Thursday, June 8, 2017

Mach er matha diye dal...

Every Bengali can relate to the image above, a typical Bengali lunch, steamed rice, fried potato roundels and yellow lentils with fish head. Bengalis' are known for their fondness of fish. No meal is complete without fish in it. Fish itself is considered auspicious, and is cooked and served during every festivity and special occasions.  It may seem surprising to some when they see how a giant Rohu/Katla head specially bought and cooked with utmost care to celebrate someone's birthday or to welcome the newly wed groom, but in our part of the country, fish head has always been considered a symbol of affection and respect depending on whom it is served to. In early times it was mandatory to serve the fish head to the the head of the family or the earning member of the family, a gesture of the gender-biased patriarchal society Times may have changed but I know there are families who still believe in this hierarchical legacy.

Luckily in our family we never experienced such bias. I'm quite fond of eating fishes specially the fish head. Though it was not always like that. Between the age of 4-10 I didn't touch anything associated with fish. Here comes my daughter's favorite story of my childhood, the story of how I became scared about any food with fishes in it. I think at this point you must have guessed that the culprit was those tiny little fish bones that gave me the scare. Yes, true. The story is simple. One day a fish bone got stuck in my throat when I was barely 4 yrs old. Surprisingly I can recall that horrible day vividly, may be a scary memory lasts longer than a happy one.

Being a part of a huge joint family I went through several home remedies to get rid of that fish bone. They made me swallow gallons of water, pieces of bananas, dollops of steamed rice, so  that the fish bone would go down with the water or the food. But everything went in vain. So next stop was to  see a doctor, who suggested to take me to the hospital. Yes, a small fish bone and hospital visit, I'm sure you can get the horror part of the story. What happened next changed me even more , the nurse put a machine in my mouth to keep my mouth wide open and the doctor took out the fish bone. It was hardly 5 minutes but I swore to myself not to touch fish ever in my life. I still remember how I used to feel the fish bone inside my throat even after the doctor took it out, like a memory that took long to fade away. So I completely excluded fish from my life. My parents tried hard to convince me. My uncles, aunts, cousins all tried their best but I was determined not to have fish. 

Now comes the happy ending, a quick jump to 'after 6 years'. I was in fifth grade and still scared of eating fishes, but someone changed that. On my way to school I had a companion, one of my class mates, 'A'. We used to go to school together in a car. Being an avid foodie, most of the time 'A' used to talk about what she had for her lunch and dinner. It's true there is no sincerer love than the love of food. The way she used to describe the flavor, the texture, the aroma, believe me no one could have resisted falling in love with food after that. I did too. 'A' convinced me to try fish, and specially the fish head, as that's the part with almost no tiny fish bones. One day after school I asked my mother whether she can give me the portion of fish head. Ma was surprised and happy to know that I wanted to eat fish. And that was the beginning, gradually slowly the love grow. And I remember my mother gave a big treat to 'A' for convincing me to eat fish again. 

Fish head can be cooked different ways, mixed with various vegetables, with rice, with lentils. As I mentioned earlier fish head is prepared during special occasions, this lentil with fish head or mach-er matha diye dal, as we call it in Bengali is one of the most common dish during any auspicious ceremonies. Usually large fish heads of rohu, katla are fried in mustard oil then dunked in yellow lentil soup among with various aromatic spices. The creamy yellow lentils with bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon and fried fish head cooked together bring an extraordinary flavor and taste. I often make it at home and enjoy with steamed rice and fried potatoes (alu bhaja). 

Things needed to make lentil with fish head:

(serves: 4)
  • Yellow lentil: 1/2 cup
  • Fish head (rohu or katla): 1
  • Bay leaves: 2
  • Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
  • Dry red chilies: 2-3
  • Green cardamom: 2
  • Cinnamon: 1 inch
  • Cloves: 4-5
  • Onion (chopped): 3-4 tbsp
  • Garlic: 1-2 cloves
  • Ginger (grated): 1 tsp
  • Turmeric power: 2 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar to taste
  • Mustard oil to cook
  • Ghee: 2 tsp

Steps of making lentil with fish head:

1. Wash the fish head, remove the gills. Rub salt and turmeric powder on the fish head to season it and let it marinate for 30 mins

2. In a deep pan or in a pressure cooker dry roast the yellow lentil (mung dal). Keep stirring and take care not to burn the lentil.

3. Wash the roasted lentil and cook it for 2 whistles.

4. In a deep pan heat mustard oil, when hot fry the fish head till golden brown on both sides. Take out and keep aside.

5. In the same pan heat oil, when hot add bay leaves, cumin seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, dry red chilies. As the cumin seeds start to change color add the chopped onion and crushed garlic. Cook till onions turn red.

6. Add grated ginger, turmeric powder, mix well.

7.Add cooked lentil and fried fish. Usually the fried fish head is broken into pieces while adding it to the lentil.

7. Add salt and sugar to season. Add water depending on the required thickness. Let it boil, reduce heat and cook for 5-6 mins. Add ghee and serve hot with steamed rice.

If you like to get regular updates from me go to my Facebook page and click on the Like button. You can also follow me on Twitter (@Kcolorandspices) and Instagram (@colorandspices) Thank you..!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment