Mackerel with Spinach (Macher Chorchori)

mackerel_with_spinach.jpg-pwrt3Based on the traditional Bengali dish known as ‘chorchori’ (medley) this is variation which I learnt to cook from my father, a master of culinary creativity. An easy to cook recipe bursting with flavour and goodness.

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 30 mins
Serves: 2

  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tin mackerel fillets in brine, drained
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • ½ tbsp garlic paste, or 1 fresh clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste or 1” piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6-7 blocks of frozen spinach
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1 green chilli, chopped (optional)
  • handful of fried fenugreek leaves (optional)

Method:

1. Heat the oil and add the bay leaf.

2. Add the onions and cook on medium heat until transparent.

3. Add the garlic and ginger and stir for 1-2 mins.

4. Add the dry spices and sauté for 2 mins with 2 tbsp water.

5. Add the mackerel and stir well to cover with spices, using a wooden spoon to break up the fillets.

6. Add the spinach and green chilli (if using), stir a little and cover; leave to cook on low heat for 10-15 minutes.

7. Stir the spinach well to blend in with the fish mixture. Cover and cook again, if necessary, until the spinach is cooked through.

8. Remove the lid and turn up heat to evaporate any excess liquid.

9. Continue stirring and remove from heat when the dish is completely dry and begins to come away from the sides of the pan as you stir.

10. Stir in the dried fenugreek leaves, if using, and remove from heat.

As published in the Wimbledon Guardian, 12 December 2013

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Aloo Bharta

Aloo (ka) Bharta (spicy mashed potato) is a timeless comfort food which can be enjoyed equally with rice or rotis. As a Bengali, my staple meal growing up consisted of boiled rice and my mum often prepared this bharta in traditional Bengali style, either using mustard oil as a base or ghee; the latter treating one’s sensory palette to the ultimate taste experience which I dare not replicate for obvious health reasons!

Aloo Bharta, a dish of Bihari origin, has many variations. My recipe is based on a Pakistani version which I have adapted from my mother-in-law and is very different to the Bengali method of preparation and personally, best enjoyed with handmade rotis 😀

Feel free to replace the tomato purée with fresh tomatoes. I only used the purée as I was out of tomatoes 😱

Ingredients

  • 750 g potatoes, boiled and mashed with a tsp salt
  • 3-4 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 11/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp tomato purée
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • Green and red chillies, chopped
  • Coriander leaves

How to cook

1. Heat the oil gently and add the cumin seeds. Allow seeds to sizzle.

2. Add the onions and chillies. Cover and cook until softened.

3. Stir in the spices and cook for 1 minute over a medium flame.

4. Add the tomato purée and mix well. Cook until the oil separates from spices. Stir in the salt.

5. Turn down the heat and add the mashed potato. Mix well until the spices is evenly distributed throughout the potato.

6. Stir in the chopped coriander and transfer to a serving dish.

Shobji Bhaji (Vegetable Stir Fry)

Sometimes there really is nothing like good old Bengali cooking.

This is a very simple, yet beautifully presentable recipe, representative of the staple ‘dry’ vegetable dish served with every Bangladeshi meal. The panch phoron seeds lend a wonderfully aromatic flavour that is so typical of Bengali cooking.

The key here is to stir fry the vegetables over a high heat, using little or no water. This will ensure that the vegetables do not stick together and become and mushy.

Cooking Time: 20 mins

Serves: 3-4  

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp panch phoron (bengali five spice mix)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1″ piece root ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 3/4 tsp ground, roasted cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 250g mixed veg (fresh or frozen)
  • 2-3 small new potatoes, diced
  • salt to taste
  • fresh, chopped coriander to garnish each piece

How to cook

  1. Heat the oil in a large wok or karahi over a medium flame.
  2. Add the panch phoron and bay leaf. Wait for seeds to sizzle.
  3. Add the onion and cook until soft and golden.
  4. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2-3 mins.
  5. Add the dry spices and cook for another minute (adding a splash of water if the spices begin to stick to the pan).
  6. Add the vegetables with the salt. If using frozen vegetables use a wooden spoon to break any chunks.
  7. Stir fry for 10 mins on high heat ensuring they are evenly covered with the spices.
  8. Add a splash of water, stir, then turn down to heat and cover.
  9. Cook for another 5 mins or until the vegetables are just tender. DO NOT OVERCOOK!
  10. Remove from heat and garnish with chopped coriander before serving.

Tagine-Steamed White Fish

Steamed FishIn keeping with our Bengali traditional, but much to my parents’ disapproval of my aversion to eating fish, it was often a case of “Eat your fish!” at the dining table. More so than the proverbial peas.

Ironically, as a Mother of two teens, I now find myself cooking fish in a variety of ways. The versatility of cooking with fish, whether it’s a fishermen’s pie, a curry, a grill or even a biriyani (!) makes it quite effortless to get those all-essential Omega-3’s into our daily diet in the most natural way.

Last night I chose to steam these basa fillets, but not quite the conventional way. I seasoned the fillets and simply arranged them in a single layer in my glazed ceramic tagine. I then placed the tagine on the stove over a heat diffuser to ensure even cooking.

The build up of steam in the pot creates condensation and the resulting droplets ensure the fish is left beautifully moist with all the flavours sealed into the fish. Simply lushalicious :p. So here’s how it goes…

Cooking Time: 20 mins

Serves: 4  

Ingredients

  • 4 white fish fillets (such as cod, haddock or basa)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of a quarter lemon
  • 1 tsp crushed red chilies (or more if you dare!)
  • sprinkle of course black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • handful of chopped parsley
  • a lemon twist and sprig of fresh coriander to garnish each piece

How to cook

  1. Mix all the ingredients well and season the fish. Set aside for 10 mins.
  2. Gently heat a large wok, karahi or tagine placed in a heat diffuser (you can use a tava or frying pan for this purpose).
  3. Arrange the fish onto the vessel a single layer and place a tight fitting lid (or the tagine lid if using a tagine).
  4. Allow to cook over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Remove each piece carefully and garnish with a twist of lemon and a sprig of coriander.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with seasoned, steamed new potatoes and beans or spinach. Or for a touch of Indian, serve with a portion of boiled rice topped with a tadka-free lentil curry as shown here 🙂

Basa fillet with lentils and rice

Chicken Jalfrezi

Chicken Jalfrezi (or Jhal Frezi – ‘jhal’ meaning spicy in Bengali) is typically a ‘bhuna’ dish which means the sauce is thicker and drier than a usual curry. I often mention the word ‘bhuna’ during my classes as it is an essential state which needs to be achieved during the initial stages of cooking, where the ingredients are cooked in their own juices, in order to intensify the flavour of the final dish.

The focus on this recipe is therefore to produce this ‘bhuna’ sauce which can also be stored and used as a base for other curries. Nice 🙂 So you can see why this makes a great recipe for my upcoming demo at New Malden Farmers Market.

Cooking Time: 30-40 mins

Serves: 4

Ingredients

For the chicken marinade (OR just use precooked chicken tikka to toss into the sauce when its ready)

  • 2 medium chicken breasts, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 heaped tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp roasted, ground cumin

For the curry sauce

  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 large onion, very finely chopped + another 1/2 finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 inch piece ginger, finely minced
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 2-3 green chillies, sliced lengthwise & seeded
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp roasted, ground cumin
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1-2 tsp salt or to taste
  • approx. 1/2 cup warm water

How to cook

  1. Mix the ingredients for the marinade and set aside while you prepare the sauce.
  2. Heat the oil over a medium flame and cook the onions until softened.
  3. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to cook until the mixture is lightly browned.
  4. Stir in the turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin and salt, adding a splash of water if needed. Fry for 2-3 mins until the oil has separated from the spices – this is known as the ‘bhuna’ stage.
  5. Stir in the tomato puree and continue to cook for another 30 secs.
  6. Add half the water and bring to a boil. Cover and allow to simmer for about 5-7 mins until the ‘bhuna’ state is achieved again.
  7. Add the marinated chicken and cook on a high flame until the chicken pieces are sealed and evenly covered with the spiced sauce.
    (If using pre-cooked chicken skip this step.)
  8. Stir in the onions, peppers and green chillies, then add the remaining water. Bring to boil; cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked and the gravy has thickened.
    (If using pre-cooked chicken, stir in the vegetables, then add the water. Cover and cook until tender. Add the chicken and cook uncovered until the gravy has thickened.
  9. Sprinkle the garam masala and add the tomatoes. Cook uncovered for another 2-3 mins, just until the tomatoes have softened and then remove from the heat.

Serve with basmati rice or naan.

 

A True Calling

Paddy & Mustard fields

It wasn’t too long ago that I last visited Dhaka, a place where I spent several of my childhood years.

I grew up with my elder brother in our very comfortable Dhaka home situated opposite the Shongshod Bhobon – the Bangladesh Houses of Parliament. Accustomed to the luxurious living my father had provided for us, and much pampered by our loving mother, the dreaded announcement of our annual visit to my father’s village, Shailan, was always greeted with much objection.

During those days, the roads that led to the family home in the village were a far cry from what they are today. It was an hour long drive, the latter part of which was uncomfortably bumpy, and the subsequent hour of walking under the glaring midday sun, along uneven pathways interrupted only by the sodden paddy fields, was not an appealing thought to the young mind. Add to that the constant scrutiny of the gazing villagers, the sparse communal-style living with the most elementary sanitary facilities, it was a trip my brother and I simply did not look forward to.

That being said, the village offered a freedom which our urban lifestyle could not measure up to. I have fond memories of running through the bright yellow mustard fields under the blue skies, picking ripened kamranga (star fruit) off the trees and playfully teasing the Mimosa leaves with a curious fascination as they closed when touched. By night, we would chase the jonakis (fireflies) by the pukur (lake) close to our dwellings, intent on trapping the bright creatures in a jar! It was with much pride that we would display our accomplishment to the grown ups gathered around the open fire stoves preparing hot pithas (traditional Bengali cakes) in volumes large enough to feed the entire village population!

Ride-A-Nouka (boat)

Ride-A-Nouka (boat)

Such was village life, simple, innocent and carefree.

Much has changed since then with established schools, medical facilities and newly built roads that lead all the way to the family home. But the generosity of the locals and their sense of ‘oneness’ is always there. I hope to return soon to these soils where my mother has been laid to rest.

All images published here are copyright of the amazing photographer Mahbub Shaheed. More stunning photography of Dhaka can be found here.

Bengali Fish Curry

The simplicity of this basic Bengali fish curry is its greatest appeal. It is mouth-wateringly flavoursome and when served with boiled rice is indulgently reminiscent of my mother’s cooking…

20120910-024913.jpg

Cooking Time: approx. 45 mins
Serves: 4

Ingredients

FOR THE FISH

  • 6-8 medium pieces white fish
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder

FOR THE CURRY

  • 1 large onion
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 heaped tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp paprika powder
  • 2 green chillies cut lengthwise and deseeded (if not using chilli powder)
  • 1 large tomato cubed
  • 4 medium new potatoes cut lengthwise
  • handful of fresh chopped coriander leaves

How to cook

  1. Place fish in a large boil and rub in the dry spices. Cover and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet heat the oil gently and add the onions. Cover and cook on low heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in cumin seeds, then add bay leaf, salt and ginger. Stir and cover. Allow to cook until onions are softened.
  4. Add tomatoes, potatoes, turmeric, coriander, paprika, chilli powder (if using) and green chillies. Stir well for 30 seconds.
  5. Add 1/2 cup boiled water, stir and cover. Cook until onions and tomato are mashable and potatoes are cooked through.
  6. Meanwhile place the fish under a medium grill and cook for 10 minutes, turning over once. Be careful not to overcook the fish to avoid drying out.
  7. Check the gravy mixture and mash the onions and tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Add a little more boiled water if necessary to create a runny gravy and bring to boil.
  8. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the fish with a fish slice, a piece at a time. Carefully pour in the juices on the grill pan. Immediately turn over the each piece of fish.
  9. Add more boiled water to create more gravy if desired. Turn up the flame and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  10. Garnish with chopped coriander and cover to allow to set.