Ilish Maacher Mudo’r Tok (Hilsa fish’s head in a Tamarind gravy) and Bengali Women

Dear Cousins,

Hope you both are doing well. I have been a bit out of action lately as I was attending a conference here in Melbourne on India and Australia Relations.  I didn’t get much time to cook at home during these days, but I can happily tell you this that I was part of a 2 member team catering for almost 40 people’s dinner!!! My contribution in this amazing food spread were making 2 dips for crackers that were served with drinks (mushroom pate and a yoghurt+garlic+mint+ ricotta dip).  I plated them so well that Mary, the head chef of the day was totally in awe with the results!! The second thing I made was Red Peppers stuffed with Spiced Chickpea and Lentils.  I must proudly inform you both that many guests (Indians and Australians) came and personally congratulated me for all the three!!! One gentleman said, “The aroma of the peppers was so intoxicating that I couldn’t wait till the vegetarians had had their share!! I quietly took one :).” The appreciation was heartening!

Considering that the conference left me intellectually bombarded with so many esteemed researchers and activists giving speeches, I have been thinking about a few things myself as well…and while cooking too such thoughts don’t leave me…like the other day I was making Ilish macher matha (Hilsa fish’s head) and a question popped up in my mind. As you guys know, the head of the fish is considered very auspicious and very healthy (they say if you eat fish’s head you would have a sharp brain).  Both men and women therefore must consume it.  So I asked Niloy how would he like me to cook it. He said, “I don’t eat this piece.”  Now this was expected. In many Bengali households it is eaten normally by the women because eating it can be time consuming as well as difficult. There are large bones in it which make it cumbersome. I have heard from many Bengali women that because of this reason they end up eating it as no one else wants to eat that piece.  I guess this trend is also a result of the old Indian tradition when women ate after everyone had eaten (mind you, in many parts of India, it still happens and that includes the urban cities as well).  So lets say there is a big pot of fish and first the men eat, then the children and then the women.  Since fish head and tail are two cumbersome pieces, they would sit in the pot till the end and invariably the women would eat it.  To avoid this, I think Bengali mothers and grandmothers invented the recipes like Mudi Ghonto (Rice and fish head mix), Macher matha diye muung daal (Fish head with Moong daal), and many others that mix fish head with some vegetable or rice and make it tasty so that everyone eats it.  Is it because Bengali women are more progressive? Any comments?

I too learned a recipe like this from Ma’s late aunty – my grandmother (Mami Dida).  I think grandmothers are a repository of awesome tips & recipes; and so was she, an accomplished cook who could even make a simple dish like daal, tasty!!  Her prawn curry (Chingdir Jhol) was totally out of this world!! I wasn’t lucky enough to taste much of her cooking as my trips to Chandernagore (her home) weren’t too often.  But whatever little I have eaten from her kitty, has left an indelible mark on my memory….so here is the recipe..

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Ilish Maacher Mudo’r Tok (Hilsa Fish’s head in a Tamarind gravy)

2 Hilsa fish head, cleaned and cut into halves

2 medium sized Onions

2 tsp Panchphoron dry roasted and powdered                                                                             (Bengali five spices – mix 1 tsp each of cumin seeds, nigella seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds)

1 tsp Turmeric

A table-tennis ball sized Tamarind ball soaked in water

5 tbsp Mustard oil

Salt, sugar and red chilli powder to taste

Fresh Coriander leaves to garnish

Wash the heads well and sprinkle 1/2 tsp of salt and turmeric on it. Mix well and leave for 2-3 hours.  Then heat the mustard oil well in a deep pan and fry the heads (its best to deep fry them, but I didn’t do so as I don’t have a kadhai or wok). Don’t forget to cover the pan or else hot oil would splatter all over.  Fry till both sides are golden brown.  The Hilsa flavored oil left in the pan tastes wonderful with hot rice and bit of salt, but only a true blue Bengali can understand that taste and swoon over it 😛 So I set aside some of the oil for rice and in the rest I fried 2 onions that I had finely sliced.  When they were complete caramelised, I poured in the tamarind pulp, turmeric, sugar, salt and chilli powder.  Check the seasoning (I like it sweet, very sour and pretty hot!!).  Then add the fish heads and 1 tsp of the roasted and powdered panchphoron.  Simmer for 5-7 minutes on medium fire and then add another tsp of the spice powder.  Take off from the fire, garnish with freshly chopped coriander and serve with hot rice!!

Any other fish can be made the same way, but I think that the taste of Ilish Maacher Mudo’r Tok cannot be replicated!! What say?

Sending loads of love,

Dakhina

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Exotic Indian Chutneys

1.  Hot and Spicy Shrimp Chutney

Shrimp                      100 gm, cleaned

Garlic                         2-3 pods(tweak according to taste)

Green Chili               2-3

Onion                         1

Cumin Seed              1/4 tsp

Lemon Juice and Salt to taste

Oil                                1 tsp

Method 

heat the oil,add the shrimps and fry on low heat till crisp and red. Grind together with all other ingredients adding just a few drops of water.It should be thick and smooth in texture. Add salt and lemon juice.

2.  Groundnut ( Peanut) Chutney

Groundnuts                                   100gm

Dry Red Chilli                               1-2

Garlic                                                1-2

Lemon juice and Salt to taste

Method

Grind the peanuts with garlic and chilies , adding very little water. Add lemon juice and salt.

3.  Coconut Chutney

Fresh coconut grated/small pieces                100gm

Dry-Roasted Chick Pea                                         a small fistful

Yogurt                                                                          3 tbsp

Ginger                                                                            1- 1 inch piece

Green chili                                                                    1

Black mustard seeds                                               1 tsp

Asafoetida                                                                    pinch

Curry leaves                                                                few

Dry red chili                                                                 1

Sesame oil/ white oil                                               1 tsp

Salt to taste

Method

Grind the coconut, ginger, chick pea, with the yogurt to fine paste. Do not add water. Take out into the serving bowl, add salt to taste.

To prepare the temper,In a small pan heat the oil, once it is smoking hot take off the heat and add the black mustard seeds, asafoetida, dry red chili and curry leaves. Once the mustard starts spluttering pour over the chutney.

4. Tangy Indian Salad Dressing (1/2 cup)

Lemon Juice                                                         2 tbsp (for an extra tang, add more)

Olive oil                                                                  5 tbsp

Mustard paste (homemade or ready made) 1-2 tbsp depending on the pungency

Ginger                                                                     1tbsp grated

Garlic                                                                       1 pod grated

Coriander Powder                                             1 tsp (optional)

Sugar                                                                       1 tsp

Yoghurt                                                                  2 tbsp

Salt and Pepper to taste

Method

Mix all in a quarter size bowl and beat well with a fork for 5 mins. Let is stand for 10 mins as it would allow the flavors to infuse well. This can be stored in the fridge for a week.

 

5.   Bengali Style Sweet Tomato Chutney

Tomatoes (blanched, peeled & chopped)              6-8

Sugar                                                                                     1-2 tbsp

Raisins                                                                                  a few

Dates                                                                                    a few (deseeded and chopped)

Ginger                                                                                  1 inch square, julienned

Black Mustard Seeds                                                      ½ tsp

Whole dry red chili                                                          1

Chili powder                                                                       pinch

Oil (vegetable)                                                                  2 tsp

Salt to taste

Method

In a wok/pan heat oil, add the mustard. Once it splutters, add the whole dry red chili and ginger. Fry for half a minute, add the chopped tomatoes, sugar, chili powder and salt to taste. Cover with a lid; simmer on low heat till the tomatoes are pulpy. Now add the raisins and dates. Simmer for a few more minutes and remove from heat. Serve hot or cold. This chutney should be a little syrupy.

6. Roasted Brinjal (Aubergine) Chutney

Brinjal (aubergine)                                                          1-2

Onion finely diced                                                           1

Garlic                                                                                     2-3 pods per brinjal

Coriander leaves (cilantro)                                           1 bunch finely chopped

Green chili                                                                          2(deseeded and finely chopped)

Ginger                                                                                  1/2 inch piece finely grated

Mustard Oil                                                                        1 tsp

Salt to taste

 

Method

Make gashes in the aubergine and insert the garlic pods. Coat with a little oil and roast on naked flame or in oven. Take out, remove the skin and grind to paste along with ginger. Add the finely diced onions, chopped coriander, oil, chili and salt. Serve with hot steamed rice. You may substitute Olive oil in place of Mustard oil.

 

 7. Quick Aam Kasundi (Raw Mango and Mustard Chutney)

Raw Mangoes                                                                   2-3, peeled, pitted and chopped

Black/White Mustard Seeds                                        2 tbsp

Mustard Oil                                                                        2 tbsp

Salt to taste

Method

Blend the mangoes to a paste, do not add water. Separately grind the mustard seeds to a thick paste. In a wok heat the oil, add the mango pulp, cook for a few minutes. Add the mustard paste, salt and simmer till thickened. Serve cooled.

Alternative Recipe

Ingredients same, except oil is increased to 1 cup and mustard seeds are dry ground.

Mix the blended mango paste and mustard paste. Add the oil and salt. Pour into a sterilized glass jar and keep in sun for a few weeks. Keeps well for a long time.

 

 8. Sweet and Sour Tamarind Chutney

Tamarind paste (Imli)                                                     3 tbsp

Sugar/ Jaggery (gur)                                                       2 tbsp

Red Chili Powder                                                              1 tsp

Dry Ginger Powder (Saunth)                                       1 tsp

Water                                                                                   ½ cup

Salt to taste

Method

To make tamarind paste, soak a large fistful of dry tamarind in a cup of hot water. Let it sit for ten minutes, Using your fingers squeeze it into a pulp. Strain.

Thin the Tamarind paste with the water, add the sugar or jagerry, red chili powder, dry ginger powder, salt. Boil till it becomes syrupy. The taste should be tangy, sweet and sour. The sourness depends a lot on the quality of tamarind, so adjust the sugar accordingly.

 

Hot and spicy Mint chutney

Mint 1 large bunch( the leaves picked from the stems)

1 Raw mango, stoned and cubed ( in case raw fresh mango is unavailable, you can use lemon juice/tamarind pulp/raw mango powder)

2-3 green chilies

salt to taste

Method

blend all the ingredients together to a fine paste, adding the minimum amount of water.

Store in a lidded container in the fridge. Stays for two to three days.

use with all Indian savory snacks