Shutki maach er bhorta /Mashed Spicy Dry fish : Is dry fish still a symbol of social identity?

dry fish_shutki 4

dry fish_shutki 5

Being Bengali  and being proud of that is not enough for us .When we crave for more  clear cut identities we call ourselves Ghoti or Bangal  and hence identify(along with many other things) our food and food-habits likewise.It is said-the bangals are all for hot and spicy food.They love Hilsha .Where as the Ghoti loves to add an extra spoon of sugar to his food and prefer the food more mellow.They love prawn.We will happily discriminate among food ,add tags to our food preferences ,cooking methods and be proud of  that.Of the many foods that discriminate a bangal from a ghoti and vice versa one that ranks in  the top list is probably Shutki Maach (Dry Fish).

And just when I was going to tag shutki as a bangal food/fish,I thought of myself-a born Ghoti married to a Bangal. Yes, I love being an exception to the rule(I am sure there are many more to join me).The sight and smell of cooked shutki maach makes me as happy as the sight of long awaited ordered food in a restaurant.Pardon my analogy ,but don’t  ignore  the sentiments behind.The world from my perspective is clearly divided into-those who loves shutki and those who do  not.There’s no middle path when it comes to shutki.If any let  me know.

dry fish _shutki 1

dry fish _shutki 15

Shutki or dry fish when uncooked has a got a typical characteristic pungent smell,pungent enough to evoke nausea.It has got a stinky smell ,very similar to that of  dry shrimp powder Belachan used in Malaysian and Indonesian cooking.Drying fresh fish is a  method of preservation  by removing water from  the fish.Other than drying ,methods which act as catalyst to fish preservation  are smoking  and salting.The popular variety of dry fish consumed globally are bombay duck, shrimp,mackerel,anchovy,tuna,sardine,etc.Dry fish processing and selling in  markets is common worldwide.

Fellow blogger Ushnish Ghosh   tells me the difference between dry fish and fermented fish : ”dry fish is dried in sun or in oven to get rid off the moisture so that the bacteria cant survive , and salt also strilize it ..wet sutkis ( are not dried) ..like Shidol,puti mach is stuffed into bamboo, sealed from out side for air to get in,and the enzymes in the fish ferment the fish ..( just like in yogurt, bacteria ferment the milk) ..also nona Ilish …Ilish is put in lot of salt , sealed and kept out for months to get a typical aroma …but the famous Odisha Ilish sutki , is stuffed with salt and dried in sun” .Dry fish is much less smelly than the fermented fish ,because of the preservation method.

In Bangladesh about 7.3 million people live in coastal fishing villages and earn their livelihood by fishing.Most of them dry  fish by following the method of sun drying.Interestingly,a large share of Bangladesh’s economy can be contributed from the dry fish markets in Dhaka,Chittagong,Tangail etc who export a major portion of their produce worldwide.

Bangladesh which has a great number of water bodies,produce dry fish in the coastal areas,near the rivers and harbors.The processing takes place mainly under the sun during the month of October to April.The winter months remain the preferred time for the fishing activities as the rivers,water channels and depressions remain relatively calm  and quite.The necessity to cultivate dry fish is triggered  more by the fact often the fresh water fishes remain unsold  because of lack of customers or lack of  sufficient transport facility to send the fresh fish to the town or metropolis.

Dry fish collection: Photo courtesy-www.demotix.com/Zakir Hossain  Chowdhury

Dry fish collection: Photo courtesy-www.demotix.com/Zakir Hossain Chowdhury

Dry fish processing :Photo courtesy - www.demotix.com/Zakir Hossain  Chowdhury

Dry fish processing :Photo courtesy – http://www.demotix.com/Zakir Hossain Chowdhury

Hong Kong dry fish market  Photo courtesy :Purabi/www.zomppa.com

Hong Kong dry fish market
Photo courtesy :Purabi/www.zomppa.com

Where as in China, Hong Kong boasts of a Dried Seafood Street.Half a century back  the area had salted fish stores,where workers would dry their fish on the rooftops,sell them in the ground floor and live somewhere in between the two floors.It is said ,for ages Chinese have believed that food should not be wasted,fish when in excess,were preserved thereby using salt , other minerals  and sun dried.This was a common practice when there was no refrigerator to preserve  fresh fish.The Chinese belief is dried oysters and mussels when consumed on the Chinese New Year brings luck  and fortune.

Over time the Chinese practice of conservation of fresh fish by sun-drying has been  adapted by many cultures .It is now staple of Maldivian ,Srilankan and Burmese cuisine.In India Kerala,Orissa,West Bengal,Tamil Nadu,Andhra Pradesh,Assam,Tripura etc boasts of their collection of dry fish recipes.Dry fish grew in popularity also from the fact that some version of dry fish are cheap and are regarded as source of high protein for a poor man.

dry fish _shutki 11

Much social stigma has been attached to shutki(dry fish).It has generally been  culturally perceived as the food of the lower income  group,because  the economically cheap version of dry fish is the  main source of protein for many economically lower income group people,who cannot afford rather expensive fresh fish.Is it not time enough to de-stigmatize some food?We would consider sea food like mussels as highly coveted and exotic but still underplay the essence of fish preservation?Will it be ever elevated to the status of restaurant food in the socio- cultural  city  hubs  ?

 It is amazing to note how different culture and region eat dry fish  in their unique manner and how versatile dry fish are to adapt to the local cuisines. Some region prefer to have steamed dry fish with rice,while some others make a curry out of their choice of dry fish,whereas some enjoy cooking dry fish along with vegetables.

The version that I enjoy eating and cooking most uses very few ingredients.It  is a  rather  spicy mishmash of dry fish, rich in taste and is marked  by profusion of onion, garlic and  dry red chilies,all used to cut down the pungent odor of the dry fish.This is generally known as  Shutki bhorta /bata /bhuna(mishmash) in Bangladeshi cuisine,and as Shutki Chutney(dry fish pickle) in Assamese cuisine.

dry fish _shutki 10

dry fish _shutki 12

Recipe

Dry version of – Bombay duck/loitya/bombil ( or your choice of dry fish) : 300 gm

Onion :100 gm,finely chopped

Garlic: 2-3 whole pod ,finely chopped

Dry red  chili powder:  4-5 heaped tbsp(adjust according to taste)

Turmeric: 1 tsp

Mustard oil for cooking

Salt to taste

dry fish _shutki 13

dry fish _shutki 7

dry fish _shutki 14

Method

  • Since the fish will be extremely dry ,cutting and chopping the fish will be bit difficult.Hence boil some water in a pot , take it off the stove,  dunk the fish into the warm water and cover with a lid.
  • Let the fish seat in the warm water for 20 minutes to half an hour.While soaking,you can change the warm water few times,this will  reduce  the pungent smell of the fish and help in getting rid of the sand particles gathered while drying the fish on the sea shore.
  • After the fish has softened enough to cut and chop ,take it off the water and discard the water.
  • Pat dry the fish.
  • Remove the head , tail  and central bone of the fish and cut it in 1” piece.The remaining small bones ,will disintegrate into tiny pieces while cooking.
  • Put the fish pieces in the mixer grinder or pestle and mortar and mash it nicely, retaining the coarse texture.Do not add any water during this process.
  • Heat  the mustard oil (2 tbsp  to start with)  in the wok.
  • Once the oil is  hot enough,add the chopped garlic and let them splutter,and turn light brown.Avoid burning them.
  • Add the chopped onions ,once the garlic turns light golden brown.Reduce  heat  and keep frying the onions till translucent.
  • Add the dry spices (turmeric and red chili powder) at this stage and stir for a minute or two.
  • Add the mashed dry fish,coat the spice mix well with the fish.
  • Reduce the flame  and stir continuously  to avoid burning.
  • Add little more oil  at this stage,if the mix tends to dry up.Dry fish soaks a lot of oil  because of it’s texture and preservation method.
  • Keep mixing thoroughly  the fish and the spices .
  • Add little salt,be careful while adding salt( 1 tsp or depending on the taste). Dry fish are preserved with salt  ,so they are already high in salt content.
  • While cooking,do not add water,as the fish will release some water, and get cooked it’s own moisture.
  • Keep stirring,till the fish mixture takes the   form of a coarse paste,and releases oil  or when most of the water dries out.
  • Once done ,serve it with hot steaming rice and let the compliments flow in .

 

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dry fish _shutki 9

dry fish_shutki 6

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Bori diye maach er jhol/fish curry with lentil dumplings and paradoxes of blogger life

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Looking back it was just another cold wintry morning in December when I decided to start blogging..but why blogging?I have been following a few blogs since last few years and always thought it’s a great platform to share once’s thought,ideas and creativity.Indeed it is !

But managing a blog and keeping it updated,with a continuous flow of content  is not that easy.Or  does it appear so because I am still in the bottom of the learning curve?

Lessons learnt in the  last few months :It is never enough to just think  and conceive an idea and to jot it down,or just click some random pictures of the food you made.However,sumptuous and palatable the food is ,it has to look equally good and convey the message through pictures.It has to tell a story.What story?

May be the food is a part  of your heirloom kitchen or maybe it is a creation pressed out of you rattling in the everyday kitchen.Whatever it may be ,it has to be conveyed through photographs..but  how?

Through props(properties) may be.But what are props?

These are the non  food items required for the photo shoot.Anything starting from plates,cutlery,fabrics,kitchen utensils,books,background,fabrics  and what not  can count as prop.You can never have enough of these .You have to work your mind through  scavenging your props and decide which ones will look good and in harmony with each other  in respect to a particular dish .

They call this food styling and I thought I loved this  until I realized you might have the tastiest dish in front of  you,use one of the best cameras available,use great lighting;but all that won’t make any sense if you go wrong while choosing your props.If you consider these  challenges ,as a  tiny fraction  of my otherwise happy blogger-life,then probably I have to enlighten you further on my blogger life technical  challenges.Fixing a widget,link or managing tools are far from  cakewalk for me.I am learning my way through it ,and enjoying the rewards my effort  is bringing with it.It’s a package deal as they say.

 There are  perks of food blogging too..more stories to tell on that..but some other day!

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Alright,so now that the rant part is over, lets move  on to  the real food -talking,shall we? If you ever peep into a Bengali kitchen leave apart the pan-Indian scenario,you will find apart from  the traditional and well known recipes of fish ,every household and almost every family has got a special fish recipe to share  and a story evolving round it to tell.So,for me the store bought ready to make curry paste  sucks big time.A curry made out of it will never(or hardly) tell  a  story.I really can’t relate to it.Can you ever  imagine  doing a Bhog er Khichuri or for that matter of fact your favorite Murighonto with a curry paste?For me food is an emotion as well.

We don’t  buy Bengali fish varieties  (specially sweet water  ones with bone)very often since we get the frozen ones  here,but whenever we do,I make sure  to do at least one  simple curry , that we used to eat  at home.You can call  this  my immigrant syndrome.I will happily agree…after all we  always try to  find our root in our attempt at replication of the past.

 While I deal with the everyday challenges of blogging, I am glad not everything about blogging is that complex.Cooking the everyday fish curry is perhaps one of them.Simple,unpretentious and promising.It tastes as good as it looks.This  is a mundane fish curry  which is light and not extraordinarily spicy.It gets it’s unique punch from  the Bengali version of  dry lentil dumplings.They add texture and bite to the otherwise mellow but flavorful light   fish  broth.You can add your choice of vegetables (eggplant,green beans,carrot,courgette,pointed gourd/potol,ridge gourd/jhinge,cauliflower etc)to it  if you fancy.

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Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • Rohu/telapia steaks/or any other sweet water fish of your choice : 8-10 pieces
  • Whole cumin seeds(dry roasted): 3 tsp(1 tsp for tempering and 2 tsp  for cumin paste)
  • Whole  coriander seeds(dry roasted): 2 tbsp
  • Turmeric:  1-1/2 tsp
  • Whole dried red chili :   2-3(adjust according to your choice)
  • Green chili : 2( slit)
  • Potato : 3-4 (small to medium size)
  • Ginger paste : 1-2 inch
  • Salt to taste
  • Mustard oil to cook
  • Lentil dumplings/Bori : a  handful
  • Coriander leaves /cilantro(optional)

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Method :

  • Remove the scales(if any) of the fish and clean it properly.Dry marinate the fish pieces with salt and turmeric and keep aside for 15-20 minutes.
  • Make  a spice paste of ginger,red chilies,coriander and cumin seeds  by adding very little water to the mix.
  • Fry the lentil dumplings/bori carefully till golden brown,avoiding to break them,as they are generally tender  and brittle.Remove the lentil dumplings from the frying pan.
  • Cut the potatoes in wedge like shape and fry them,by sprinkling little turmeric and salt till almost half done.Take the potato wedges out of the pan and keep them aside.
  • In the same wok add some more mustard oil and shallow fry the fish pieces.
  • Again in the same  wok heat the remaining mustard oil , add 1 tsp whole cumin seeds and let them splutter  for a while and add the spice paste  and add 1/2 tsp turmeric .
  • Cook the spice paste at low to medium flame until  oil leaves the side of the pan.
  • Add boiling water  and adjust salt once the  gravy settles down little bit.Bring to  a gentle boil.
  • Add the fried potato wedges at this stage ,allowing it  to cook in the gravy.
  • When the potatoes are almost done,add the fried fish pieces,cover the pan and let it simmer gently.
  • Uncover ,add the cilantro (if  using)and  put off the  flame.Give it a standing time of 2-3 minutes and then transfer to the serving bowl.
  • Add the fried bori/lentil  dumplings  to  the curry at this stage.The lentil dumplings will eventually  soak in some of  the gravy.
  • Garnish with 2 halved green chilies and serve  the fish curry with steamed white rice and  lime wedges.

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Egg-less Gondhoraj Lebu Mousse

Gondhorajlebu mousse

Gondhoraj lebu,the literal translation of this bengali name for a particular variety of  lime means ”king of aroma”.Indeed this   lime stands true to it’s name.It is one of the best variety of lime in terms of smell, that I have ever come across.The mere mention of this lime when bengalis are in conversation can send paroxysmal of  joy that only someone who have smelled this lime will know.Hot and humid West Bengal summers would provide the perfect setting to indulge in the pure joy of having rice,patla mushoor dal (watery lentil soup)with  a bout of gondhoraj lebu squeezed in.Some time my dimma (grandmother) would  make daal with the leaf of gondhoraj lebu immersed in it ,to make it  aromatic and refreshing.This lime is generally bright  dark green,with a tough and hard outer surface  and much larger in  size than the ordinary key limes.The pale inner segment of the lime yields scanty juice but is always marked by overpowering smell that will compellingly bring one to the dinner table once it’s served with the food. But this fragrant lemon kind of disappeared(until recently) from  my life once I stepped out of Bengal.Gondhoraj lebu  is pretty much region specific and find it’s firm footing  in Bangladesh and West Bengal in India.

gondhoraj

gondhoraj_bong appetite

The scientific name of this lime is  said to be Citrus Limonia .This Rangpur  lime variety  got it’s name from a place called Rangpur in Bangladesh,where it is grown profusely.It is a cross between mandarin and lime,not very juicy in nature,but orgasmic in fragrance for sure.

bong appetite_limes

The distant cousins of our very own Gondhoraj  lebu can be found in South China as Canton Lemon , in Japan as  Hime  Lemon,as Limao Cravo in Brazil  or Mandarin Lime in the United States.These are all different variety of the  same family of Rangpur limes.

mousse_gondhoraj

My search for the ever elusive Gondhoraj lebu ,however,finally ended when I came across it in a Bangladeshi grocery shop in Birmingham,England.My joy knew no bound the moment I saw them.I grabbed a few and headed straight to the counter.We had our Gondhoraj happiness with lime wedges cut,squeezed  and smell inhaled with the regular  mushoor daal and bhaat(rice) .That  pacified our gondhoraj craving souls to a great extent.But some of them were still sitting pretty in the fridge side-cabinet.I decided to do some fusion dessert with my favorite lime variety. Inspirations were in plenty.The other popular aromatic limes like the Kaffir  lime or the thai lime  often used to make desserts like ice cream,white cake or the Carribean Key lime   known  to make refreshing cheesecakes were my point of reference.I decided to make some egg-less mousse with the signature fragrance of  Gondhoraj lebu.Mousse is a French food that incorporates air bubbles to give it a smooth and light texture.Contrary to popular belief it can be consumed as dessert as well as in its savory form depending on the choice of ingredients.From the colder spring we are gradually progressing to warmer summer here in UK ,while the whole of Bengal is all ready under the spell of summer sun.Just the perfect time to make and lap up this yummy cool dessert.

gondhoraj lebu

Ingredients :

  • Double cream : 600 ml
  • Condensed milk : 395 gm
  • Paneer or home made chhena : 250 -275 gm
  • Gondhoraj Lebu juice : 1-2 tablespoon
  • Gondhoraj lebu zest : 1 teaspoon

Recipe  :

Pour the double cream and condensed milk in a clear and chilled container. Whip the double cream and condensed milk together with a hand blender or an electric beater till it forms  firm peaks .Keep aside.Mash the paneer or chhena well to paste consistency ideally with the mixer grinder.Make sure the paste is smooth  enough without any hint of lump(mine was not smooth enough to my expectation ,hence the warning!),otherwise the mousse will be little grainy in texture.Fold in the whipped double cream and condensed milk into the paneer or chhena paste.

Firm peaks of the whipped cream  and folding in the condensed milk-cream mix with the paneer

Firm peaks of the whipped cream and folding in the condensed milk-cream mix with the paneer

Add the gondhoraj lebu juice at this stage.Give a gentle mix.Spoon the mousse mixture into the chilled serving dishes and top it with gondhoraj  lebu  zest.Scrap the lemon zest with a grater or a zester.Make sure you remove only the bright green zest and not the white pith ,which is bitter in taste.Seal the serving dishes with cling fling and refrigerate for at least 4-5 hours or overnight.Serve the Gondhoraj Lebu Mousse chilled.

before after_gondhoraj  lebu  mousse

Note For this recipe you can use the store bought paneer  or make your own chhena at home,what ever suits you.Only make sure to drain as much moisture as possible of which ever option you are opting.

A simple fish curry with mustard greens : maach-er jhol shorshey shaak diye

maacher jhol  shorshey shaak  diye1

Machh -er jhol (fish curry),patha’r mangsho(goat’s meat curry)mishti doi (sweet yogurt),shondesh/sandesh(bengali dessert delicacy),luchi (puffed flour bread) are few thing among many others that hits the top of  the list when we are thinking of a bong’s culinary diary.And how can I be an exception! My tryst with mach-er jhol started since the time I can’t even recollect .Mach er jhol can  be very hot,fiery, rich gravy of fish with  profusion of spices like garam masala or can be a mild yet flavoursome curry with or without vegetables.That is how I have known my mach-er jhol since childhood.There is no one recipe for a machh -er jhol.Each Bong household has it’s own way through maach,jhol and it’s accompaniments.But this cant deny the fact that there are traditional recipes  like maacher kalia,doi maach or shorshey maach which have their position of prime in the heart of Bengalis no matter what.Interesting thing to note is, that a bong can use the same spice or tempering to make different sorts of fish preparations depending on the recipe.With the rich mustard paste they make paturi,while the same mustard paste can be used  with additional greens or any  vegetable of your choice to culminate into a mach er jhol,which is more like a runny fish curry.

Mustard greens (Shoshey Shaak)

Mustard greens (Shoshey Shaak)

I was back home after a year or so,was missing my Maa er haath er ranna (mom’s cooking) immensely- I did make a mention of that to her once over phone and mom was ready with home cooked buffet of food on almost all the days of my stay.Saying ‘no’ to her was not an option, so I happily gave in to mom’s culinary expression of love.This one dish that stayed with me – simple,unpretentious and easy to make ,this is a fish curry to be served with steaming hot rice.

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How Maa made  Shorshey shaak diye maach er jhol

Ingredients  

4-6 pieces of Rohu( Salmon/Tilapia can also be very good alternative)

A bunch of Mustard greens(Shorshe Shaak)

1 teasoon-Nigella seeds/Kalo jeera/black onion seeds

1 teaspoon-Turmeric powder

1 teaspoon – Red chilli powder

5-6 tablespoon-Yellow mustard seed paste

Salt to taste

Few green chillies

Mustard oil

fish and greens

Recipe

Wash and clean the scales of the fish pieces.

Wash and pat dry the mustard green leaves,separating them from the stem.

Prepare a yellow mustard paste with water(just enough to make a thick to runny mix), 2-3 green chillies and 1 teaspoon of salt thrown in.

Dry marinate the fish pieces with turmeric and salt,shallow fry them  in mustard oil till they change their colour to golden brown.

Temper the mustard oil left in the wok (after frying the fish) with kalo jeera(nigella seeds/black onion seeds) and a few  longitudinally slitted green chillies,sauté them slightly.Then add the yellow mustard paste mix and the mustard green leaves.Add the turmeric powder, red chilli powder and a cup or two of  boiling water , give a good stir and let it simmer till the greens get well cooked.Check the seasoning.Add the fried fish pieces.Cook for another 2-3 minutes in low to medium heat.Put off the flame,cover the wok with a lid to give it a standing time of 2 more minutes. You can drizzle a table spoon of raw mustard oil on top of this fish curry, if you like the smell of mustard oil.

fish with mustard greens

Serve hot with steamed rice.

Chocolate Shondesh

Chocolate Shondesh

Chocolate Shondesh

Quite true to my Bengali genes I have got a sweet tooth.Give me any thing sweet  be it Bengal’s own roshogolla,ledikini, kheer kodombo , mishti doi  or anything sweet which is not so Bengali  like a fudge cake,cookie dough ice cream,chocolate brownie or a caramel flan – I am ready to dig in .Since the past 4 years of my stay in England I have had enough chance to try different forms of  western dessert while the frequent trips back to India (Kolkata to be specific) were just not sufficient enough to sooth my Bengali mishti craving.True to the saying ”necessity is the mother of invention” one day I finally gave in to my Bengali sweet craving and decided to try my hand at making a Bengali sweet at home.While surfing through  videos on YouTube I came across this video  and the idea of making a fusion chocolate shondesh  dawned upon me!

chocolate shondesh

This fusion sweet is very dear to my heart, perfectly unites the best possible combination of chocolate from the west and mishti from the east,quite like us those who live miles away from  the home land, soaking in the foreign culture yet cant give away their traditional root.

 

Recipe for Chocolate Shondesh


Ingredients


For the making of Shondesh

Full fat milk : 3 litre

Khoya/Milk Solids : 1/2 cup (optional)

Sugar : 1 to 1 and 1/2 cup

Lemon juice : 4 lemon

Cocoa Powder : 4 heaped tablespoon


For garnishing the Shondesh

Chocolate bar- 150 gm

Double Cream- 100 ml

Sugar : 1/4 cup

Choice of nuts : Pistachio/Cashew

 chocolate shondesh

Method of making Shondesh

 

1)Boil the milk in a heavy bottomed pan at medium heat stirring occasionally .When the milk starts boiling  add the lemon juice and increase the flame little bit to enhance coagulation.As soon as the milk starts to curdle and whey is separated from the curd turn of the heat,otherwise the chenna(paneer)will become stiff.Drain the whey from the milk fat by using a strainer lined with a cheesecloth or muslin cloth for about 10 minutes.

 

2)Once the chenna is drained place it in a clean and dry surface. With the heel of the palm knead it well till it rolls into a smooth soft dough.

chocolate shondesh

Kneading the 'chenna' into  a smooth and soft dough

Kneading the ‘chenna’ into a smooth and soft dough

3)Put the chenna dough in a heavy bottomed flat plan along with sugar, khoya/milk solids(if using) and cocoa powder.Keep stirring it continuously to remove the raw taste of chenna  for about 5-6 minutes at a very low flame(some time putting of the flame in between if required) to avoid burning of the mixture.If you want to make a ‘norom pak'(softer version)  shondesh then don’t keep it on flame for a very long time.

chocolate shondesh

 chocolate shondesh

4)Take the mix, of the pan and mould them or give desired shaped when still little warm.

chocolate shondesh

5) For making the garnishing,  in a double boiler take the cream , chocolate bar by breaking it into small chunks and sugar,simmering slowly while stirring continuously .Once the chocolate has melted,spoon the  hot chocolate ganache  in the centre of the shondesh by making a small   well with the tip of your finger.Dust it with  your choice of crushed nuts.

chocolate shondesh

chocolate shondesh

You can refrigerate this in an  airtight box,however, preferably serve this at room temperature. Shondesh tastes best when it is served fresh or after  being refrigerated for just a few hours.

chocolate shondesh

chocolate shondesh

Note :

 

  • Double boiler– A double boiler can be made by placing a bowl on top of a pot containing simmering water. In this case double boiler is used to avoid burning of the chocolate in direct   contact with heat.
  • Garnishing can be done simply by drizzling the chocolate ganache on top of the shondesh or by          sprinkling  chocolate sprinklers or cocoa powder or drinking chocolate.
  • Adding Khoya or milk solids to this shondesh only adds to the taste,however, it is not a compulsory     ingredient.
  • This recipe will make about 24 shondesh
  • Bong Appetite’s tips : The best way to enjoy this shondesh is to serve it at room temperature or slightly chilled with the chocolate ganache bit lukewarm and done just before serving

Doi Begun /Eggplant in yogurt gravy …. to beat the summer heat

Memories in May ..

doi begun_bong appetite

 

A squirrel quenching it's thirst (Photo courtesy : Bhashkar Dasgupta)

A squirrel quenching it’s thirst
(Photo courtesy : Bhashkar Dasgupta)

Summer reminds me of this song by Rabindranath Tagore.It perfectly describes the ruthlessness of summer heat and the agony  of  sun fatigued days,while eagerly waiting for the thundershowers to sooth tired souls.

 

Darun  agni-ban e re hriday trishay han-e re .

Rajani nidrahin,dirgho dogdho din..

Aram nahi je jaan-e re.

Shushko kanon shakhey  klanto kapot daake..

Karun kator gaan-e re..

Bhoy nahi,bhoy nahi,gagone rohechey  chahi.

Jani jhanjhar beshe  dibe dekha  tumi eshe..

Ekoda tapito praan-e re.

In this scorching heat of summer

My heart is so thirsty

The nights are sleepless..the days are burnt too long

Doesn’t get little respite

The tired pigeon moans sadly on  a dry brunch of a tree

But,fear not..worry not

Our eyes are roving in the sky

We know,you would show up in the guise of  tempest

And bless our restless souls with the downpour of your kindness..

(Translation courtesy: Abhijit Mazumdar)

 

 

While I write this post  summer has clearly touched base,and  temperature is  rising to a soaring high in most parts of India and many parts of the world ,with  mercury touching 40 degree Celsius with a humidity of 45%   in Kolkata,my home city.There you will  not consider it to be  a very cool idea to stay outdoor during the summer day unless your work  forces you to be,or you decide to get drenched in your own  sweat.  With no rain  to bail you out of the discomforting temperature,the only respite could be sort after in the ice creams,kulfis,daab-er jol(coconut water)shorbot ( Bengali cold drink concoction) etc.A few summers back, on my way to my work place,a college where I used to teach in Baghbazar(in North Kolkata) a common  sight  in the summer days that I vividly remember : the hand drawn rickshaws  plying hurriedly through  the city lanes and by-lanes.While the melting pitch of the streets took better of the poor rickshawallas,the passengers remain seated somewhat comfortably under the narrow perch of the rickshaw,and when that’s not comforting enough they would open  up their umbrellas to shield the raging  sun.

Rickshaw  ride  in the summer afternoon (Source:The Namesake)

Rickshaw ride in the summer afternoon
(Source:The Namesake)

Another visual that would make me secretly jealous,thinking how fortunate some people are, was on the days when I would have my classes in the second half of the day. I would notice the shutters of some of the small shops in the locality half down or a makeshift curtain arranged to cut down the entry of  heat to the shop,while the shopkeeper doze off to  afternoon siesta after his daily quota of maach-bhaat  morsel.Not a good business proposition to do  in the middle of the day,but I don’t  blame them,specially when you have minimum  customer  traffic  during  the times of sweltering heat.Summer  afternoon,however,did not always spell bad business for all .The ones who sold ice lollies called pepsi(the name that was given by the sellers themselves..remember the pipe shaped flavored and colored ice lollies?that probably you as a kid would buy with a 50

 Colourful Ice-lollies (Photo courtesy: Jishnu Nandy)

Colourful Ice-lollies
(Photo courtesy: Jishnu Nandy)

paisa ,tear the edge of the plastic pack  with your canines and gulp at  a go)dunked in their  ice  thermocol boxes,as they hop on and off the mini bus and private buses stopped in the middle of a traffic jam  being caught up at a traffic signal.While watching the street children kind of jumping,dancing and racing against each other under the public tap,which probably they would consider their private fountain showers, I would be immediately transmitted to my childhood days.Summer in spite of all it’s ghastliness  would bring the  unadulterated joy of summer vacations.The summer vacations were largely spent in my grandparent’s house  in central Kolkata,  with all my cousins united to spend the holidays together.

A bird's eye view of a busy road in Central Kolkata

Bird’s eye view of a busy road in Central Kolkata

A boy having ice candy to beat the heat  (Source:Reuters)

A boy having ice candy to beat the heat
(Source:Reuters)

The joy of watching the  para cricket(oh!if you have not known we have a Sourav Ganguly in every locality,if not a Sachin Tendulkar)round the corner of the street and wait impatiently towards  the end  of the afternoon for the ice cream-wallah(ice cream seller)to come  in  the locality with their ice-cream  carts.Our (me and my cousins’s)balcony  would be  the parapet of the roof terrace,We would cautiously stand on the tip of our toes with  the upper half of the body leaning little dangerously towards the roof  parapet,as we were not tall enough to  see the lane below just by standing on our feet.While the ice cream vendors would make sounds of sort  to signal their grand arrival , I along with my cousins would rush hurriedly to our grandparents to ask for khuchro(small currency change) to buy ourselves our favorite vanilla,choco-bar,orange flavored ice cream cups and sticks.Every season comes with a reason-true! whoever said so .

Summer have it’s  fair share of contribution to the Bengali appetite.Few vegetables which are only available during summer like mocha(banana blossom),potol(pointed gourd),enchor(jackfruit) etc are catapulted to a position of great respect and delicacies would be made out of them.While in summer  there are few vegetarian option available as such,the humble brinjal aka aubergine aka eggplant would come to the rescue of the households as it is one of the most precious summer vegetables( though it ‘s widely grown even in warm tropical winter  as well)we get.The patla maach er jhol shobji diye(light fish curry with vegetables)will inevitably have large chunks of  brinjals or eggplants immersed in the flavorful broth  to sooth the summer heat fatigued souls and if you give it a thought you can carve out a star dish out of the eggplant in the form of Doi Begun or eggplant in yogurt based gravy.Doi begun is one of the easiest mouth watering ‘make ahead dish’  that you can make with the fried eggplants  tipped in a lightly spiced yogurt based gravy,generally served mildly chilled or at room temperature with steaming hot rice to have a cooling effect.

begun

Doi begun to me does not look like something very authentic to Bengali tradition.I believe,this dish mostly  grew in popularity in Bengal  by being influenced by various Muslim invasion and influences from milk and cream based cuisine of Afghanistan.The dish which has huge similarity to our own doi begun is quite popular in Afganistan and is known as Baigan ki Boorani.Similar dishes can be traced to Tripoli in Lebabnon with a meat topping of choice(optional) as Batenjane be-laban or Fattet-al-Makdoos as  eggplant in yogurt based sauce in Beirut.Brinjal or eggplant with yogurt is also a  delicacy representative of the Turkish meze.Thick yogurt is a common ingredient in the  Turkish cuisine ,and is often served  flavored with herbs and spices with grilled vegetables like eggplant.

How I make Doi Begun..

 

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Ingredients

 

  • Aubergine/Eggplant/Brinjal : 1 cut into thick round slices
  • Hung curd /Greek yogurt/thick yogurt : 500 gm
  • Red chilli powder :1 tsp
  • Turmeric: 1tsp
  • Dry roasted cumin powder: 1 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar  to taste
  • Ginger: 1 tbsp(finely chopped)
  • Curry leaves: a handful
  • Dry red chilli :1-2
  • Asfoetida/Hing : a pinch
  • Mustard seeds : 1 tsp
  • White oil  to fry

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Recipe

  • Cut the eggplant into thick slices,and dry marinate them with salt,turmeric ,red chilli powder and cumin powder.
  • Let the eggplant sit in the dry marination for half and hour
  • Fry the eggplant slices in batches,making sure they are not over fried . Place them in the serving bowl.
  • Beat the chilled yogurt with sugar and salt.The yogurt mix should ideally have a sweet-salty-tangy taste to it.
  • Spread the yogurt mix on top of the eggplant making sure the eggplant slices soak well into the yogurt sauce.
  • In the wok heat 2 tablespoon white oil.When the oil is smoking hot ,lower the gas and add the dry red chillies (broken into halves) and the mustard seeds.Let them splutter.At this point add the chopped ginger pieces and fry them till they change their color to golden brown but not burnt.Add the curry leaves and give the mix a good stir.As soon as the curry leaves change their color add a pinch of asfoetida and take the wok off  the flame.
  • Pour the oil-spice mix on the yogurt dressing .
  • Serve it chilled or at room temperature,but do not reheat the dish as the yogurt might curdle.
  • You  can prepare the dish 4-5 hours before serving,but don’t keep it  overnight  in the fridge.

Note: Cut the eggplant slices little thick to avoid them getting soggy in the yogurt mixture.

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P.S. Can you think of any other Bengali  vegetarian dish which is influenced by Muslim invasions in India?