Monday, July 19, 2021

Ilish Maacher Tauk -- heady memories

Ilish Tauk | Ilish Machher Tok | Hilsa Fish Chutney

Ilish Tauk | Ilish Machher Tok/Ambol | Hilsa Fish Chutney

Chutney, Ambol and Tok are the three different varieties of sour dishes in Bengal, the difference being in the sourness and thickness of the gravy in the dish. While Chutneys are the sweetest with a thick, sticky base, the ambol and tauk/tok are more sour and have a thinner gravy. Of all this, the Tauk(or Tok) is supposed to be the most sour. Since fish is abundant in Bengal, fish often features in a Tok or Ambol. Usually it's the tiny Mourala  which goes in a Tok or the fish head and tail of Hilsa (Ilish Macher Tok).  This tangy stew kinda dish is had as a last course, mixed with rice and supposed to have cooling effects in the hot summer.

Update: This post was originally done in2012. I am updating with new photos and more precise recipe in 2021.
midst the umpteen other things that my Dida(maternal grandmother) cooked, there was an Ilish Macchher Tauk. Heads of ambrosial Ilish suspended in a thick, brown, sweet and syrupy liquid that was sweetened with jaggery and soured by ripe tamarind. To call it a "Hilsa Head Chutney" would be plain blasphemy.

It was a backstage kinda dish. I mean while the choicest pieces of Ilish were fried and served as is in a bhaja, the beautiful steak pieces steamed as a bhapa in clinging mustard sauce with fluffed white rice, the fish roe were fried and served with the tel and fresh green chili, the head and the tail led a sad life in waiting.

"Too many bones. Can't eat it", said the young girls in the family with a toss of freshly washed step-cut hair.

"Not enough meat in these pieces", said the grown up men who thought it beneath themselves to be served a lyaja -- a fish tail.

"Rohu heads are better. This has a strong smell", said the younger men, their faces till gentle, their opinion yet not chauvinistic.

And so the matha and the lyaja -- the fish head and the fish tail -- waited in my Dida's kitchen till she was done with the bhaja, the jhaal, the jhol. By then the sun was high up, the crows sitting on the Neem tree outside the kitchen were tired of all the cawing, the neighborhood cat had a princely meal of Ilish fish scales and was patiently waiting by the kaltala for the remains from the men's lunch plates who could never chew on the fish bones. The kaajer mashi--the house help-- Minoti'r Ma was hovering around the back door waiting to see which piece she would be taking home.

Ilish Tauk | Ilish Machher Tok | Hilsa Fish Tok

Ilish Mach er Tok/Ambol

It was then that my Dida opened up a green lidded plastic jar where lay a block of tamarind, brown, ripe and sticky wrapped in a piece of
The matha and the lyaja heaved relief. They loved the tauk. They loved being in that tangy, sweet liquid where they were the stars of the dish.

Minoti'r Ma stopped fretting and came to sit by the stove. I kept telling Ma that I would have lunch later with Dida and the older women. Dida put the kadahi back on the unoon and poured some more Mustard Oil in it. Minoti'r Ma rubbed the tamarind in a bowl full of water to take out the seeds and make the "kaath". The water slowly turned a deep burnt sienna and the kadhai hissed with scarlet red chili and mustard seeds. The matha and lyaja nudged each other and smiled. Their moment had come. As they bubbled in the tamarind gravy of the tauk sweetened by jaggery I waited patiently for the last course of my meal. The Ilish maacher Matha'r tauk.


My Mother made this tauk way back in March when she was visiting. I merely hovered around in anticipation. She and I are the only ones in the family who will eat this dish nowadays. So I wait for her--to visit us---and amidst many other things to cook me a Ilish Maacher tauk.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Salsa Egg Curry -- Salsa ar Sriracha diye Didima'r Dim kosha

This Salsa Egg Curry saga goes way back to pre-Independence India, when my grandmother was a young girl who tended wild hens in her backyard while making fresh salsa that a Mexican traveler had taught her! Those wild country hens laid some delicious brown eggs and the Mexican traveler had brought her some of his country's fresh hot jalapenos. Actually that was his way of proposing marriage but she gave him bhai-phota and ruined his plans! Inspite of this heart breaking incident, this dish was much loved in our home and went by the name of Salsa ar Sriracha diye Didima'r Dim kosha.

How many of you think that is the truth? How many of you think staying true to your roots means cooking a dish from your country or culture exactly how it has always been done?

Truth is this Salsa egg Curry saga goes back to the summer of 2019  when vacationing in Iceland and missing Dim Kosha, we had promptly made this egg curry, the night after we saw the magical Northern Lights. This is the story that I will tell my grandkids. This might just become their story for their version of Dim Kosha,

How at 9:30 PM at night, the aurora tracking app on my phone started buzzing and we jumped into the car, driving towards the location where sighting was supposed to be best. A merely short 10mins drive out of town and we could see the activity increasing. We pulled up on the side of the road somewhere in pitch darkness and the magnetic storm put up a great show for us. The dark sky above us came alive with curtain of lights, swaying and waving, and  taking on colored hues. It was at the same time beautiful and creepy, kept reminding me of horcruxes from HP.
The night after we had Salsa Dim Kosha!
If a Bengali dish with Mexican ingredients comes into existence in Iceland,  does it mean going back to your roots or adapting your roots and giving it space to breathe and grow?

First Sighting as per FB: September 2019 -- in Iceland

In Bangla there is a saying "Dheki swarge giyeo dhaan bhaange".
Loosely translated it means "If possible, a Bong will cook & eat a spicy dim kosha(egg curry) even when she is amidst the beauty and luxury of a place like heaven"!
Well actually that's not the translation but I an 100 percent sure this is what it means🤣😜
After the ethereal beauty of the Aurora yesterday, this egg curry gave us  joy that only heaven can shower on you. So errm, due to lack of regular ingredients this was made with salsa from a jar, onions, sriracha sauce and a sprinkle of curry powder. All found in our Airbnb kitchen!
And it was so good that I am going to copyright this recipe. Salsa ar Sriracha diye Didima'r Dim kosha!! ❤

Also a huge thanks to all of you who inspired us to cook on vacation. Grocery stores will be put on my next vacation itinerary. Really enjoyed the experience.

Second Sighting as per FB post: August 2020 -- in Maine

Last year, around this time we were getting all ready and doing last minute booking for our Iceland trip🏞.
Food was big on my mind as everyone had said Iceland is an expensive country. However other than some packets of maggi and snacks, I did not carry any more food in my luggage. I love to eat local at the places we travel and if local restaurants were expensive or not good enough then I would rather buy local groceries🛒 😜
And that is what we did. I made it a point to visit the local grocery store Kronan and Bonus in the 4 different places that we stayed in our airbnb!!!  
However I don't like spending time cooking during vacation either. So there were shortcuts. Marinated salmon and fiskoo burgers were our regular buy.
And then this egg curry, made with a jar of salsa 💃 + hot sauce🌶. No chopping onions and garlic, no other spices needed. This was such a hit that on our recent road trip to Maine, we made this salsa egg curry again. 
It's the easiest egg curry that tastes closest to dim kosha and with zero effort. Perfect for a vacation or staycation.
I think I should post a recipe for this one soon. A #norecipe recipe 😍

In Maine, this Egg Curry was made with a tub of fresh pico de gallo at the neighborhood grocery store. Some green chilies, garlic powder, paprika went in.

Third Sighting: May and July 2021 -- in Vermont and Catskills

This time the salsa was a super hot, ghost pepper salsa. The spice rack at the AirBnB had some seasoning from TJ’s and also some paprika and curry powder. That’s all that went into the curry.

The Egg Curry was delicious. And so easy to make. I don’t know why I don’t make this at home. Maybe it’s the wanderlust that makes this egg curry more exciting, the adventure of what lies in an unfamiliar kitchen, who is to say!

Salsa Egg Curry - No Recipe Recipe

Buy Eggs from the local grocery store wherever you are.

Buy Salsa
  1. You can buy fresh Pico de Gallo
  2. You can buy a jar of any generic hot salsa
  3. You can buy the super hot Ghost pepper or Dessert Pepper Salsa.
I prefer the salsa to be bit chunky for this dish.

Now if you do not want to buy salsa, the essence of this dish is lost, but what can we do. Make your own fresh Pico De Gallo, You can follow this recipe for pico de gallo but I will say increase the jalapeno.
Make this Salsa too. Use one or both
Take 2 medium good quality tomatoes. If you don't have access to great tomatoes, open a can of crushed or diced tomatoes.

In a food processor add
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp of Cumin seeds
3 chopped green chili or 1 jalapeno chopped
Handful of fresh coriander leaves
Pulse to combine everything. Should NOT be a smooth paste.

Add salt and sugar to taste to the above. Combine. Your salsa is ready

Boil and peel the Eggs. Score the tips like a cross. Fry them with Turmeric powder and a sprinkle of paprika until the skin starts to crinkle and takes on brown spots. Remove and set aside.

Now in the same oil, add the Pico de Gallo and sauté. Follow with the Salsa. (Note: With store bought chunky salsa, just add the salsa to the oil, nothing more).

Add any spice powder that is available and takes your fancy. Some suggestions - garlic powder, total seasoning, onion powder, curry powder, paprika, red chili powder, a touch of garam masala.

Sauté until you see oil separating from masala. The ole Indian trick. Add salt and sugar as per your taste.

Add the eggs now and cook along with the masala. The gravy will be clinging to the eggs. Serve with rice.

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Thursday, July 01, 2021

Kalo Jeere-Til-Dhonepaata Maach - Nigella-Sesame-Coriander Salmon

Kalo Jeere-Til-Dhonepaata Maach - Nigella-Sesame-Coriander Salmon

KaloJeere-Til-Dhonepaata Maach | Nigella-Sesame-Coriander Salmon

Kalo Jeere (Nigella Seeds) is supposed to alleviate joint pains. Sesame seeds might lower lipid levels. Every spice has a nutritional benefit, other than adding taste and flavor. Taking off from the Bengali favorite Kalo Jeere diye Maacher Jhol, this is a little different salmon dish, cooked in a paste of coriander, nigella seeds and sesame seeds. It really tasted so delicious and is so easy to make that it has found a secure place in my weeknight salmon repertoire. You can play around with the spices and find your perfect fit.

For a long time, I could not figure out what to name this dish ? Was it DKT (Dhonepaata-Kalo Jeere-Til) Maach or KTD (Kalo Jeere-Til-Dhonepata ) Maach? Or was it just Nigella-Sesame-Coriander Salmon? Or was it just a delicious weekday fish?

I think I spent more time in the nomenclature than in cooking this simple dish which definitely tastes more Bengali than it sounds. It owes its origin in parts to my mother, who has been trying to add more of kalo jeere(nigella seeds) to her food once she learned that Kalonji seeds help in alleviating joint pains and aches. 

I had heard of this magical property of Kalonji long back when our babysitter M Nani, from Bangladesh, used to eat Kalo Jeere bhorta ( a paste of roasted nigella seeds, chilies and garlic cooked in little oil) as a side with her meal. However until my mother used the same strategy in fish, it never crossed my mind to do that. My mother also added sesame seeds (til) along with the nigella as she read somewhere that sesame seeds help in controlling cholesterol and has been gently coaxing the husband-man to have sesame seeds in his diet.

This is really a very simple, easy recipe. I haves skipped garlic but you can add it. Play around with the quantity of Nigella and Sesame seeds until you find the best balance. This is what worked for me this time, there was no overpowering taste of kalonji or til. Next time I might increase the amounts a little.