Bengali’s love for fish is an universal truth and so much so that we are often stereotyped by rest of India as only fish and rosogolla eating people. While we love our fish and devour the rosogolla at the drop of hat, we adore our greens too, saag and vegetables remain integral to our daily meal. A Bengali meal can not be said to be complete without fish and vegetables and on some days, together they makes one – pot meal, like macher jhol or fish stew with vegetables.
In the days of yore, when the white bread slices had not intruded in our daily breakfast routine, my mom would make this fish and vegetable stew for me in the early morning, and I was supposed to finish the whole thing as early as 7.30 in the morning, minutes before my school bus would come to pick me up. While she glowed in the feeling of wellbeing that I had my share of day’s protein and vitamins, I was on the other hand shied away from open my mouth too often, fearing the unpleasant fishy smell of my breath would make me a laughing stock of my class. Hence many presumed me to be of shy and sheepish, different from my original persona. My pleadings to serve aloo ke parathe or idli dosa for breakfast in the morning, never worked on my mom, she never had that faith in these junk foods, the one she had in her fish stew.
Life comes a full circle, and with vigorous enthusiasm I had started the same for my baby. She is just an year old and I have already initiated her into this fish eating habit. May be all Bong genes are inherently tuned to “fish loving”, I don’t know, but my baby loves fish like anything and started to recognize it too.
In Bengal, fish is considered auspicious and integral to our culture, and no function or marriage would be complete without this. “Annaprasanna” the grain initiating ceremony is celebrated in our culture with much fervor and festivity and fish remain centerpiece to that function. It is customary to serve a big fish head to baby boy and fish steak for baby girl. My baby first taste the “taste of fish” as early as seventh month, the day of her “annaprasanna” Since then, her official fish eating days had started.
Unlike other fish eating communities of India, we Bengalis love only fresh water fishes, fishes that hatches well in rivers, streams and ponds. These fishes are sweet to taste and the meat is soft. And you don’t need to cook a curry base to devour these. A simple fish stew without onions and tomatoes would just be suffice enough to enjoy the true flavours of the fish. We often make this fish stew with river carp and seasonal vegetables, no onion, cloves of garlic sometimes, few sprinkle of nigella, and flavouerd with just turmeric and cumin powder. A slit green chilli sneaked in sometimes to infuse the spiciness. And nothing else.
Why you should feed fish to your baby – fish is brilliant source of protein and minerals, it contains all the amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids that helps to boost the brain developments in babies. But at the same time, like other foods, fishes are also prone to high level of mercury and other metal content due to the increasing pollutants in sea, river and streams. So before giving fish to your baby, consult your pediatrician and also try to give those fishes that are not known for mercury concentration. Also make sure the fish comes from a good and reliable source.
How to feed fish to your baby – apart from this recipe, I also sometimes try to add de – boned fishes in her soup or in vegetable patties. Fish must be thoroughly washed (I preferably wash it in warm water) and cooked. And always give her the freshest ones.
- Fish : 6 pieces (Rohu, carp or bekti) cut into steaks
- Turmeric powder : 1 tsp
- Cumin powder : 1 tsp
- Salt to taste
- Nigella seeds : ¼ tsp
- Ginger chopped : 1 tsp
- Garlic cloves : 1 or 2
- Bay leaves - 1
- Vegetables : cut into chunks
- (roughly measures one cup each of chunks of potatoes, pointed gourds, ridged gourd, sheem, green beans)
- Mustard oil : ½ cup
- Wash the fish steaks in warm water thoroughly, rub salt and turmeric powder and keep aside. Since it is for babies, try to use minimum amount of iodised salt.
- Heat oil in a pan, once it is smoking hot, place the fish pieces slowly and fry them in medium heat, both sides till done.
- Do not over fry the fish, else baby will find it chewy. Just lightly fried it and till you get a nice golden sheen over the fishes.
- Meanwhile cut all the vegetables as required. Use potatoes free of greenish tinge, eyes, sprouts and other blemishes.
- In a kadhai, heat the mustard oil, temper it with nigella seeds. Add the ginger and garlic. Once the garlic turns brown, add rest of the vegetables.
- Saute them on medium heat. Add turmeric powder, cumin powder (homemade), salt, bay leaf and give a nice stir.
- Once the spices are lightly fried, lower the heat, close the lid and let the vegetables cooked in their own steam.
- If vegetables are fresh, they will release lots of water and will get cooked in their own steam. Else add two cups (one cup if vegetables release enough water) of hot water, adjust the seasonings, and carefully drop the fish pieces in it.
- Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat, close the lid and let it simmer for another 5 minute.
- Serve it warm with steamed rice.
- How I serve it to my baby - I debone the fish as I feed her and three chunks of each vegetables per serving with one serving of steamed rice. Mash the rice well with your hand before giving it to her.