Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fish from the East and the West

Last week I again missed my date with this blog so here are two recipes -- both for fish, since I haven't 'done' fish yet on this blog - one from Western India and the other from the East.

Prawns in mustard and coconut

This recipe is inspired by a rather fanciful dish called Daab Chingri (made popular by Oh! Calcutta)cooked inside a hollowed out coconut shell. This version dispenses with all these unnecessary flourishes and can be made at home in about fifteen minutes (not including standing time). It also tastes somewhat different and better! Credit for this goes to my wife who is from Western India but this recipe is pure Eastern. It is best made in the microwave!


Prawns (cleaned and deveined) -- 1/4 kilo
Mustard seeds -- 3 tbsp
Green chilly - 1 medium size
Coconut cream -- 1/2 cup
Kasundi (if available) -- 2 tsp
Turmeric -- 1/2 tsp
Mustard oil -- 1 tsp
Chilli powder -- 1/2 tsp or more if preferred
Coriander leaves for garnish
Salt to taste


Sprinkle the salt, turmeric and chilli powder on the prawns, mix well and keep aside.
In the small container of a blender or mixie, add the mustard seeds, a bit of salt and one green chilly, a tablespoon of water. Grind to a smooth paste.

Note: Grinding mustard in a mixie usually produces a bitter paste. The trick is to let it stand for an hour or more so it is best to do this early. Or even make it and keep it in the refrigerator the previous day for later use though that tempers the sharpness (some people prefer that).

Mix the mustard paste and the kasundi with the prawns and mustard oil, add the coconut cream and necessary salt in a microwave proof bowl. Make sure it is well mixed. Let it stand for about ten minutes (the longer the better). Microwave on high for 3 minutes (longer will make the prawns rubbery). If you use more prawns, be sure to increase microwave time but not too much. You will need to experiment with your microwave but generally prawns cook very fast. In fact, if you have got it right, it should almost melt like butter.

Garnish with finely chopped coriander leaves and serve. What could be simpler!

If the mustard smell is too strong for you, replace the mustard oil with some other refined oil (sunflower, peanut ...).

Warning: Many people, particularly those from the South have a marked aversion to the smell of mustard. Don't try this recipe on them.

And here is my second recipe.

Patrani Macchi

This is my simplified Patrini Macchi, a popular Parsi dish. You will need to procure some banana leaves -- it is possible to use aluminum foil but the taste is not the same.

Pomfret fish -- 1/2 kilo whole with deep gashes made in the body (you can use seer/surmai but this is best made with white pomfret)
Pudina (spearmint) - 1 cup loosely packed
Coriander leaves -- 1/2 cup loosely packed
Whole Jeera (cumin) -- 2 tsp
Garlic -- 2 -3 pods depending on size
Ginger - one inch piece or so
Black pepper whole -- 1 tsp
Lemon juice - 2 tsp or vinegar
Green chilly - 2 medium sized
salt to taste
sugar - 1/2 tsp

Preheat the oven to about 180 degrees Celsius.

Wash the pomfret, smear with salt and a little bit of the lemon juice and keep aside for about half an hour, then wash it and pat it dry (this removes the fishy taste and smell).

While the pomfret is sitting, grind all the ingredients (pudina, coriander leaves, cumin, garlic, ginger, pepper, lemon juice, green chilly, salt, sugar) above in a mixie or blender to a fine paste. It should give out a heady smell of pudina, garlic and coriander leaves. Empty out the paste into a bowl, and mix with about 1/2 a tablespoon of oil. Cut the banana leaves into squares large enough to contain one piece of pomfret. Smear the dark green side of the banana leaf with a small bit of oil, place one piece of pomfret, wrap the sides of the banana leaf around it so that it is completely enclosed and tie it with string (it is possible in the wrapping to make a little pocket and tuck the ends of the leaf into it - then you don't need a string but you need to know how to do this which I can't explain here). Do this for all the pomfret pieces. Place them in an ovenproof casserole, and place it in the oven for about 40-45 minutes.

When you take it out, the banana leaf should have slightly charred or discoloured quite a bit. Open one packet gingerly and check if the fish is done, otherwise put it back for another 10 -- 15 minutes (this is very unlikely if your oven heats properly). Take all the pieces out and serve each packet as an individual serving (let your guest unravel the string). If some ignoramuses ask you if they should eat the 'leaf' keep mum -- they will figure it out soon enough!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Shukta is a quintessential Bengali dish that marks out a typical Bengali meal. It is often claimed that each Bengali family has its own unique recipe for Shukta. While this may be an exaggeration (the basic structure is similar across families), there are indeed many minor differences which are quite noticeable in its taste.

Shukta is presumably best described as a medley of vegetables. It is always had in the beginning of the meal, with rice, even before the dal (Bengalis eat sequentially -- dal, vegetables, fish, chicken, meat...) and is never eaten too hot. I was also told it is never eaten at night, though never the reason!

Here I give my aunt's recipe, handed down through my father, and transcribed from his handwritten recipe by my wife into our scrapbook.


A bunch of vegetables in small amounts, a handful each, of eggplant, potato, radish, bitter gourd (karela), green banana, flat beans adding up to about half a kilo. This set of vegetables can be changed, but the bitter gourd and green banana are usually considered essential. All vegetables are cut into bite sized pieces.
Oil 3 tbsp
Bay leaf 1 large
mustard seeds 2 tsp
ginger paste 2 or 3 tsp
red pepper 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste


In a kadai (wok) fry the vegetables separately in the oil, so that they are half cooked. The green banana should not be fried but peeled and cut and dropped into water along with some turmeric.
After the vegetables have been fried and taken out, in the same oil (add some more if it is too reduced) add mustard seeds and the bay leaf and wait for the seeds to sputter. Put the vegetables back as well as the green banana, the ginger paste, salt, turmeric and red pepper and fry for a short while so that the vegetables get cooked.
Usually water should not be added, but if you find the vegetables sticking to the vessel, add a teaspoonful of water at a time if needed. Make sure to add the eggplant last so that they do not get overcooked. Shut off the flame. In a small bowl add a little bit of milk, some water and some flour to form a thin paste and add it to the gravy to thicken it. Boil once and remove from the heat.

Variations: Use panch phoron instead of mustard seeds. Dissolve some mustard powder in water and add it at the end. Traditionally, shukta is made without turmeric but some families do add it, though personally I am against it since I think it changes the taste too drastically.