• Thursday, March 05, 2015


Deshi platter

By Shawkat Osman

Kaikka dow-peyaja
The classical Persian phrase, 'dow-peyaja' is used to mean a dish with vegetables. In Bangladesh we use the Urdu term 'dow' meaning two, to conveniently indicate a dish in which the onions are used in two forms, once as a spice for the gravy and later as a vegetable to accompany the main ingredient.
Kaikka (Xenetodon cancila) fish has a special place for those who prefer a firm flesh in a small fish.
1 kg kaikka, dressed
1 cup mustard oil
4 tbsp onion paste
2 tbsp garlic paste
1 tsp red chilli powder
¼ tsp turmeric powder
10 green chillies, slit
10 onions, quartered
2 tsp salt
5 spring onions, chopped
1 cup cilantro
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a korai/wok. When smoking hot, stir in onion paste, and cook stirring until onion turns red. Put in garlic, red chilli and turmeric. Sauté stirring vigorously until they release their flavour. (If the gravy catches the bottom of the korai/wok, sprinkle a little water to avoid burning and catching. At the same time keep scraping the bottom with a khunti/spatula. And add another sprinkling of water).
Chuck in: green chilli, quartered onion and salt. Sauté stirring frequently for 3 minutes.
Add: fish and spring onions. Cook stirring occasionally until fish is tender. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Korolla singhi salon
Korolla/Uchchey?btter gourd (Memordica Charantia): the quintessential starter for nearly all informal Bengali lunch, is also like many other vegetables, cooked with either prawns or fish. The bitter taste of Korolla is an acquired taste; literally, every 'deshi' child is required to consume this vegetable for its numerous benefits. As the child grows, he/she learns to appreciate its good taste and value.
This is a basic 'teeta (bitter)-salon' recipe, which befits many bitter vegetables, versatile and inexpensive, such as 'gima sak' or 'neem pata' cooked with any small fish.

2 singhi fish, dressed and cut on the bone into small pieces
250 g bitter gourd, sliced lengthwise
2 tbsp mustard oil
4 red onions, chopped
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp red chilli powder
1½ tsp + 1½ tsp salt
1 tsp ginger paste
2 tsp garlic paste
10 green chillies, slit
4 potatoes, wedged lengthwise
2 tsp cumin seeds, freshly dry roasted and powdered

Smear the fish pieces all over with: turmeric, red chilli and 10½ teaspoons salt. Set aside. Heat oil in a korai/wok, when smoking hot; lob in onion, sauté until onion is soft. Stir in: garlic and ginger. Cook  stirring all the time until spice releases its flavour.
Chuck in: fish, potatoes and green chillies. Stir to coat them with the spice, and cook until potatoes are half done.
Add the bitter gourd. Stir to blend and pour in 3 cups water. Sprinkle with 1½ tsp salt. Bring it to a boil, cover korai/wok with lid, lower flame and gently simmer for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cumin and serve with rice as a starter.
Note: Other fishes good for this salon are 'magur' and 'gang magu'.

Puti mach kawra bhaja
The first rains and rising water levels trigger upstream migration of this still water fish. When it finds a tributary, canal or stream it moves upstream and eventually onto flooded areas. Village children catch 'puti' with ease from the pouring rainwater falling into a pond or 'beel', where the 'puti' using the cascading waterfall swims up into the flooded paddy fields. When water recedes, it migrates back into many canals and streams of the Podda-Meghna-Jomuna river system.

'Kawra Bhaja' (crispy fried) fish is full of calcium, as they are eaten along with the bones. The fish bones become brittle and easily crush in the mouth. Eat the fishes mixed with rice, or as a snack with your drinks. Do not worry about the bones -- they will disintegrate in your mouth like wafers. This is a basic recipe for all 'kawra bhaja' fish dishes.
1kg puti fish
1tsp turmeric powder
2tsp red chilli powder
1tsp salt
Soya oil for deep-frying

Cut out the fish innards -- retain heads. Trim the barbels and tail ends. Rinse the fish under running water. Dust the fish with: turmeric, red chilli powder and salt.
Heat the oil, in a korai/work for deep-frying until the surface starts to form ripples. Slide in a handful of fish; cook in batches. Fry them until crisp, turning them regularly with a slotted spoon.
Strain out the fish, drip off excess oil and spread them out on an absorbent paper towel for further oil removal. Cover with a wire mesh lid. Any other covering will make the fish soggy and its main appeal -- 'crunchiness' will be lost. Serve at room temperature.
Similar small fish are excellent for this recipe. Medium (Hilsa, Pomfret) or larger sized fish (Rui), cut into 2.5 X 5cm X 1cm sized pieces and cooked as per 'puti mach kawra bhaja' recipe, will give comparable outcome.

Shol macher bhorta
Bhortas are generally a mash of cooked foodstuff, mixed with raw onions and spices. The Thais, whose basic cooking style is similar to ours, make bhortas of cooked meat as well. Shol (Murrel), the snakehead fish is always sold live. A Bengali will not purchase such "jeeol mach" (live fish) if it is not healthy, breathing, and 'kicking'. For trouble free handling, the fish is first stunted with a deft below on the head, and then placed in the shopping bag.

Never freeze 'jeeol mach'; once the fish gets cold, they become hard and unpalatable. There positively are good reasons behind all the trouble taken to maintain them in fresh water all the way from the catch to the market.

1 kg shol fish, dressed
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 bunch of spring onions, chopped (200g)
1 cup cilantro, chopped
½ cup onion, chopped fine
3 tbsp mustard oil
½ cup soya oil
1 tsp salt

To the mixing bowl add the following: spring onions, cilantro, onion, mustard oil and salt. Combine the fish flakes with herbs and spices, mix them thoroughly, and serve at room temperature.
Bale fish or Tank Goby (Glossogobius guiris) also makes excellent fish bhorta, and heavily depends on its availability.

Katchki bhaji
Katchki/Ganga River-Sprat (Corica soborna) is the smallest sized (2 to 3 cm) edible fish found in rivers and estuaries of Bangladesh, but also reported from the marine waters of Bay of Bengal. It is a common scene in rural Bengal to witness a group of frolicking children catching Katchki with a 'gamcha' (loosely woven mesh towel). They are usually caught when the school of fish comes to the river edge to eat plankton.

250g katchki fish
1tbs mustard oil
1 red onion, chopped fine
1tsp garlic, paste
1 tomato, chopped (optional)
1tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
4 green chilies, slit
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped

Place the 'katchki' in a colander, rinse under running water, and let it drip dry while you prepare the gravy. The fish does not need any further processing. Heat oil in a koral/wok, lob in the onions and sauté until pale golden. Add the following: garlic, red chilli powder, turmeric and water. Sauté stirring all the time until spice releases its fragrance.
Then toss in: tomato, green chilli and salt. Cook until tomato disintegrates into the gravy; occasionally stir the gravy during this process to arrest catching. Chuck in the 'katchki' and stir until they are coated with the gravy. Cook until fish is ready (5 to 7 minutes).
Sprinkle with cilantro and remove from flame.
Note: For a more conventional flavour, omit the tomato.

Macher makha salon
The term 'makha' means to mingle or blend; all 'makha' dishes do not go through the classical process of first making gravy in hot oil and then introducing the main ingredients to cook in them. Usually in the rural areas, the cook will prepare this dish in an earthen pot, leave the pot over a very slow flame, and attend to other process jobs in the kitchen.
Bilati (literarlly meaning English) dhone-pata is of course not at all from England, but a flat leaf cilantro, most probably introduced from India; anything not local is termed 'bilati'. Do not tear or cut them into smaller pieces, use intact or halved.
Fish good for this recipe are usually those with a strong 'fishy' smell (Kalibaus/Black Rohu-Labeo calbasu, or Kholcha, -- Colisa fasciatus). If using mild flavoured fish reduce the amount of garlic paste and garlic cloves.

1 kg kalibaus/kholcha fish cut into small pieces, or any small dressed fish
4 tbsp mustard oil
4 onions, finely chopped
6 tsp garlic, paste
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp red chilli powder
10 green chillies, slit
2 tsp salt
3 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
½ cup water
20 garlic cloves, peeled
10 long leaf cilantro (bilati dhone-pata)

Mix all the ingredients in a korai/wok, cover with a lid, and place the korai/wok over a medium flame.
Cook stirring occasionally for 10 to 15 minutes. Shake the korai once or twice to arrest catching.
Note: In 'macher makha salon' vegetables may also be included, if using pulpy vegetable like lau (bottle gourd), omit the addition of water.
For 'shutki' versions and additional 10 peeled garlic pods, add 100g of  'Chepa Shutki' (fermented puti fish) to the above ingredients and you will have a wonderfully aromatic, irresistible dish of 'shutki makha salon'.

Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, August 05, 2014

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