Taste of Eastern India: Delicious, Authentic Bengali Meals You Need to Try, written by Kankana Saxena, features an incredible collection of traditional and modern Bengali recipes with a variety of vibrant flavors. A few highlights include Chingri Aalu Boda (Shrimp Potato Fritters), Choshi Payesh (Rice Flour Vermicelli Sweet Pudding), Chicken Shingara (Minced Chicken Wrapped in Flaky Crust), Shoshar Torkari (Cucumber Ginger Stir-Fry), and Robibar Er Murgh John (Sunday Chicken Curry). I will also be sharing her recipe for Chaana (Fresh Unripened Cheese) following the review.
Disclosure: I received this book from Page Street Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All opinions and statements are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Kankana Saxena, a Bengali native, is a recipe developer and food photographer currently based in California with her family. She is the founder of the food blog, Playful Cooking, and her work has been featured on Saveur, The Kitchn, the Huffington Post, and Buzzfeed. This is her first cookbook.
Taste of Eastern India
Kankana begins with a short introduction of how she developed a passion for food later in life and realized cooking helped with relieving stress (I can definitely relate). After marrying her boyfriend of four years and moving to the United States, she started her food blog to share her love for food, photography, and memories with others. While her blog features a variety of cuisines, Kankana decided to focus on her roots with Bengali cooking to increase awareness of this amazing cuisine.
For those unfamiliar with Bengali culture, Kankana shares a little background from her birthplace of Shillong in Northeastern India, family memories, and traditions surrounding mealtimes. Following the recipes, she has written a guide for essential ingredients to help create the recipes with basic descriptions, uses, and tips.
Chapters are divided based on course: Let’s Start with the Basics; For the Love of Rice; Deep-Fried Goodness; Feel-Good Food; Plant-Based Main Dishes; Fish, Meat and Egg Main Dishes; Smack Your Palate; Sweet Tooth; Snack and Sip; Playful Cooking; and Essential Ingredients Used in Bengali Cooking.
The beautiful photography is also by Kankana Saxena. Most of the recipes are accompanied by a full-page photo of the finished dish. There are also a handful of step-by-step photos to demonstrate specific techniques such as forming and deep-frying Luchi (Deep-Fried Puffed Mini Bread) and rolling rice flour vermicelli for Choshi Payesh (Rice Flour Vermicelli Sweet Pudding).
Measurements are listed in US Customary and Metric. Titles are written in romanized Bengali with English underneath. Each recipe includes a headnote with background information, personal stories, helpful tips, ingredient notes, menu ideas, and serving size.
Chaana (Fresh Unripened Cheese)
I had such fun making homemade Chaana (Fresh Unripened Cheese)! Chaana is one of the first recipes in Taste of Eastern India and used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes throughout the book. It is also delicious served simply with a sprinkling of sugar.
Milk is simmered in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until it comes to a complete boil, then immediately removed from heat. Ice cubes are added to cool the milk slightly before mixing in white vinegar/lemon juice with water to curdle the milk. After the milk separates, it is carefully poured into a cheesecloth to catch the curdles and rinsed with cold water to help remove the acidity. The edges of the cheesecloth are gathered, tied into a knot, then allowed to hang for 30 minutes to remove excess moisture before serving fresh.
Adding the ice cubes immediately before curdling the cheese helps create a soft texture. Kankana states it is important to not allow the drained cheese to hang in the cheesecloth for longer than 40 minutes. You want to keep some of the moisture inside the cheese. This is why fresh chaana also can’t be replaced with store-bought paneer.
Looking for more homemade cheese recipes?
I also made Kankana’s Khejur Gur Chaal Er Payesh (Date Molasses Rice Pudding), Dim Omelet Er Jhol (Fluffy Omelet in Tomato Gravy), Roshogolla (Juicy Cheese Dumpling in Light Sugar Syrup), and Aada Tejpata Chaa (Ginger Bay Leaf Milk Tea).
Khejur Gur Chaal Er Payesh (Date Molasses Rice Pudding) is a perfect dessert for special occasions. Short-grain rice (gobindo bhog chaal if available) is simmered in a combination of milk and cream, then sweetened with date molasses and crushed cardamom. The addition of raisins and cashews add a wonderful contrast in texture.
The Dim Omelet Er Jhol (Fluffy Omelet in Tomato Gravy) was a favorite with the whole family. I have tried egg curry with hard-boiled eggs before, but this was my first time making it with an omelet. This way is even faster! A light egg omelet is cut into thick slices and nestled in a flavorful tomato gravy with cubed potatoes and a variety of spices. It is served warm with fresh cilantro and a drizzle of fresh lemon juice.
Kankana has included so many incredible ways to use her homemade Chaana recipe at the beginning of the book. I was immediately drawn to Roshogolla (Juicy Cheese Dumplings in Light Sugar Syrup). After making the chaana, it is kneaded for about 10 minutes, until smooth, then formed into balls and simmered in a cardamom-seasoned syrup to create a wonderfully light and spongy texture.
I am such a huge fan of milk tea and love the flavor in this Aada Tejpata Chaa (Ginger Bay Leaf Milk Tea). Water, milk, sugar, black tea leafs, and a bay leaf are simmered, then combined with grated ginger. It was such a perfect, refreshing start to the day.
Taste of Eastern India is a great pick for those interested in Bengali cuisine. Recipes range from incredibly quick and easy snacks to more elaborate meals perfect for family meals and entertaining. I especially love the variety with plenty of options for naturally vegetarian or meat-based dishes.
Having a market with South Asian ingredients nearby will be helpful in locating items such as black mustard seeds, Indian red chilli powder, nigella seeds, cardamom pods, jaggery, saffron, date molasses, ghee, tender coconuts, mustard oil, solid milk, split black gram, fine semolina, and more.
Chaana (Fresh Unripened Cheese) Recipe
Excerpt from Taste of Eastern India
Chaana (Fresh Unripened Cheese)
- 3 tablespoons (44 milliliters) white vinegar or lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons (44 milliliters) water
- 3 ice cubes
- 4 cups (946 milliliters) whole milk
- Line a colander with a cheesecloth folded in half and place the colander in a clean sink.
- In a cup, mix the vinegar with the water and set aside. Place the ice cubes in a bowl and set aside.
- Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place it over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally using a wooden spoon as the milk comes to a boil.
- Once the milk comes to a complete boil, turn off the heat and immediately add the ice cubes. Now pour in the water-vinegar mixture and stir. You will notice the milk start to curdle and the water will turn pale green. Carefully pour the curdled milk into the cheesecloth.
- Run cold water over the collected curdled milk in the cheesecloth. This will remove the acidity from the cheese and will also cool it down.
- Next, gather the edges of the cheesecloth and squeeze out as much water as possible. Then tie the corners into a knot and hang it over the sink for 30 minutes to drain out the water.
- After 30 minutes, carefully untie the knot and scrape the cheese out of the cloth and into a bowl. You can sprinkle some sugar on it and enjoy right away with some fruits on the side.