Kedgeree might be the best way to repurpose your leftovers

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Food and language are, in my opinion, more susceptible to changes than most other things (and India is probably the prime example when it comes to outside influences on both). Central Asian invaders brought with them the culture of kabobs and we added our spices to them. Sometimes we added gravy to the kabobs to suit our palate. The Portuguese brought a whole new collection of vegetables and we made them our own. They are now so ingrained in our cuisine that half of us don’t even realize that they were not native Indian vegetables. The British Raj left its footprint on quite a few things, some we still cherish while others have taken the backseat. Kedgeree is a delicious example from the latter category. While we still spend hours watching cricket, we hardly cook kedgeree, which was a staple in British kitchens.

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Back in the days when refrigeration was almost impossible, leftovers made it to the kitchen the next morning and got converted into something else for breakfast. Every country has recipes to make use of leftovers. The most common way of re-using leftover rice from dinner for Bengalis is to add water to it and let it ferment slightly overnight to make panta bhaat (fermented rice) which is fabulous with deep fried fritters on the side in the hellish heat of a Bengali summer. But the British had a different idea to use either the leftover rice and or fish from last night’s dinner. Kedgeree (which originally got its name from khichdi or khichuri) is far from the rice-and-lentils originally  eaten almost all over India. Although Indians prefer their khichdis to be vegetarian, the Bangladeshis spice it up with meat. But the British decided to give it a completely different twist. They omitted the lentils, added fish instead and anglicized the name to kedgeree. I’m not going to take a puritanical stand here – I have happily embraced the British take on khichdi, because it’s delicious.

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During one of our recent long drives, Dr. Sen and I had a long and extremely heated discussion about ‘authenticity.’ Until recently, I was more rigid when it came to food (or anything else under the sky) or cooking anything Bengali or even Indian. I followed recipes so militantly to the point that I brought a grinding stone from India to make my dishes taste as my mother’s. I’m still very proud of my decision. But like many of my viewpoints toward life, this has changed too and that too quite unknowingly. I started experimenting more but am still cautious not to let things go too far from what I knew was “authentic”. Gradually I pushed my boundaries and added this and taken out that, with more confidence. Although I’m still far from being an experimental cook like Dr. Sen, I’m more accepting to changes and variations. My kedgeree is no way authentic and is loosely based on a recipe from Jamie Oliver. Tell you what – since he’s a British chef, that alone probably makes my recipe authentic. There is a little difference, though – unlike the old days, my kedgeree was not made to use the leftovers, it was made to recreate a bit of history. I just love doing things like this.

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Recipe:

Cooked basmati rice: 3 cups (I went with my judgement and might have added a little more or less. You can play around with the quantity. The recipe is very flexible and you can change the proportion of any of the ingredients)

Curry powder (brand may vary): 1-2 tbsp. (will greatly depend on the brand. You’ll need less of it if the powder is strong. Start with less and then add later if you want more flavor)

Onion, finely chopped: 1 cup

Boiled eggs: 5

Chopped green chili: per taste

Ginger, fresh, finely chopped: 1 tbsp.

Cod fillet (or any white-flaky fish): 1lb

Oil: 2-3 tbsp.

Cilantro: 1/2 cup

Lemon: half/one whole, depending on the size and how tart you want your kedgeree to be

Salt to taste

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  1. Start by boiling enough water to cook the rice. When the water has boiled, add salt to it and then add the rice. Add generous amount of salt because the rice will swell and absorb a lot of salt. I usually don’t soak the rice for a long time because they tend to break. You can soak the rice if it works for you.
  2. Once the rice is cooked (but still has a bite), drain the water and spread the rice to let the steam escape. Fluff the rice periodically to avoid overcooking it. I usually cook the rice the day before and refrigerate it to make my life easy while cooking the kedgeree. A day old rice also holds up better and doesn’t break easily while cooking.
  3. Cut the fish fillet into 3-4-inch-long pieces and season with salt and pepper. Keep them aside for several minutes.
  4. In a large enough pot (don’t skimp on the container size because you don’t want to cramp everything there), add the oil and heat it up.
  5. Add the fish and cook it through. Don’t overcook the fish as it will get chewy. Once cooked, remove them from oil and keep them warm (if possible, wrap them in a foil).
  6. Add a little bit more oil to the pot if needed.
  7. Add the chopped onions to the oil and sauté them until translucent on medium-high heat.
  8. Add the curry powder and a little bit of water to avoid burning the spices. Lower the heat as you sauté the spices.
  9. Slice the eggs in four (lengthwise) and keep them aside.
  10. Add the cooked rice to the pot and gently toss and turn to evenly mix the spices with the rice. If you want it to look speckled, don’t mix it thoroughly. Check for salt. Add more if needed.
  11. Roughly break the fish with your hand into smaller pieces and add them to the rice. Add the eggs too. Gently fluff everything without mushing the rice.
  12. Add the finely chopped cilantro and chopped green chilies and sprinkle a generous amount of lemon juice on it. Cover the pot with a lid and very gently shake it to make everything mix evenly.
  13. Before serving, crack some freshly ground black peppers on it.

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Celebrated holi with tilanno/rice and toasted sesame seed pudding made by Maa

DSC_0981Who doesn’t know about holi? It’s the most exciting festival to me. It’s very well known all over the world now. It’s a festival of color and love. It breaks the boundaries of poor and rich, known and unknown, friend and foe. Westerners or anyone who is not familiar with the occasion might get intimidated by the thought of it. But to us Indians, it’s just fun. We don’t get scared by unknown people approaching us with a bucket of colored water. We smear red-blue-yellow-green abir on each other. Faces become psychedelic canvases, to the extent that we cannot recognize people even our next door neighbors.

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This is exactly how we look like.

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Maa at ISKCON ground

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Holi is also the first festival of spring, heralding the advent of the season. In Bengal (where I am from) it’s also known as ‘doljatra’ or ‘basanta utsav’ (literally, spring festival). In my region, the night of the full moon is celebrated by burning dry leaves and woods. It’s called “nera pora” (burning of the bald guy). I have no idea why the name though. The purpose was to burn all the dead and dry leaves and start the spring with fresh and green. A childhood memory that sticks is of roasting potatoes in the fire and then eating them with a sprinkling of salt. It tasted heavenly. All the kids from the neighborhood gathered around the fire, we played, danced and then waited eagerly for the potatoes to be roasted. We used to chant a poem:

“Aaj amader near pora,

Kaal amader dol,

Phete gyalo, phete gyalo

Kaali raamer dhol.

Bawlo hori bole, hori bole,

Bawlo hori bole

Phete gyalo, phete gyalo

Kaali raamer dhol…

Bawlo hori bole”

I am not even going to translate the poem; it makes no sense in English if I do so. The only lines that make sense are “today is near pora and tomorrow is holi”…that’s it.

Holi brings back so many childhood memories. Wearing the clothes which you will not mind throwing away, cleaning and brushing vigorously to remove horrendously toxic colors off our skin all through the afternoon, drinking sidhdhi (a drink made from cannabis leaves) and going to the neighbors house to sprinkle a little bit of aabir (powdered paint) on the elderly people’s feet and asking for their blessings…the list goes on.

This year my parents are with me, so I have something very special to share. It’s called tilanno (til=sesame and anno=rice). It’s basically rice pudding with toasted sesame seeds. It’s very fragrant and delicate. I loved, loved and loved it, so did my friends and my husband (who does not have a sweet tooth but appreciated the delicacy of the flavor).

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Recipe:

Ingredients:

Whole milk: ½ gallon

Atap rice (preferred)/any small grain rice: ½ cup

Sesame seeds: ½ cup (more or less according to your preference)

Cashew nut powder: 2 tbsp

Mewa/khoa kheer/milk powder: 2 tbsp. (optional)

Sugar: to taste (you can mix half n half sugar and gur/jaggery)

A tiny pinch of salt

  • Start boiling the milk. Keep stirring constantly on medium high heat.
  • Wash the rice with several changes of water and soak them for minimum 30 minutes. Drain the water. Let the rice become completely air dry.
  • Grind the rice to a coarse powder (do not make a fine paste, say half broken kind of)
  • Toast the sesame seed to a shade or two darker. You will get the nice toasted sesame aroma.
  • Let it cool down and then pulse it to a coarse powder as well. Do not make a fine powder.
  • Add the rice to the milk and let it get cooked. Add sugar and salt. Stir frequently.
  • Once the whole thing comes to almost the desired consistency, add cashew nut powder and mewa/milk powder/khoa kheer and the ground sesame seed powder. Stir and turn off the heat.
  • Let it cool down and then refrigerate it.
  • Sprinkle some whole toasted sesame seeds on top of it.
  • Serve chilled.

If you add gur/jaggery, add it at the end and then turn off the heat, otherwise the milk might get curdled.

The whole thing will be much thicker after it cools down, so keep it a little more liquidy and it will come to a thicker consistency after it cools down. If you se ethat it became too thick, add a little bit of luke warm milk.

I am sending this recipe to Sukanya of saffronstreaks who is guest hosting for Jagruti.

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Note: The name ‘Holi’ came from the name ‘Holika’ who was a demoness and the sister of the demon ‘Hiranyakashipu’ (a mythical character). You can read the Wiki article here and know more about the festival. Long story short, the festival is the celebration of good over evil (as most Hindu festivals are), symbolized by the dahan or cremation of Holika and the salvation of Prahlad (son of Hiranyakashipu).  Funnily, Holi lost its religious side a long time ago. Everyone plays holi now…doesn’t matter who you are.

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A modern day Holika waiting to be burnt.

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Brishti bheja dine Khichuri/Khichdi /Lentil and rice mishmash on a rainy day

 

In West Bengal, the monsoon is a much anticipated season after a long and scorching summer. Of all the sights and smells of this lovely season, the one that lingers in my mind is the unique smell after the first few drops of rain touched the hot soil. We used to call it “sNoda gandho” (the aroma of fresh rain-soaked soil). We ran to the terrace to drench in the rain and my mother used to scream fearing that we might catch a cold. Sometimes it rained all day, sometimes for an hour and then a complete clear sky. Sometimes it rained incessantly for days on end. I think all Bengalis have only two things on their mind when monsoon arrives….their beloved khichuri and ilish machh bhaja (a wholesome meal of rice and lentil cooked together with a little bit of spice and fried hilsa fish). In days gone by, it used to be hard to shop for groceries when it was pouring outside, so the women would cook whatever possible with dry goods like rice and lentils. Now, rather than convenience or compulsion, it’s more like a tradition. Although it’s still a monsoon tradition, I could eat my mother’s khichuri everyday. Whenever I saw a few drops of rain, I used say “Maa khichuri banabe?” (Maa can you make khichuri?). Maa used to say “roj brishti porle ki roj khicuri khabi?” (Do you have to eat khichuri even if it rains everyday?). We were hit by the hurricane Sandy and it rained for whole three days. It reminded me of monsoon and I couldn’t stop myself from making khichuri.

The history of khichuri goes back a long. It is said that Job Charnock was offered khichuri when he arrived at Sutanati (the previous Calcutta). The pre-Aryan Bengali cooked something similar to the present day khichuri probably in an earthen pot. Like chicken tikka masala, ‘curry’ and many other Indian dishes, British took the khichuri hangover to England after the colonial rule. It’s called ‘kedgeree’ which is eaten during breakfast. It is quite different from the Indian khichdi and probably a modification of the original one.

 

The recipe below is my husband’s didima’s (maternal grandmother). She was the most elegant lady I have ever seen. Like her, the recipe is also very nice and the khichuri turns out to be really good. When my husband was leaving India for the US, at the last moment she wrote him 2-3 recipes on a piece of paper. Every time I cook khichuri, I remember Didima. I never cooked anything in India, and I didn’t even like the thought of cooking. Didima, knowing that her grandson loves to eat, used to ask me “Soma, don’t you ever feel like cooking?” Promptly my answer was “No, didima” and I could see the disappointment on her face. When I started cooking and made the khichuri from her recipe, I called her and said that the khichuri I made from her recipe turned out really good. She was so happy that finally her grandson is getting to eat something good.

Bhaja mug daaler khichuri/ Roasted mug daal khichdi:

Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • Gobindobhog rice/atap rice: 1 ½ cups
  • Mug daal: 1 ½ cups
  • Water: 6 cups
  • Ginger paste: 3 tbsp
  • Cumin powder: 2 tsp
  • Red chili powder: 1 tsp
  • Turmeric powder: 1-2 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar: 1-2 tsp (depending upon your taste)
  • Green peas: ½ cup
  • Potato: 2 medium
  • Tomato: 1 medium, chopped
  • Garam masala powder: 1 tsp
  • Bay leaf: 2-3
  • Whole cumin seeds: 1 ½ tsp
  • Dry red chili: 2-3
  • Green chili: 2-3
  • Ghee (optional): 2 tbsp
  • Mustard oil/vegetable oil: 1 tbsp

Roasted mug daal/bhaja mug daal

 How to cook:

  •   Dry roast the mug daal until they release a nice aroma and they turn to golden brown. Then won’t roast evenly, some of the grains will be a little darker than the others, it’s perfectly alright.
  • Let it cool and wash it with several changes of water. Drain the water and keep it aside.
  • Wash the rice and keep it aside too.
  • Halve the potatoes into two-four pieces (depending upon the size).
  • Mix the ginger paste with the cumin and red chili powder.
  •  Heat up half the ghee and half the oil in a deep, heavy bottom pot.
  • Add the cumin seed. Let them darken a little bit. Add the bay leaves and the whole red chili.
  • Once they change color, add the ginger-cumin-red chili paste. Sauté them for few minutes and add the chopped tomato. Let the tomato get mushy and the paste will start oozing oil a little bit. Add the potatoes and mix them well with the spices. Sauté them for around 5 minutes and then add the rice and the daal.
  • Add turmeric powder. Mix well and keep on sautéing for another 10 minutes or so.
  • Add around four cups of water, salt and the sugar. Cover the pot and put the flame to medium (if you would like to add cauliflower, add it here).
  • Let it cook for another 10 minutes or so and then uncover. If the water is all absorbed and the rice, lentil or the potato is still uncooked, add the remaining water.
  • Add the green chilis and the peas. Mix it well and let it cook covered for few more minutes or until everything is properly cooked.
  • Uncover and check for salt. If it tastes ok, add garam masala powder and the ghee. Give it a good stir. Cover for few more minutes to let the flavors integrate.
  • Uncover right before serving.

 

There are many types of khichuris. This is the version mainly cooked during religious occasions and tastes like the so called “bhoger khichuri” (Bhog= khichuri offered to the God). The addition of ghee is entirely optional but it adds a ton of flavor. My Baba doesn’t like the flavor of ghee, so my Maa doesn’t add it to the khichuri while cooking. We used to add it to our portion before eating.

Khichuri can be eaten either by itself, with fried egg/fish or with vegetable fritters and papor/pappadam. A khichuri can be simply with rice, lentil, potato or green peas and/cauliflower added to it. Most of the times the khichuri is made of the atap rice variety, usually short grained like Gobindobhog. It can be thin, thick, medium consistency or dry (bhuni khichuri). Although it is a simple recipe, a good khichuri takes a little bit of skill to make it perfect. I prefer to see the individual grains of rice and lentil, but my husband doesn’t mind if it becomes completely mushy, so it’s a matter of personal preference.

PS: Do you remember the advertisement of Lijjat Pappad from the old times on Doordarshan? Yesterday when I was taking the papad out of the packet to eat with the khichuri, I suddenly remembered the commercial. I could still remember the puppet saying “Lijjat pappad…hne hne hne…hne hne hne”. For those who would like to indulge nostalgia, here is the link.

Payesh/Payasam/Rice and milk pudding

I think every community in India has their own payesh recipe. The recipe below is roughly a Bengali recipe. I didn’t follow anybody’s recipe but followed the basic cooking procedure of a Bengali payesh. I do not have a sweet tooth, so the sweetness is moderate. You can adjust it to your taste.

Ingredients:

Whole milk: 1/2 Gallon/8 cups

Evaporated milk: 1.5 cups

Atap or any short grain rice: a little less than 1/2 cup

Sugar: 1 cup (Less or more according to your taste)

Green cardamom: 3 nos.

Bay leaf: 1 no.

Cashews: around 15 nos.

Raisin: 10-15 nos.

Ghee/clarified butter: 1 tsp

A pinch of salt

How to cook:

  • Wash the rice and drain all the water. The rice should be dry.
  • Soak the cashews and raisins in water for 15-20 mns. and then chop the cashews.
  • Mix the milk with the evaporated milk and start boiling it on mdeium flame. Be very careful, otherwise it might either stick to the bottom of the pan or spil over. You have to bring the volume to 2/3 of the original volume. You can totally omit the evaporated milk. I add it to save time. You can use regualr whole milk and bring the volume down.
  • Heat up the ghee and add the bay leaf and cardamoms to it. Saute them for a minute or so and then add the rice. Saute for 2-3 mns. and then add them to the boiling milk.
  • Add sugar and a pinch of salt.
  • Let the rice cook.
  • Once the rice is cooked, add the chopped cashews and the raisins. Cook the rice and milk to your desired consistency. I like a little bit of liquid in it (not a lot) but some people like it really thick. Again, go for your instinct.
  • Chill before you serve.

Subha Mahalaya…..the hour of the goddess

It starts with “Ya devi sarbabhuteshshu, shakti rupena sanksthita Namasteshwai Namasteshwai Namasteshwai namo namaha.”

Kash phool/Kans grass

The loose translation would be “O Goddess who permeates all things and is manifested today as Strength, I bow to thee, I bow to thee, I bow to thee over and over”

Mahalaya is the first (official) day of the Bengali festive season. I am not going into the religious details because I never thought of Mahalaya as a religious occasion. As I was never too religious, Durga puja (celebration of goddess Durga) was not even a religious festival to me; it was more like a social celebration. Today am far away from home in a foreign land and all alone celebrating mahalaya. I remember my childhood days when I woke up with the magic voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra, the legend who will always be alive through his voice. An elderly uncle in our para (neighborhood) used to play the song on huge loud speakers. He didn’t care if somebody didn’t want to wake up at the wee hour and listen to it. The good thing was, no one had any problem, and we kind of looked forward to it. Maa used to turn on the radio first and then wait for the TV to start broadcasting the Mahishashur Mardini program. We were still in bed and watched it half asleep, half awake. The day felt so different than any other day. There was festivity in the air and the white clouds on the blue sky and the white feathery kashphool (Kans grass) all together made the day very special. When we moved to our new house, there was an empty land right behind us which every year used to get invaded with kashphool: it was picture perfect.

To celebrate mahalaya alone for the first time in my life, I made some payesh (rice pudding, sort of, but much more subtle) and thought of sharing the sweetness with all of you. Hope most of you are with your loved ones and waiting for the festivities to start and bring joy and happiness to your life.

You can hear the whole chandipaath (recital of the mythical story) here.

I’ll post the Payesh recipe soon.

The quintessential Muri Ghanto/Rice cooked with fish head

 The diversity in India always amazes me. I often think that it’s no less than a miracle that India still survives as a ‘united’ country in spite of all the differences in language, culture, ethnicity and religion. Bengal is no exception, and especially Calcutta is like a melting pot of all the states. However, coexistence does not automatically translate to mutual appreciation, and conspicuous differences exist even between close geographical neighbors. A prime example of this comes from Bengalis, who generally belong to two sub types: ghotis (people who are originally from West Bengal) and bangals (people originally from East Bengal, now Bangladesh). More than forty years after the latest wave of bangal migration into India, the Bengali zeitgeist shows no inclination towards a unified ghoti-bangal culture. Personally, I was very proud of my bangal heritage and used to engage in long heated arguments with my ghoti friends to prove that we were the superior when it comes to food and hard work. I was stupid and ignorant. I blindly repeated things which were told to me by my close and extended family members (and so did my ghoti friends as well). We didn’t learn to rationalize or discern if there was any truth to these arguments.

Over time, my rigidity in this matter has lessened. Part of this may be due to the location of my childhood home. Till the age of sixteen, I lived in a ghoti neighborhood with very few bangals. However, despite the distinct sociocultural differences, there were no animosities, no exclusions and definitely no negative feelings. We lived together happily and learned from each other, sharing food with our neighboring jethimas and kakimas (aunts) and distributing the prasad (offering during the religious occasions) to our ghoti neighbours during kojagori Laxmi pujo (autumn festival of the goddess Laxmi). I loved the knacha narkol bhora sedhdho puli (steamed rice dessert filled with raw coconut and eaten with liquid molasses) made by my neighboring jethima (elderly aunt). I loved it so much that my mother had to learn from her and it’s a staple in my household now. Even though both of my parents are bangals, we have a distinct ghoti influence in some things we eat, as my mother was a newlywed bride when she moved to that neighborhood and she learned much of her early cookery from our ghoti neighbors.

However, things may gradually be moving in the direction of integration. Younger people from both communities are sharing each other’s food. Still sometimes jokes about bangals and ghotis creep into adda (pointless chitchat unique to the Bengali race community) but it’s more for fun than to claim cultural superiority. In keeping with this spirit, the recipe I am sharing below on this does not belong to any particular group and has no identity except that it’s a Bengali recipe and this is how my mother makes it.

Ingredients:

Fish head/Muri/Muro: Half a large head or one small head, preferably from a freshwater carp

Cardamom: 2-3

Cinnamon: 2-3”, broken into smaller pieces

Cloves: 4-5

Bay leaves: 2

Turmeric: ½ tsp

Garam masala: ½ tsp

Ghee: ½ tbsp

Mustard/vegetable/corn oil: 3-4 tbsp

Potato: 2 medium or one large

Gobindobhog rice: 11/2 cup

Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tbsp

Red chili powder: 11/2 tsp

Tomato: One medium

Green chili: 3-4

Garam masala powder: ½ tsp

Salt to taste

Chopped potato

Gobindobhog rice/Kaalijeera rice and whole garam masala

How to cook:

  • Wash the rice with several changes of water and then soak with water for 15-20 minutes. Drain all the water or as much as possible.
  • Marinate the washed and clean fish head with salt and turmeric and keep it aside for 15-20 minutes.
  • Add chili powder to the ginger-garlic paste and make a paste of it (GGC paste).
  • Heat up the oil and add the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Sauté them a little bit and then add the bay leaves.
  • Once the bay leaves change color, add the chopped onion. Sauté until translucent.
  • Add the GGC masala paste, cook on medium flame for few minutes.
  • Drop in the chopped tomato, add turmeric, half a tsp of salt and then cook it until the oil separates.
  • Throw in the potatoes in the masala paste and coat the potatoes with the masala and let it cook for 5 minutes or so.
  • Finally add the drained rice and cook it for 5-10 minutes.
  • Add water, salt to taste, stir and cover the pot. Let it come to a boil and then reduce the flame to medium.
  • After around 10 minutes, uncover the pot and add the fish head and add the green chilis.
  • Cook it on low flame and after few minutes, break the fish head a little bit to incorporate the flavor into the rice. Mix well.
  • Cook for few more minutes until all the water is absorbed and both the rice and the potatoes are cooked.
  • Mix the ghee with the garam masala powder and add it to the rice mixture. Mix it well and immediately cover the pot so that the aroma doesn’t escape.
  • Serve hot.

PS: My husband eats this with rice. I eat this by itself. That’s how we ate it at my parent’s place. If you do not find the above mentioned rice, you can cook it with any atap rice you find, but the best is the Gobindobhog variety. It is sold as Kalijeera rice in the Bangladeshi stores here in the US. I prefer the tomatoes to be red, plump and juicy. I absolutely hate the thick skinned, hard, pale red roma tomato variety. But if you have only that in hand, go ahead.

Muri or muro is the Bengali name for fish head. Ghanto is a preparation where individual components of the dish is not completely intact. It’s like mishmash. You can find two more murighanto recipes here and here.