Friday, 27 December 2013

Machher Mathha diye Moog'er Dal

My family has great regard for tradition and customs. I have mixed feelings really. But one birthday tradition I have always been fascinated by, and have waited for eagerly every year, is that of serving a whole fish head for your traditional birthday special meal. Yes a whole fish head, eyes et al. As a child the first thing I would do on waking up on the B Day was run to the kitchen upstairs to find out how big the fish head was. I never ate it, never, but I simply had to have it on the table when I sat down to eat.

Every year on my birthday my father heads out to the market in the morning and gets the largest fish head available which is cooked with a simple tempering of kaalo jeere- kancha lonka (Nigella seeds and green chilies). It's not a special privilege, each of us cousins, we are five, are entitled to a mammoth fish head on our birthdays. However, till date I have never eaten mine. My elder brothers feel only too glad about it since they are fish-head fanatics. So they wolf it down the moment I have had my first mouthful, that's e a tradition too.   

Other than the special birthday fish head, I love another dish that has fish head in it. The quintessential Machher Matha diye Moog'er Dal (Moong Dal with fish heads). This dish is another celebration staple at my place and I can give up on all the fish and meat for a bowlful of this dal. I have had various versions of this dal, but my current favourite is the one that Suchitra Di, she cooks for us, whips up. I though I must share her recipe with you since for me this Dal tastes especially good during winter. And with the weekend around the corner, it seemed like a good time to share it. 


Moong Dal - 400g
Fish head (Rohu)- 1 large or 2 small, broken into pieces
Cumin seeds - 3/4 tsp
Bay leaf - 3-4
Cardamom - 1
Dry red chilies - 4-5
Onion (thinly sliced) - 4 large
Ginger-garlic paste - 1 tbsp
Tomatoes - 4 medium
Turmeric powder - I tsp + 1tsp
Red chili powder to taste
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste
Mustard oil
Green peas (optional) 
Ghee - 2-3 tbsp or as much as you like :P


Fry the fish heads, which have been marinated with turmeric powder and salt for 15-20 minutes, in mustard oil and keep aside.

Dry roast the moong, add 4-5 cups of water and put it to boil.

In the meantime, heat mustard oil in a kadhai and add the cumin seeds, bay leaves, cardamom and dry red chillies. Once the cumin seeds start to sizzle (and the aroma drives you crazy....ummm that's a bit of an exaggeration) add the onions and fry.

Check on the dal. You should take it off the heat once dal softens but it shouldn't be pulpy. The grains should still be whole. 

 On the other hand once the onions are golden add the ginger-garlic paste. Fry for a minute or two and add the tomatoes. Add salt, turmeric powder, red chili powder and sugar at this point.

Fry till the tomatoes soften and oil separates from the masala.
Now add the fish heads, followed by the dal (water et al). Add the green peas (optional) too. Cook for about 5 - 7 minutes. 


A generous drizzle of ghee later take it off the heat.

This one's just what you need on a winter afternoon — with steamed rice and jhuri aloo bhaja, this is a treat to cherish.

Better still with Pnui shaak'er chhanchra — a mixed vegetable dish with Pnui shaak (Basella alba or even known as Malabar spinach) as its star, every Bengali would swear by.

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