- Rohan Kamicheril
Bandhkopir Ghanto | Cabbage Ghanto
It’s not said without reason that there’s nothing new under the sun. The main ingredients that go into the majority of foods cooked throughout India don’t vary all that much, it’s true. And yet, there’s such magic in the order, proportions, and ways in which they’re used that two dishes that rely on very similar ingredients can have such distinct identities.
The many ways of cooking cabbage that thrive throughout India are a great example of this. Though this Bengali bandhkopir ghanto isn’t remarkably different, in principal, from a cabbage thoran or a foogath, there’s something about the mustard oil it’s cooked in, that little touch of sweetness from the jaggery at the end, and the specification that the cabbage be sliced extra thin, that make it completely distinctive.
Figuring out the recipe I wanted to use for this ghanto took me down a delicious rabbit hole of YouTube videos, blogposts, and cookbook recipes. As always, Chitrita Banerji’s Life and Food in Bengal was an immense help in pinpointing some of the things I wanted in the final dish. Banerji specifies that all the vegetables in a ghanto should be chopped finely. Though this can seem like an arbitrary specification, the finely shredded cabbage allows the ghanto to cook down in a way that it wouldn't if it were chopped more coarsely. To this end, a lot of recipes for bandhkopir ganto first steam the cabbage before cooking it. Though I do love the regular green and savoy cabbages I get at the farmers’ market, I wanted to use nappa cabbage here for two reasons: the leaves are often thinner to begin with and, when they’re julienned, yield a wonderful, fine thatch that I thought would be perfect here; and also, there’s often a lovely mustardy bite to nappa cabbage that adds something very special to this dish. Also, because nappa cabbage wilts much faster than a savoy or green cabbage, I don’t bother steaming it beforehand.
Though there is a fair amount of chopping involved in this dish, it takes very little dexterity to cook, which makes it perfect for a weekday dinner. The cabbage reduces to a lovely dense moistness, with little morsels of sweet green peas poking through here and there and the occasional nubbin of delicious mustard-oil-fried potato. And with that gentle heat of the mustard oil and the soft sweetness of the jaggery, it’s a mesmerizing dish that I’m sure will become a standard in your kitchen, as it has in mine.
2 tbsp mustard oil
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 tsp cumin
2 tej patta
1 tsp coriander seed, toasted and ground
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried, ground ginger
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
2 sticks cinnamon
Half a head of nappa cabbage, finely shredded or sliced
1 cup shelled garden peas (frozen or fresh)
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground clove
1 tbsp jaggery
Ghee to finish
Heat the mustard oil over medium-high heat in a large, well-seasoned kadhai or wok till it begins to shimmer. Add the diced potatoes and cook, turning occasionally, till the potato is golden brown all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.
Add enough oil to the kadhai so that you again have 2 tablespoons in it. Leave the heat over medium-high.
Add the cumin seed and tej patta and allow them to become aromatic.
Add the ground coriander, turmeric, ground ginger, chilli powder, and cinnamon sticks and cook for just two to three minutes, stirring often to make sure the spices don’t burn.
Add the finely shredded cabbage to the pan along with a teaspoon of salt.
Cook, stirring often, till the cabbage has become limp and dense. If at any point the pan seems to be drying out, add a couple of tablespoons of water to it
Once the cabbage has turned limp, add the green peas to the pan along with the cooked potato. Mix well and stir in the ground clove, cardamom, and jaggery.
Cover the pan and cook for five to ten minutes longer, till the peas are tender and the cabbage is still moist but not soupy.
Check for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve hot, drizzled with a spoonful of ghee alongside some freshly cooked rice (though I do love it with roti, too!).