The people of Bangladesh, once the East Bengal region of India, will celebrate the Bengali New Year tomorrow with village fairs, music and picnics featuring their distinctive cuisine, a mixture of Mughlai dishes and local specialties.

Intricately spiced but not necessarily hot, Mughlai cooking has long been considered the haute cuisine of the Indian subcontinent. It "tastes the same in Delhi (India), in Lahore (Pakistan) and in Dhaka (Bangladesh) because it is the traditional cooking handed down from the Moghul conquerors," says Sharmin Choudhury, a cooking teacher specializing in the food of Bangladesh.

Yogurt and nuts enrich Mughlai dishes, and ghee, a type of clarified butter, is the preferred cooking fat. Wheat in the form of breads such as naan, chapatis, parathas and puri is as important as rice. Kalijeera rice, short grain, nutty and aromatic, is used for Bangladesh's famous biryanis and pulaos.

Add such indigenous ingredients and specialties as jackfruit, carp curry, shrimp curry and rice cakes, and the cuisine of Bangladesh emerges. Home cooks also blend exotic spices such as cardamom, coriander, cumin, ginger, fennel, fenugreek and turmeric in specific proportions to produce a garam masala (curry powder to westerners) in different proportions for each dish.

Choudhury grew up in Dhaka, which was the Bengal capital as long ago as the 7th century, when it was called Vikrampur, and is now the capital of Bangladesh. The Moghuls invaded in the 13th century and continued to rule until the advent of the British in the 18th century when Dhaka became a major outpost of British India.

When the Moghul emperor Akbar ascended to the throne in 1556, he introduced the solar calendar that determines the Bengali holiday being celebrated tomorrow. Akbar's sumptuous court at Fatehpur Sikri, still nearly intact, is a tourist mecca in northern India today.

Choudhury is in the United States with her husband, Munir, who came to Washington in 1984 as a counselor with the Embassy of Bangladesh and is now a master's degree student in the foreign service program at Georgetown University. His father is publisher of the English language weekly Bangladesh Today. Her father, Taj Udd In Ahmed, who became the founding prime minister of Bangladesh in 1971, when she was in the sixth grade, was assassinated in 1975 while in prison.

"After my father was killed, my mother joined the political struggle, and today she is the leader of one of the largest opposition political parties," says Choudhury. Yet, despite a difficult life, Choudhury's mother has maintained her interest in cooking and kept up the fine reputation of the family's kitchen.

"Cooking was my mother's pride," Choudhury says. Her mother, who had learned from her own mother and from Choudhury's grandfather, did not press her, and Choudhury did not cook much until after she married and moved away from Dhaka.

Then she started phoning her mother for advice, and after 6 months she was so skilled that she started a school for army officers' wives. She taught them her family's traditional culinary methods as well as how to cook the western-style desserts that Choudhury had learned from her sister, a chef who runs a "posh inn," the Ambrosia Guest House, in Dhaka.

Choudhury sees herself as responsible for preserving her family heritage of Mughlai cooking which goes back to one of her forebears, a Sufi, who journeyed from Iraq to preach Islam and settled in Dhaka. Yet though her family food is Mughlai, certain recipes, recorded in a notebook by hand in Bengali by Choudhury's mother, have taken on Bengali overtones.

In Bangladesh, a country of 90 million people (85 percent of them Moslem, the rest Hindus, Buddhists and Christians), rice, fish and pulses that they call dal are the dietary staples. Abundant water and sunshine have blessed the country with mangoes, jackfruit, bamboo, palms and luxuriant growth of other vegetables and fruits. The rich mixture of racial groups that formed the population's ancestors -- Austro-Asians, Dravidians (from western India), Aryans (from central Asia), Mongols, Arabs, Armenians, Persians, Turks and Afghans -- produced a varied cuisine.

"Fish is the main food," Choudhury explains, "particularly freshwater fish. Coastal people like pomfret and shrimp, but not the others. Some people would put coriander seeds, turmeric and chili powder in when they cook fish, but I use cumin instead because fish doesn't need much curry flavor. Cooking is an art. The more you refine the recipe, the more authentic the flavor you bring out, the more it becomes a recipe of your own. There's no exact recipe for each dish because every cook has a different taste."

The authentic family recipes Choudhury cherishes -- green jackfruit with chana dal and coconut, fish curry, cauliflower and tomato, fried eggplant with mustard, spinach with shad, halwa and lamb with cabbage -- she has made her own by the way she blends the spices. After giving cooking lessons to Americans, she realized that they found the traditional way of blending spices hard to do. Yet it is in the blending that a cook's talent makes the difference.

So she devised a method of stir-frying spices at the beginning of the cooking process to make the operation easier and less time consuming. She uses small pieces of meat -- cut up chicken rather than whole breasts and legs, for example, or stewing lamb -- so spices can "get in quickly." And she prefers to buy whole spices and grind them herself in a spice grinder since they are fresher and more fragrant that way.

Choudhury will cater a dinner which includes samosas, shrimp with coconut curry, chicken curry, rice pulao and a European dessert or homemade ice cream. She also plans to begin a new series of cooking classes this spring in her Bethesda home. RICE PULAO (4 to 6 servings)

This method, though time-consuming, produces a delicious rice pulao that is a perfect accompaniment for many of the other dishes and freezes well.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves

2 cardamom pods, crushed

2-inch piece stick cinnamon, crushed

5 black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1/2 tablespoon finely minced ginger

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

2 cups basmati rice

1/2 cup evaporated milk

1/4 cup rose water

6 saffron threads

1/4 teaspoon yellow food color (optional)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup golden raisins

Make ghee or clarified butter by melting butter and discarding solids. Pour into a 5-quart nonstick saucepan. Add onion, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorns and bay leaves. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until onions are golden brown. Reduce heat and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons water. Stir once. Add ginger and garlic and cook 1 minute. Add rice and cook, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 3 cups hot water. Cover and boil over medium heat. After 5 minutes, lift cover to see if water is absorbed. If not, replace cover and cook until water is absorbed. Reduce heat to low, add evaporated milk and stir once. Combine rose water, saffron and food coloring. Poke 3 holes in the top of the rice with the handle of a ladle and pour in saffron mixture. Bake on the lower shelf of the oven at 200 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn into a serving dish and sprinkle with almonds and raisins. CARP CURRY WITH CORIANDER AND TOMATO (4 servings)

The carp is the king of fish, according to Reepi Choudhury, because it is abundant and popular. One traditional dish is moog dal (split hulled yellow mung beans) with carp's head. Usually it is served to a favored son-in-law because it is considered very tasty. He is supposed to eat the brains with the lentils and rice. This carp curry, which freezes well, can also be made with catfish or ling.

1/2 cup oil

1 1/2 large onions, chopped

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder or to taste

1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1/4 teaspoon finely minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon finely minced ginger

4 tablespoons tomato paste

2 pounds carp, cut into 4 steaks 2 1/2-inches thick

1 tomato, chopped

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves

Fresh lime juice to taste

Heat oil in a dutch oven. Add onions and saute' over medium heat 3 to 4 minutes. Add salt, cumin, chili powder, turmeric, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste. Wash carp and gently lay over the spice mixture. Top with chopped tomato. Cover and cook 6 minutes, turning once. Add water and coriander and cook for another 7 to 10 minutes or until sauce thickens. Sprinkle with lime juice and serve with rice. LAMB CURRY WITH CABBAGE (4 to 6 servings)

2 pounds stewing lamb

1 cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons finely minced garlic

2 tablespoons finely minced ginger

2 tablespoons ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon mace

2 cardamom pods, crushed

Salt to taste

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter

2 large onions, chopped

4 whole peppercorns

2- to 3-pound head of cabbage, quartered

1/2 cup water

3 jalapeno peppers, halved

Rinse lamb. Combine yogurt, garlic, ginger, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, mace, cardamom and salt and marinate lamb in mixture for at least 4 hours or overnight. Melt 1 stick of butter in a dutch oven. Add onions and saute' until lightly browned. Add lamb and marinade, cover and simmer over low heat without adding water for 1/2 hour. In another saucepan, make ghee by melting remaining butter and discarding solids. Add peppercorns and cook 1/2 minute. Add cabbage and cook over low heat 8 to 10 minutes, turning once. Transfer cabbage and the butter it was cooked in to the lamb curry. Add water and jalapeno peppers and simmer another 1/2 hour or until tender. Serve with rice pulao. CHICKEN CURRY (4 servings)

Chicken curry is a favorite in Bangladesh, where there are as many ways of preparing it as there are cooks. Reepi Choudhury's version has been adapted to American cooking techniques without sacrificing taste or authenticity. This freezes well.

2 pounds chicken, skinned and cut into small pieces

Salt to taste

2 teaspoons black pepper

1/3 cup oil

1 1/2 large onions, chopped

1-inch piece cinnamon stick

2 whole cardamom pods, crushed

4 whole cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1 teaspoon chili powder or to taste

3 teaspoons ground coriander

2 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger

2 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons ketchup

1 cup water

Wash the chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a dutch oven, add chicken and brown over medium heat. Remove and reserve chicken. Add onions, cinnamon stick, cardamom and cloves to pan and saute' until onions are lightly browned. Add more oil if needed. Add turmeric, chili powder, coriander, ginger, garlic, cumin and bay leaves. Fry spices 4 to 5 minutes, sprinkling with water if they become too dry. Stir in ketchup and return chicken to pan. Pour in water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat until chicken is tender and sauce is thickened, about 30 minutes. Serve with rice. SHRIMP CURRY WITH COCONUT MILK (4 servings)

This is a typical Bengali dish, called "Chingri (shrimp) Malai Kare" (cream curry) in Bangladesh. Fresh coconut milk, produced by grinding chopped coconut with water and straining the results, is a popular ingredient for adding creaminess and flavor to curries.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 cardamom pod, crushed

1-inch piece cinnamon stick

4 cloves

Salt to taste

4 whole black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

3 tablespoons unsweetened flaked coconut

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk or fresh coconut milk*

Melt butter in a skillet, add onion, cardamom, cinnamon stick, cloves, salt and peppercorns. Saute' until onions are lightly browned, stirring constantly. Add turmeric, chili powder, ginger, garlic, coriander and cumin and fry 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in flaked coconut. Add shrimp and combine. Pour coconut milk over all and cook over medium heat until sauce thickens and butter rises to top, about 10 minutes. Serve with rice.

*To make fresh coconut milk: Crack open a whole coconut and grate meat. Place grated meat in a blender, add 2 cups hot water and blend 1/2 minute. Strain and use milk. Reserve 3 tablespoons of coconut to use for the coconut flakes required in the recipe. SPINACH WITH CRAB MEAT (4 servings)

10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach

1/3 cup oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 dried chilies

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup flaked crab meat

1 teaspoon turmeric

Salt to taste

4 tablespoons fresh lime juice

In a small saucepan cook spinach over low heat without adding water. In a skillet heat oil, add onion and chilies and fry 3 or 4 minutes until lightly browned. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in crab meat and turmeric and cook 1 minute. Stir in spinach and cook 5 minutes over low heat. Add salt. Sprinkle with lime juice and serve immediately with rice. CHANA DAL (4 servings)

Chana dal is hulled and split dried chickpeas, one of the many types of legumes available in Indian grocery stores.

1 cup chana dal

3 cups cold water

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 whole black peppercorns

1-inch piece cinnamon stick

1 cardamom pod

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Wash dal. Place in a large saucepan, add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add turmeric, coriander, ginger and bay leaf. Cook until dal is tender and slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. If the dal is still hard, add 1 cup water and continue cooking. In a small skillet, melt butter. Add onion, garlic, peppercorns, cinnamon and cardamom. Saute' until browned. Add to dal. Stir in lemon juice. In a spice grinder grind fenugreek, cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Place in a dry skillet and roast over medium heat 1 minute. Sprinkle over dal and serve immediately with rice pulse, chapatis or pita bread. MIXED VEGETABLES (4 servings)

1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon black cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 small onion, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 cup diced butternut, pumpkin or other squash

1/2 cup cut-up broccoli

1/2 cup cut-up green beans

1/2 cup diced potato

1/2 cup diced carrots

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add fennel, black cumin and fenugreek and stir 10 seconds, being careful not to burn seeds. Add onion and saute' until lightly browned. Add turmeric, ginger, cumin and coriander and cook 4 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with a little water if spices seem too dry. Add squash, broccoli, green beans, potato and carrots. Cover and cook over low heat 10 minutes. If vegetables are still not tender, add 1/4 cup of water and continue cooking until they reach the desired doneness. GREEN JACKFRUIT WITH DAL (4 servings)

Jackfruit grows abundantly in the fertile regions of Bangladesh. Green, it is used in main dishes; ripe, it is made into a dessert.

3/4 cup chana dal

1/4 cup oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 teaspoons finely minced garlic

2 cardamom pods, crushed

1-inch piece cinnamon stick

2 whole cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons finely minced ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1 teaspoon chili powder

2 teaspoons ground coriander

Salt to taste

20-ounce can green jackfruit, drained*

1/4 cup lightly toasted unsweetened coconut flakes

1/4 cup mashed potato

Combine dal with 1 1/2 cups water and cook until all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Heat oil in a skillet, add onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until lightly browned. Stir in cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, turmeric, chili powder, coriander and salt and cook 4 to 5 minutes. If mixture becomes too dry, sprinkle with 4 tablespoons water and continue cooking. Add jackfruit, dal and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat 12 to 15 minutes or until the water is almost absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in coconut and mashed potato. Serve warm with rice.

*Available in Indian grocery stores.