Labra, Khichhuri[khichdi], Chutney, Payesh... a complete BHOG[offering to God] platter on the occasion of Saraswati Puja[Goddess of Education]. Usually held in the month of February, it is also jokingly called Bengal's Valentine's Day. Yellow is the colour theme of this puja perhaps signifying the onset of spring. To me, the best part of this puja was that we did not have to study on that day. One more attraction was getting to wear mom's saree, a yellow one. On that day mom allowed to go out with friends alone for pandal hopping. It was then the Valentine things happened, pairs of eyes meeting, exchange of few words. Is it so till now.... I do not have any idea. By the time we went to junior college, we earned some freedom. Yet mom deployed my senior to escort me for the day. He, me with few other friends would attend puja at home, have prasad, then start pandal hopping and finally sit down for a movie. So beautiful were the days, all stored in my memory card.
I can write pages assorting the memories of this particular occasion, but I am too lazy to put them into words, or may be I have limited vocabulary. In short, we woke up early in the morning, mom applied a paste made of fresh turmeric, neem leaves, mustard oil all over our body. After taking shower, helped mom a little bit with the arrangement of puja. Once it was over by 12pm, had our bhog, then free to roam with friends till evening. Nevertheless to forget the joy of buying the idol the previous evening. Mom always used to take me with her as I was very choosy about the selection. So this labra with khichuri, payesh and chutney was a staple on this day. I try to follow the tradition till date. Sharing the recipe of labra with all of you as is done in our family.... Khichuri recipe I already have compiled earlier, so skipping this time.
Pumpkin : I/2 of a small one.
Spinach[Malabar] : A bunch
Sweet Potato : 3-4
Long Beans : 5-6
Radish : 2small
Banana Plaintain Stem : about 500 gm in weight
Green Chilli : 4-5[slitted]
Egg Plant : 1big
Turmeric Powder : 2tsp
Red Chilli Powder : 1tsp
Cumin Powder : 1tsp
Bengali Panchphoron : 1/2tsp[ an equal amount of fennel, cumin, nigella, wild celery and fenugreek seeds taken together]
Dry Red Chillies : 2-3[halved]
Bayleaf : 2
Sugar : 1/2tsp
Salt : As Required
All the vegetables need to be cut and kept separately to be added at different stages of the cooking. Peel and cut the pumpkin into medium cubes. Peel and cut the sweet potatoes lengthwise after been halved. Roughly chop the spinach.
Peel and half the radish and then cut lengthwise. Eggplants to be cut into smaller cubes. Cut the long beans inchwise. We need to throw the outer cover of the banana stem and take the younger part only. Cut both ends and make smaller and thinner cubes.
Wash and keep all the veggies separately. Rub them with salt and turmeric. Keep aside for few minutes.
Heat oil in a wok. Temper with bayleaves, halved dry red chillies and panchphoron. Add the radish and banana stem pieces first. Stir, cover and cook for 5-6 minutes.
Add the pumpkin, sweet potato and long bean pieces. Let cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach and the eggplant pieces. Add the green chillies, red chilli powder, cumin powder. Stir all and cover cook for 4-5 minutes stirring every 1 minute.
Add the sugar and little salt if required. Fold in well and cook for another minute till all water released dries up.
We do not need to add water to it as it is cooked in the water released by the vegetables themselves.
Serve with Khichuri/Khichdi and chutney.