Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Chingrir Bora -- Shrimp Fritters

It was a hot, hot day today. Temperature soared to the 90s. There was not a speck of rain anywhere.

It was also the day of Ratha Yatra. The day in the month of Ashada, when the monsoons have arrived in the plains of Odissa and Bengal, and the day on which the deities of Lord Jagannatha, Balaram and Subhadra are taken to their aunt's house in a regal chariot.

My girls don't know much about Ratha Yatra. I must have told them sometime but they don't remember. I don't try either. It doesn't make sense any more.

I would rather they take to heart from Tagore's poem which was as apt in the times that he wrote it as it is now.

"Ratha Yatra Lokaranyo Maha Dumdham (The Ratha Yatra prgresses amidst throngs of people with much jubilation)
Bhaktera Lutaye Pothe Korichhe Pronam (The devotees bow down and pay their respect)

Poth bhabe ami dev ( As people bow down on the street while the Ratha is pulled, the road thinks he is the Supreme God) ,
Rath bhabe ami ,( The chariot pulled on Ratha Yatra thinks he is the Supreme God)
Murti bhabe ami dev ( The wooden idol on the chariot preens and thinks he is the Supreme God),
Haansen Ontorjami ( The Supreme Power merely smiles at this ignorance)"
-- Rabindranath Tagore

There was one aspect of Rath that I don't want to miss though. Papor Bhaja and Telebhaja, fried in the hot oil, celebrating Nature and the rains.

Though there was no rain and it was really too hot for frying, I did make some chingrir bora today. Ideally this bora or fritters is made with the very very tiny shrimp called "ghusho chingri". You can mash those with hand or make a paste on the shil-nora. I would never get that so settled for the medium sized shrimp which I chopped and then put in the mixie to make a paste.

Soak 1/2 cup of red Masoor Dal in water for half an hour.

Wash and clean 10-12 medium sized shrimp. If you have the smaller ones use a few more. In my case , I only had to defrost the shrimp.

Chop the shrimp in small pieces.

In the blender add
the soaked lentils
the chopped shrimp
3-4 green chili
sprinkle of water
and make a smooth paste.

Add salt to taste to this paste.

2-3 tbsp of chopped onion
2 green chillies finely chopped
Chopped dhonepata/coriander leaves
1/2 tsp of Nigella seeds

Beat the lentil paste with a fork till everything is well mixed up.

Heat Mustard oil in a Kadhai or Frying Pan

Once the oil is hot, take a tsp of oil from the kadhai and add it to the batter. Give it a good mix.

Once the oil is ready which you will know by putting in a small drop of the batter and seeing it bubble and rise to top, add small scoops of batter in the hot oil. Keep the heat at high and in a minute you will see the batter turning solid. Gently flip and let the other side cook. Reduce the heat to a medium-high(between med and high). In another minute turn it around again. The outside will be a golden brown by now. It will take approx. 3 minutes in all once the oil is well heated.

Remove the "chingri bora" with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.

Serve as a snack with tea or have it with rice and dal.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Shahi Tukda or Pauruti'r Ras Malai

Shahi Tukda or Bread Ras Malai

I have not seen anyone use "regular white bread" in as many avatars as my Mother. It could be due to the fact that we mostly lived in small towns where buying sweets or shingaras for snack, or when an impromptu guest arrived, was not the easiest thing to do. It could also be due to the fact that we did not have a refrigerator(until I was in 8th grade) and so stocking sandesh and roshogollas for a guest who lands out of nowhere was not possible.It could also be due to the fact that my Mother had this amazing talent of making delicious edibles out of practically nothing.

One thing we did buy regularly was "a loaf of sliced bread". Buttered toasts appeared frequently with tea in the morning.But how much buttered toast can a Bengali household consume after all ? And so rest of the bread showed up at snack time in different avatars.

Neighborhood aunties dropping by for evening tea in winter, meant my Mother would make bread pakora by simply dipping slices of bread in a spiced besan batter and frying them in hot oil.

If it was hot summer, she would simply rustle up a paurutir dahi vada (bread dahi vada) with the yogurt spiced up with some imli chutney from neighborhood Jain Aunty.

For dessert, she would make paurutir malpoa(bread malpua) where squares of bread were fried crisp and then soaked in a sugar syrup until they became soft and melt in the mouth. My father was an avid sweet lover and he needed a dessert every day of the week. This helped!

The Shahi Tukda or Paurutir Rosh Malai was made only when guests came invited for dinner though. It involved a little more work in thickening the milk and making the rabri and so was not really impromptu. However once my Ma discovered "Gits Rabri Mix", even this became a super fast dish in her kitchen.

I did not know that this very simple dish that happened in my Mother's kitchen had a fancy name of "Shahi Tukda" and a fancier lineage, until our dessert connoisseur friend T served it one day. Her version looked fancier than my Ma's, who never bothered with garnishing and such.

As I searched for history of this dish, I learned interesting facts from here

"It is popularly believed that Shahi Tukray was a favorite of the Mughal emperors to break fast with in the month of Ramazan, thus the practice continues even today making it a very desirable dish at iftar, and a meetha famously served at the festive occasions of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha.

There are many who claim that Shahi Tukray evolved from Um Ali an ancient Egyptian bread pudding. Legend has it that a Sultan with a group of hunters was hunting along the River Nile when they stopped in nearby village for some food. The villagers called upon their local cook Um Ali to cook up a meal for the hungry guests. The chef mixed some stale wheat bread, nuts, milk and sugar, and baked it in the oven. And thus the delicious Um Ali came to be. Another legend claims Um Ali to be a victory dessert made to order by a succeeding king."

While Shahi Tukda owes its origin to the Mughal emperors, the royals of Hyderabad had adapted this dish to make "Double ka Meetha", probably named so as bread was called "double roti" in Hindi.

Whatever you wish to call it and however fancy it may sound, it really is the easiest thing to make. And isn't it a beautiful coincidence that I made it during the holy Ramadan ?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Maacher Jhuri or Crumbled Fish ~ with Tilapia or Cod

The first time I heard of a Maacher Jhuri was from Ushnish da's blog post. His was the classic recipe with Loitya Maach aka Bombay Duck. Loitya Maach was not a fish that was cooked in our home and I was not familiar with this preparation of Maacher Jhuri.

At this point, I will have to digress and share this very interesting information about Loitya...

"The origin of the term "Bombay duck" is as interesting as uncertain. One popular etymology relates to railways. When the rail links started on the Indian subcontinent, people from eastern Bengal were made aware of the great availability of the locally prized fish on India's western coasts and began importing them by the railways. Since the smell of the dried fish was overpowering, its transportation was usually by the mail train. The Bombay Mail (or Bombay Daak) thus reeked of the fish smell and "You smell like the Bombay Daak" was a common term in use in the days of the British Raj. In Bombay, the local English speakers then called it so, but it was eventually corrupted into "Bombay duck". Nonetheless, the Oxford English Dictionary dates "Bombay duck" to at least 1850, two years before the first railroad in Bombay was constructed, making this explanation unlikely"

Done? Now, let's continue.

Maacher Bhorta was something I had tasted though. Around that time, Little Sis's babysitter, a Bangladeshi lady would stay with us during the day taking care of Li'l S. M Didi was not much of a cook and dismissed most of my requests regarding cooking, with an off handed remark about how she was a working woman back in Bangladesh and hence never wasted her time in the kitchen learning to cook a biriyani or korma.

However she was very particular about the food that she ate and preferred cooking a fish dish for herself in her own typical way. Mostly she would request me to get a packet of frozen fish like kechki, mourala or loitya for her. Her typical fish dish everyday would be some kind of a jhol with onion, potatoes, tomatoes and the fish, which she put in the curry without frying it like we did. She would often make a fish curry with long slices of uchhe(bittergourd) and onion. Most of her fish dishes were unlike anything we were familiar with and the husband-man, who is not a fish lover by any standard, usually stayed away from M Didi's fishy dishes. For me, the fish lover, the story would be little different. I would often succumb to those fishes and would share a little of M Didi's obscure fish curries. They were very different and I even grew a fondness for fish cooked with uchhe.

M Didi would sometimes make a "maacher bhorta" , with onion, tomatoes, garlic and lots of dhonepata and green chillis. Since she did her cooking mostly during the day and wasn't keen on discussing recipes and such stuff, I never quite found out the fish she used for her bhorta. Her bhorta was like a mashed fish and definitely very tasty.

Now since we do not buy a lot of the frozen fish from Bangladeshi stores, I first tried Ushnish Da's recipe with a fish called whiting or more specifically smelt-whiting, which is found in the Asian stores. It was an instant hit at our home. More than M-Didi's bhorta, which was moist and soft in texture, my jhuri was drier, a texture both the husband and my older daughter took to.

Soon after this I had a dish called "Bacalhau A Gomes De Sa" at a Portugese restaurant. It was salted cod with onions and potatoes and tasted close to the "maacher jhuri" (albeit without the umami that jhuri offers). And then a light bulb went on in my head!!!

I started cooking maacher jhuri with the fish fillet like Tilapia or Flounder or Cod. I also add some shrimp for good measure. It was a dish, that is fast and easy to cook and this the most tastiest avtaar that a Tilapia fillet could ever take.