Bengali Summer lunch Series : Day 2
Here is the summer fish stew that I was talking about in my previous posts on Bengali summer lunch – essential fish thali.
The fertile swamps of Gangetic deltaic plains is crisscrossed with numerous rivers and their tributaries which ensures the abundance of piscean fauna in the region. Making fishes almost indispensable from our diet and cultural rituals. Life revolves around it, from birth, marriages till the mortal soul leaves this world, fish holds an important and significant place in our everyday life. In our culture it is considered holy and auspicious, a symbol of fertility, abundance and prosperity .
We introduce fish to babies as early as 7th month of her age, at the time of her annaprassana, the grain initiation ceremony.
My baby who is now 24 month old will not eat plain dal- chawal , she is extremely fond of fishes. Recently while vacationing at Kolkata, few months back, we (me and baby) went to the local vegetable market. She was elated at the sight of heaps of fresh green vegetables and the total cacophony of market places had also amused her a bit. Her excitement leaves no bounds when she spotted a huge handi containing live fishes (small fishes that were swimming in that giant handi) and started screaming “Fi…fi”. The very next day, the fish monger send us this live rohu (carp) fish. He had spotted us that day, and to my utmost surprise he had even recognized me, given that I am living outside Kolkata for more than a decade now. He didn’t even asked for the money, (off course we paid him later). He told my mom – ” it’s for your grandchild. It’s good for health to feed live fishes to the babies”.
I had lived and stayed in many cities but nothing matches the warmth and hospitality of Kolkata. I don’t belong here, neither my parents are from here but it was their home for last two decades. I was totally overwhelmed by such sweet gesture, very much rare these days. When everywhere people are forgetting their virtues , such small incidents renew our hopes in the goodness that still prevails in the society.
There is a tradition of making simple fish stew as wholesome as possible, specially in hot summer months when body requires something light and nutritious diet. While rest of the India will shy away from eating non-veg, we Bongs simply modified our recipes and cooking techniques. The rich onion and tomato based curries will be replaced by this light and soothing cumin-ginger paste curries, easy on tummy and flavorsome too.
This recipe works best with live small size carps (baby carps, see the picture for better idea) that taste so fresh, sweet with soft meat. Just lightly fry them in hot mustard oil, temper it with obligatory nigella seeds, also known as kalo jeera in Bengali and kalonji in Hindi. Wedges of potatoes and sheem , the hyacinth beans, bori , the lentil wadis for which Bengal is famous for makes this a wholesome meal in itself.
- Rohu fish , small size or baby rohu fish, fresh or live: 1 (will yield 3-4 pieces apart from head and tail)
- Potatoes, cut into wedges : 6-8 pieces
- Sheem , hyacinth beans cut into halves : 10-15 pieces
- Bori , lentil wadi: 10
- Cumin - ginger paste (see note): 2 tbsp
- Nigella seeds : ½ tsp plus
- Green chillies : 1-2
- Garlic cloves, minced : 1 tsp
- Bay leaves : 1-2
- Turmeric powder : 2 tsp
- Salt and sugar to taste
- Mustard oil : ½ cup
- Coriander leaves, chopped : a handful
- Wash and clean the fish pieces, smear them with salt and turmeric. Leave aside for 15 minutes.
- Prepare the vegetables as required.
- Fry the bori in hot oil (you can use mustard oil or refined oil too) and keep them separate.
- In a kadhai or wide pan, heat enough mustard oil to fry the fishes.
- Fry the fish as lightly as possible, because over frying will spoil the taste of the fresh fish. Just two minutes on each side and you are good to go.
- In the same oil, add more if requires, add nigella seeds. Once it starts spluttering , add the minced garlic.
- This followed by vegetables, potatoes and hyacinth beans in this recipe. Fry the vegetables lightly.
- Add the ginger-cumin paste, green chillies, bay leaves, turmeric powder, salt and sugar all at one go.
- Keep sautéing till the spice mix get fried lightly. Do not brown them. It will spoil the look and taste of the curry.
- Once done, add two cups hot water. Drop the fish pieces carefully , close the lid and let it simmer for five more minutes.
- Adjust the seasonings and water as required for curry.
- Drop the fried boris in it, stir in the chopped cilantro leaves.
- Switch off the heat, close the lid and let it stand for five more minute before serving it with steamed rice.
Wash and soak cumin seeds (around 2 tbsp).
Chopped coarsely two inch ginger piece.
Grind them together in a mortar-pestle or use your mixie jar to make a paste.
I make another version of this with different vegetables like potol, the pointed gourd, jhinge , the ridge gourd and potatoes and beans for my baby. You can check that recipe here, fish stew for babies and toddlers.