This is my first post and I am so excited. Couldn’t sleep well last night and was thinking about what to write and how to start and all those not-so-important things. It took me some time to decide the topic of my first post. Finally I decided to start with a fish post to match with the name of my blog. I love the aroma of different spices and love eating fish.
In Bengali, there is a proverb saying “machhe bhate Bangali“, which roughly translates to “fish and rice make a Bengali “. This is mostly true. As some of you know, Bengal is situated on the bank of the river Ganges and we have the Bay of Bengal to our south. Rice is the principal food crop in West Bengal. This translates to a humid and riverine geography, and thus to abundances of fish and rice, which explains why Bengalis are so fond of both. Being far away from home, I miss the comfort food and specially the seasonal variety of different vegetables and fishes. I miss ‘kaalboishakhi jhor’ (late summer afternoon tropical thunderstorm…the English name doesn’t do justice to the actual storm though) and the monsoon season in general. I miss the complete darkness before the storm and then pouring rain and thunder. Monsoon means another thing for the fish loving Bengalis, the arrival in the markets of the elusive ilish machh (hilsa fish). I miss crispy fried hilsa fish (and the leftover oil, green chilis and steaming hot govindabhog rice (a delicate and expensive variety of short-grained rice which has a nice aroma)). In Bengal, seasonal fruits, vegetables and fishes are often tightly linked with specific religious festivals and rituals. When I was a kid, plums (kul in Bengali) were not supposed to be eaten until the day of Saraswati puja, which is in early spring. On that day, the goddess was also offered a pair of choice hilsa fish. Long before “sustainable” became a buzzword, the purpose of such associations was to prevent fruits being harvested before they were ripened and to allow the fish to lay eggs throughout their reproductive season. Now things have changed. We have the luxury of eating almost everything throughout the year. That kind of spoils the fun of waiting all year long to get something.
I never grew up eating this particular preparation of ilish machh. I came to know about it from my mother-in-law, who in turn got this recipe from her mother-in-law who was originally from Bikrampur in Bangladesh. I hate kakrol (teasle gourd), hate the absolute taste of it. On the other hand my husband loves it. The jhol tastes really good. I usually eat the fish and the pumpkin. It is very unusual for me, never thought of adding pumpkin and teasle gourd to a hilsa jhol. I took these pictures a long time ago, so couldn’t document everything. Next time when I’ll make it, I’ll try to add few more pictures.
Hilsa fish: 6-8 pieces
Pumpkin: 1/4th of a medium sized pumpkin
Teasle gourd: 2-3 medium sized
Mustard oil: 1/2 cup ( you don’t need all of it, so don’t worry)
Kalonji/Kalojeere: 1/2 tsp.
Milk: 2 tbsp
Green chilis: 4-5 nos.
Turmeric: 1/3 tsp.
Salt to taste
How to cook:
- Coat the descaled fishes with turmeric and salt. Keep them aside for 10-15 minutes.
- Cut the pumpking into 2″/1″ pieces and the cut the teasle gourds into four. I do not get fresh teasle gourds here, so I use frozen.
- Heat up 2 tbsp. mustard oil. Let it smoke and then bring down the flame to medium. Add the pumpkin pieces and suate them a little bit. Take them out and drain on a paper towel.
- Add the teasle gourd and do the same.
- In the same oil, add the fish pieces and shallow fry them. If you have access to fresh hilsa, the less frying is better. I use frozen and fry them a little more (just in case). Keep them aside.
- Add the kalonji in the same oil and wait for the nice aroma.
- Add 2-3 green chilis. Saute them for few seconds and then take them out as weel. Leave the kalonji in the oil.
- Add 2 cups of water and then add turmeric. Let it boil for few minutes and then add salt.
- Add the fishes back with the gourds. Let it boil for several minutes.
- When the fishes are almost cooked, add the pumkin.
- When the pumpkins are completely cooked, add the sauted green chilis back with 2-3 more fresh slit green chilis.
- Mis 2 tbsp. of milk with one tbsp. of mustard oil, add this mixture and then boil for 1-2 mniues.
- Turn the heat off and serve it with hot rice.
PS. I added the pumpkin with the gourd and the fish and they were overcooked. You can see mushy pumpkins in the pictures. My monther-in-law adds red chili powder-turmeric paste in the oil, cooks it for a minute and then adds water. I skip that part as I like the fresh green chili taste better. You can add that step if you want.