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.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

A lonely Christmas and Hariyali Murgh

This time around I spent a rather lonely Christmas. For me Christmas, my favourite day of the year, has always meant spending time with family. I have never felt the urge to go frolicking and partying on Christmas day like some of my friends did, nor have I ever planned outings. On Christmas I want to stay put in my house, wake up to steaming mugs of coffee made by mum, served with preposterously thick slices of juicy fruit cake, and then go around the house with a pen and a paper, jotting down what each one wants for breakfast from Flurys (usually dad and my cousin would go to pick up breakfast), watch Christmas special films curled up in my bed under a heavy blanket happy knowing everyone's at home, then cook all afternoon and have dinner together. But this time, for the first time, my parents had decided to join their friends on a trip to Sundarbans. My brother had promised to spend his day with his newest lady love. And it couldn't be a great Christmas without them around. Besides I had to go to work. Who goes to work on Christmas? Who, who, who???????

Nonetheless, I had to make something special for Christmas and I made my Dad's favourite item. He loves Hariyali Murgh the way I make it. You could say it was a revenge of sorts, cooking what he loves most when he can't have it, after all it was his idea to go on the trip. It's a simple recipe but very tasty. And some how it tastes best during the winters. I had it with steamed rice (I could have anything and everything with steamed rice...everything), curled up in bed watching PS I love you. Another form of revenge — my mother would throw a fit if she sees me eating in bed (she said yes to the trip when she could have outright refused to go) *Evil laugh*

By the way I did save some for Dad (I am a softy that way you see)  and it turns out that it tastes even better the day after!!!!


Chicken - 1 kg
Corainder leaves - 4 stalks
Mint leaves - 2 stalks
Green chilies - 5-6 (or depending on your taste)
Onions (sliced thin) - 1 cup packed 
Ginger juliennes - 4 tbsp
Garlic paste - 1 tbsp
Coriander powder - 2 tbsp
Garam Masala powder - 1/2 tsp 
Black peppercorns - 1 tbsp 
Salt to taste
White Oil - 5-6 tbsp 
Juice of 1 lime 


In a food processor blend coriander leaves, mint leaves and green chilies. Keep aside.

 Heat oil in a pan and add the onions. Fry the onions till they are golden and add the ginger juliennes and garlic. Fry for a couple of minutes.

Now add the chicken, stir fry for a few minutes on high heat. Add the coriander-mint-chili paste and mix well. Add salt, peppercorns and coriander powder. Mix well, reduce heat and cook the chicken covered on low heat until chicken releases water.

Remove cover and cook on medium to low heat unless chicken is tender and the gravy has reduced. The oil should separate. Add lemon juice, mix and remove from heat.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Chicken Bellpepper Curry

I love Bell Peppers. And I have been toying with the idea of making it the base of the gravy for a meat dish. I finally brought my experiment to the table this Sunday. I had been rather sick for over ten days and was dying to get back to the kitchen. Besides I was craving something spicy. So I whipped up this chicken dish. I call it Chicken Bell Pepper Curry. It's a chicken curry essentially but with a mighty twist. It is very easy to make, though it might be a little strenuous on your arms since it involves a lot of stirring around.

If you haven't yet planned what to make for lunch tomorrow, you might give this a try. Spicy and delicious this is perfect for a special lunch. Just this and some piping hot steamed rice and you are set. Or you cold try it over the weekend. I am making it again tomorrow on popular demand!

If you try it, do tell me how you liked it!!!


Chicken - 750g
Red Bell Peppers - 2 (seeds removed and cut in cubes)
Onions - 4-5 (medium)
Garlic - 5-6 bog cloves
Ginger - 2 inch
Whole red Chilies - 4-5 (or depending upon the level of heat you can deal with)
Whole Coriander- 2 tbsp
Whole fennel seeds - 1 tbsp
Kashmiri Red Chili Powder - 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Sugar - 1/2 tsp
Mustard Oil - 4-5 tbsp
Lemon wedges to serve with 


Dry roast the coriander and fennel and keep aside.

In a food processor blend peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, red chilies and roasted coriander and fennel into a paste.

In a pan heat oil and add the paste. Add Kashimiri red chili powder and fry till the masala dries up and oil separates. This will take some time.

Add the chicken and keep frying it along with the masala. Add salt and sugar at this point and cook some more on high heat, until oil separates. Finally add warm water (3-4 cups). Bring to a boil and then cook on low heat unil the chicken is tender and the gravy reaches a consistency of your liking.

Serve with plain rice or paratha, topped with a squeeze of lime.

Monday, 23 December 2013

My Shepherd's Pie : Christmas special

As a child I would spend a lot of time with my maternal grandparents, especially with my grandfather. I call him Dadun, and he is without a spec of doubt my 'favourite person in the whole world'. He is an excellent storyteller — he can hold you captive for hours together with his tales and animated reminiscences. And as a child I have spent many an afternoon in the magical world Dadun conjured, especially for me. And while I thoroughly enjoyed the tales of deadly demons and ferocious animals, dark, forbidding jungles and haunted dungeons, the stories I loved the most were the ones from his own life.

Dadun stayed in England for a few years, back in the 50s and then he travelled the whole of Europe and parts of Africa before returning to India. And I have grown up on a steady diet of stories from his travels and his stay in England (the reason why I was adamant on going to a British University, England was the fairytale land of my childhood). I have heard the same stories again and again and have never grown tired of them.

Among the stories Dadun shared, the ones I loved the best were the ones that had Ken Shapcott in it. Ken, Dadun's best friend in England, a brother really, one he still remembers and misses dearly. His parents had lost their hearing ability after a shell was dropped near their home during the Second World War and Dadun still refers to them as Mum and Dad. They called him John and would often introduce him to their friends and neighbours as their other son. And then....there was the story about the Shepherd's Pie Ken's Mum would make for my grandfather every time he visited them.

The first time I heard of Shepherd's Pie... I must have been 5 or 6 then and even since I have been smitten. Somehow, I only tasted it much later in life,  but the words were music to my ears. I found a strange sense of comfort in Shepherd's Pie. I had decided that it was the ultimate comfort food long before I had tasted it. And somehow I have always associated it the most with Christmas. Every Christmas, year on year, I have craved Shepherd's Pie.

 I finally had it for the first time in England, at one of the cafes on campus. And the first time around I was a little disappointed. The dish was a tad too bland for my taste, perhaps. I have had it a few times after, and a few of them were memorable eats. And considering my obsession with adding my own little elements to a dish, I trumped up my own version. It is not authentic to the T, but the idea is pretty much the same and it is delicious. Mine has a generous layer of spiced meat topped with cheesy and buttery mashed potatoes to which I add some herbs to add some more flavour. I even add some raisins to the meat for that sweet and tangy surprise. And I love it.

May be this Christmas you could try Shepherd's Pie my way. I am sure you'll be as merry as you can be.

 And here's wishing you a Merry Christmas! 
Merry Christmas!!!!

 My Shepherd's Pie


Minced mutton (keemah) - 750g
Finely chopped onions - 1 cup (packed)
Garlic paste - 1 tbsp
Tomato puree - 5-6 tbsp
Carrots - 2 (grated)
Thyme - 2 tbsp
Oregano -2 tbsp
Sweet paprika - 1 tbsp
Dark raisins - a handful
Red wine - a splash (optional)
Boiled potatoes - 6-7 (large)
Butter 100g  + 50g
Salt and pepper to taste
Sugar to taste
Parmesan cheese - 1/2 cup (grated)


In a  deep pan heat 100 gms of butter and add the chopped onions. Fry until it is translucent and only just begins to catch colour.

Add the garlic paste and fry. Next add tomato puree, grated carrots and cook for a minute or two.

Add the minced meat. Remember to keep the heat high all the while. Stir vigorously. Add sweet paprika and sugar. Fry the meat on high heat until it is brown and the juices have dried. Add a splash of red wine, the herbs, raisins and season well. Stir around for a couple of minutes and take off heat.

Now mash and blend the boiled potatoes with the remaining butter, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Also you could add some herbs to the mashed potatoes.

Pour in the minced meat into the baking tray and even it out to make a thick layer of meat. Top this layer the mashed potato, even it out  with a spatula and then with a fork play around with the surface giving it your own design.

Preheat oven at 200 degree centigrade and then slide in your baking dish chockablock with delicious meat and mashed potato. Bake at 200 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until the top is a beautiful, scrumptious golden.

And what you get is a delicious Shepherd's Pie, a little different but all the more delicious!!!!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Shorshe Fish with an Asian twist

               For every Bengali worth his machher jhol and bhaat, Shorshe Bata diye Machher Jhaal has a special spot. It is cooked in every house and every house has their own way of cooking it. And even in the same house it is cooked in different ways. For instance, the tempering could change, some prefer paanch phoran or others vote for kalo jeere (kalonji) — the two produce markedly different results. Then you could make it soupy or makho makho, a drier version. Sometimes you add onions, sometimes just tomatoes, at other times both and if you desire, neither. I like a particular version with potatoes, cut in thin strips. And loads of green chillies.

            My didun (mum’s mother) is the best at making machher jhaal. And if you could ever taste it you would agree. Yeah, I know, everyone has this one person in the family, who makes a particular thing better than anyone in the world. But then I have never had a machher jhaal as good as hers and neither has anyone else in the family. It is not like she uses a secret ingredient or something, it’s just her way of doing it I guess, or she sprinkles pixie dust on it.

            Anyway, talking about Machher Jhaal, it’s a favourite at my place and it is made every single day. It is a constant on the table every night. I have experimented a few times with the Machher Jhaal just to avoid monotony; I have tempered it with curry leaves and mustard seeds, I have put in raw mangoes, and on one occasion I had put in maple syrup. But let’s not get there. Last evening, I was up for another experiment. I wanted to give the archetypal Machher Jhaal an Asian twist. Of course the idea occurred owing to the fish sauce and Kaffir Lime leaves that was still in the fridge.

        So I gave a little twist and the result made everyone very happy. The fragrant lime leaves and the pungent mustard oil, hit it off from the word go. With piping hot rice, this dish was just the thing to liven up a cold winter evening.


Bekti (cut in cubes)- 500g
Paanch phoran – ½ teaspoon
Green chillies (whole) – 2 - 3
Turmeric Powder – ½  tsp + 1 tsp
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
Kashmiri Chili Powder – 1 tsp  
Kaffir lime leaves – 2-3 cut in thin strips
Tomatoes (chopped) – 2
Garlic (finely chopped) – 1tsp
Mustard paste -  3 -4 tbsp
Red and green chillies (chopped)
Mustard oil (as required)
Fish sauce – 1 tbsp
Salt to taste


  • First marinate the fish with salt, turmeric powder (1/2 tsp) and chilli powder for 10-15 minutes.
  • Heat oil in a kadhai and lightly fry the pieces of fish and keep aside.
  • Now, in pan heat around 2 tbsp of oil, ones the oil reaches the smoking point, add the paanch phoran and whole green chillies and reduce the flame immediately.
  • Once the aroma of the green chillies and paanch phoran fill your nostrils, add the garlic paste and the tomatoes. Also add the Kaffir lime leaves. Add a pinch of salt and cook till the tomatoes are turn mushy and finally oil separates.
  • While the tomatoes are being done, in a small bowl take the Kashmiri chilli powder and the turmeric powder, add a few table spoons of water, mix and keep. Pour it in once the tomatoes are done and oil separates and stir for a couple of minutes.
  • Now dilute the mustard paste with a little water and pour it in. Add salt.
  • Finally add the fish carefully, as also the chopped green chillies, cover and cook on low heat for a few minutes.  Round it off with fish sauce and serve piping hot with plain steamed rice.

PS. This is a tip I picked from Didun, whenever you grind mustard, add a pinch of salt and a couple of chillies to it, to avoid it getting a little too tart. In fact, sometimes mustard paste could even taste bitter.

Again in this recipe I have used Bekti, but you can use any fish you want to. 

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Malaysian Chicken Curry

I was 19. And it was my first trip abroad. And talking of a cherry on the cake – I was going to travel with a friend, no cautious father, no nagging mother nor a petulant, almost-teenager brother. Of course, we tried to overlook the fact that my friend’s father was travelling with us. We had worked out a plan around this tiny glitch. The destination was South East Asia – of course you already guessed that.
Now my friend was not really interested in food. She was weaving her dreams around designer shops and nightclubs but I was drooling, even in my sleep thinking about all the amazing street food I would wolf down in Bangkok, of Malaysian curries and Singaporean noodles. 

However, Bengalis irrespective of the fact that they are famous for their fabled wander lust, have a tendency to look for their aloo-posto bhaat and machher jhol no matter where they go. Not all of them, but most of them.  And I don’t mean to demean any community; in fact I hear it is a pan-Indian problem, every community has their fare share of such people. No offense meant. For me, it would be a nightmare, no matter how much I love; in fact I am obsessed with it, aloo posto. Anyway, so we were travelling with a tour company who took no chance when it came to food. So in Bangkok we were served chicken tikka and butter paneer, everyday, while in Singapore we ate at a Bangladeshi restaurant and in Malaysia, a South Indian restaurant. They made sure we remained connected to our culinary roots, much to my dismay.
My brother, the same petulant guy I mentioned early, only he is older now. And grouchier, I think, went to Bangkok recently and came back with foodie-tales that had me slobbering and drooling all the while. I cursed my  stars at the thought of my trip to the South East. So I have been pondering over the idea of cooking something Asian and finally got myself to try this Malaysian Chicken Curry.
I usually do not cook Asian food except the occasional Chinese, but to say, I officially turned a fan of cooking Asian food. I already loved eating it of course. The smell of lemon grass and Kaffir lime leaves, the creamy coconut milk and the spices, it is so satisfying! 

And the meal that followed this evening, was even more satisfying. A slavoursome curry, but so light on the palette. Do try it. 


  • 1 tbs peanut oil (I used vegetable oil)
  • 2 brown onions, cut into wedges
  • 8 (about 800g) chicken thigh fillets, cut into 3cm pieces
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 star anise
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) chicken stock
  • 2 tsp grated palm sugar
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • Finely shredded kaffir lime leaves, to serve.

Curry paste

  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 long fresh red chillies, seeded, finely chopped (seeds optional)
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs finely grated fresh ginger
  • 4 purple Asian shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) peanut oil (or vegetable oil)

  1. Place all curry paste ingredients in a food processor and process until a smooth paste forms. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Step 2 Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until onion softens. Add curry paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until aromatic. Add chicken, lime leaves, cinnamon, star anise, coconut milk and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until sauce thickens and chicken is tender. Remove from heat. Add palm sugar and fish sauce; stir to combine. Taste and season with sugar and fish sauce.
  3. Step 3 Spoon among serving bowls. Top with lime leaves and serve with rice, if desired.

Recipe courtesy Sarah Hobbs
Thanks Sarah, wherever you are for such an awesome recipe.