I grew up in Calcutta, eating and loving all the vegetarian dishes that are a foundation of Bengali cuisine. But I especially love a dish called ghonto—a word that is hard to translate, but that can roughly mean “mish-mash," due to the mixture of vegetables found in the dish.
Traditionally, ghonto is cooked with mustard oil and a panch phoron (five-spice) tadka, with vegetables such as eggplant, radish, potatoes, and pumpkin; chickpeas are sometimes added to the mix, and it's usually finished with crunchy fried badis (small fritters made of ground lentils).
Each home has its own version of ghonto; for this recipe, I called many Bengali friends and got their various versions to create one of my own. In my version, palong shaak, or spinach greens, are the star, but are delightfully accompanied by squash, crispy chickpeas instead of lentil badis, and a mustard spice blend instead of mustard oil. The vegetables in this dish are slightly “ghanta ghanta,” or lightly broken up in the cooking process. What results is a delicate mix of subtle flavors and textures—a simple but nuanced mixture. This ghonto makes great leftovers and is amazing with rice and a simple dal.
(Note: Panch phoron comprises equal parts of five whole spices: fennel, cumin, brown mustard seeds, nigella seeds, and fenugreek seeds. I tend to use less fenugreek seeds than the rest of the spices because of its bitter tendencies.) —MasalaMama
For the roasted chickpeas
(one can) cooked chickpeas, washed, drained and divided into 2 equal portions
extra-virgin olive oil
For the ghonto
red chili powder (such as cayenne), plus more to taste
mustard oil or extra-virgin olive oil
panch phoron (see Author Notes)
red pepper flakes
small Italian eggplant, cubed (about 1½ cups)
small or ½ large kabocha squash, partially peeled and cubed (about 2 cups)
kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated (1 packed tablespoon)
Lay half of the chickpeas on a baking sheet lined with a clean kitchen towel and pat dry with another clean kitchen towel.
Remove the towels and drizzle a bit of olive oil on the chickpeas, tossing to coat.
Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast the chickpeas for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown and crunchy. Every 10 minutes, remove the baking sheet from the oven and toss the chickpeas on the pan. After about 30 minutes, try one chickpea; if the center is still moist and soft, roast the rest a bit longer until totally crispy.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the mustard powder, red chili powder, and turmeric with 1 tablespoon water. Set aside.
In a large skillet or lidded sauté pan, heat the mustard or olive oil. Once hot, but not smoking, add the panch phoron and red pepper flakes. As soon as the spices sizzle, add the eggplant and squash. Season with half the salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until almost cooked, 10 to 12 minutes.
To the vegetables, add the reserved chickpeas, spinach, grated ginger, the spice paste, more salt, and the sugar. Mix well. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until the spinach is completely soft, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust salt as needed.
Garnish the ghonto with the roasted chickpeas and serve hot.