Cosmopolitan Calcutta (part 2) and tomato farci/stuffed tomato:

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For all its faults, Calcutta has a very long history of being cosmopolitan. Long before the modern wave of globalization, Calcutta was a city full of immigrants. As I have mentioned before, Armenians were among the first communities to settle down in the city. Soon after them came the Jews, Chinese, Portuguese and the British. Fascinatingly, the Jewish migration to Calcutta can be pinpointed down to one person, a man named Shalom Cohen who came from Aleppo, Syria in 1799. He brought with him a group of servants including a shohet (a certified kosher butcher). Other Jews who followed Cohen were mainly from Baghdad and the community came to be known as Baghdadis. Some of the Jewish families hired Muslims cooks (many of whom were from the same village in Midnapore, a district in West Bengal, India) who ironically acquired the designation “Jewish cook”.

Mahashas or stuffed vegetables were a favorite among the Jews of Calcutta. Indeed, they stuffed almost any vegetable which can be scooped and stuffed. Tomato farci is a mash up between an Armenian dolma and a Jewish Mahasha. It is found in many Middle Eastern countries and was brought to Calcutta by the Baghdadi Jews. There were many similar ingredients used for cooking between the Bengalis and the Baghdadi Jews. Being a community of gourmands and also somewhat liberal in their tastes, Bengalis didn’t miss the chance to modify some of the Jewish recipes to create something which would suite their own palate.

Tomato farcis were usually stuffed with minced meat, leftover roast or even curried meats. Fish and vegetable stuffing was not common, but not unheard of either. Being a voracious fish eater, I am a fan of the fish-stuffed version. It tastes best if you can spend the time to prepare the filling from fresh fish but the canned tuna stuffing is not too far behind, especially if you buy good quality canned fish.

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On an unrelated note: Apart from many other things which were brought by the Jewish immigrants, the hand-pulled rickshaws still found in Calcutta were originally brought by a Jew named Salah Abraham Baqaal.

Recipe:

Ingredients:

Vine ripened firm tomatoes: 10-12 (the number will vary with size)

Onion: 1medium

Oil: 1-2 tbsp

Canned tuna: 2

Ginger-garlic paste: 1 tbsp

Red chili powder/cayenne powder: 1 tbsp

Coriander-cumin powder: 1 tsp each

Garam masala (green cardamom+cinnamon+cloves powdered together): ½ tsp

Bread crumb (optional): 2 tbsp

Cilantro: 1 handful

Green chilies: 3-4, chopped

Salt to taste

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  • Cut a slice from the top of the tomatoes. Keep them aside.

  • Scoop the inside of the tomatoes.

  • Line a plate with a paper towel and keep the tomatoes upside down to drain the liquid from the tomatoes.

  • Meanwhile heat the oil in a pot.

  • Chop the onion and add it to the hot oil. Saute for few minutes until translucent.

  • Add the ginger-garlic paste, cumin-coriander powder and red chili powder.

  • Cook the spice mix for few minutes.

  • Add the canned tuna and break the fish with the back of the spoon.

  • Mix the spice and the tuna well.

  • Cook it for several minutes until the fishy smell is not too strong.

  • Check for salt. If needed, add salt to taste.

  • Add the chopped green chili, the bread crumb and the chopped cilantro.

  • Mix well and then add the garam masala.

  • Give it a good stir one more time and then cover it for few minutes.

  • Turn the oven on to 350F.

  • Let it cool.

  • Oil the tomatoes on the outside and stuff the tomatoes with the stuffing. Do not over stuff them but do not keep empty space inside. The tomatoes will collapse while baking.

  • Put the top back and stick either a green chili or a toothpick to keep the top in place.

  • Place the tomatoes in a cookie sheet or any oven proof flat tray and bake them for 10-15 minutes.

  • Over baking will make the tomatoes soggy and they will fall apart.

  • You can replace the fish with minced meat of any kind and proceed with the same procedure.

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4 comments on “Cosmopolitan Calcutta (part 2) and tomato farci/stuffed tomato:

  1. Lovely recipe and presentation, just found your blog and will be sure to visit often.

  2. […] will live for ages to come through their foods like cheese samosas, aloo makhallah, matzoh bread, tomato farci, and Nahoum’s famous fruit cake. Speaking of Jewish food, shakshouka is a popular breakfast […]

  3. […] like some other minority communities in India (such as the Jews, Persians, African and Armenians), Bohras too have an invisible fence drawn around them. They […]

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