Bhate-bhaat is a dish unique to Bengal in the Eastern region of India. A mélange of vegetables such as potatoes, green bananas, and squash are cooked, separately, until soft and mashed with onions, mustard oil, and cilantro. It was also a special meal my father made when he had to fend for me unexpectedly, without my mother.
Bapi, as I called my father, would go looking for whatever we could piece together for our special bhate-bhaat, with vegetables ranging from spinach to cauliflower, pumpkin to taro to green banana. The potatoes were usually a given. The vegetables were made separately, carefully mashed with the appropriate seasonings, and shaped into small balls so that the servings included a little of everything.
We would add red lentils, usually cooked in a cheesecloth in the same pot as the rice, and my father’s special touch was to add eggs to the pot towards the end, ensuring that they cooked to a semi-soft yolk, something he referred to as “quarter-boiled." It has taken me becoming a parent twice over to understand the importance of such precision in food rituals.
butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into large pieces
trimmed spinach or baby kale leaves
basmati or kalajeera Rice
clarified butter or ghee, divided
mustard oil or extra-virgin olive oil, divided
medium red onion, finely chopped and divided
2 or 3 tablespoons
finely chopped cilantro, divided
salt, or to taste
2 or 3
green chiles, minced and divided
fresh lime juice (optional, to taste), divided
In This Recipe
Place the red lentils in a small pot with about 1 cup water, bring to a simmer, and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are soft and the water is absorbed. You should be able to mash the lentils into a paste.
Bring 3 pots of water to a boil on the stove for the potatoes, squash, and spinach (or, alternatively, cook the vegetables one at a time). Boil the quartered potatoes until soft, about 7 to 8 minutes. At the same time, boil the butternut squash in a separate pot until soft.
Blanch the spinach leaves and set aside. (You could also blanch these in the pot you've just cooked the squash in.)
In the meantime cook the rice in a pot of plenty of boiling water (as you would pasta), for about 20 minutes. At the last five minutes of simmering, add in the eggs. Remove the eggs and set aside. Drain the rice.
Mash the lentils with about 1 1/2 teaspoons each of the oil and clarified butter. Add in some chopped red onion, cilantro, salt, green chile, and about 2 teaspoons of lime juice and mix well. Repeat with the cooked potatoes and cooked squash (you can either add lime juice or omit it—I prefer to leave the lime juice out of the potato and squash mashes so that only one component, the lentils, are citrusy).
Heat the remaining oil and add in the remaining onions and chiles. Add the blanched greens and salt and sauté until all the moisture is absorbed.
To serve place some rice in the center of the plates, and surround with mashed lentils, potatoes, spinach, and squash.
Peel the eggs, carefully cut them in half, and place on the plates. If you are feeling indulgent, add another dollop of clarified butter. Enjoy!