is tender. By that time, the vegetables would have also cooked too.

4. Discard the ginger pieces.

5. Check the seasoning and adjust accordingly. Drizzle the mustard oil generously.

6. Let it cool completely before having. It is supposed to be eaten the next day.


Notes/Tip: Get the freshest vegetables. It makes all the difference.

Diabetic Platter:
Gota Seddho... Can anything be as simple and and as wholesome as this! Tons of vegetables, lentils and virtually oil free and no chopping and grinding as an additional bonus I don't think this recipe should be confined to just one day a year. I am going to make this wholesome goodness pretty often this year!

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