Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shak diye Machh Dhaka

One of the first Bengali meals I cooked this year was "chhoto machher jhal" and "machher tel diye chhanchra". A simple but very satisfying meal, healthy too.

Bengalees spare no part of the fish - we eat the heads, bones, tail, skin, everything and while cleaning them we take out the innards and roe and cook them too. The innards or entrails are actually very nutritious.

In the animal world you will see that after a hunt, predators will always consume the internal organs of their prey first and leave the rest of the carcass for later consumption. This is primarily because the innards are not only the most nutrient rich portion of the animal, they are also the first to decompose so its best to consume them fresh from the kill. Just as many people eat internal organs of poultry and larger meat stock, similarly fish innards (machher tel) and heads are eaten in the Bengali diet - usually cooked with seasonal vegetables.

Small fish like the smelt I have used here are an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus since they are consumed bones and all. In this recipe, mustard seeds and poppy seeds are combined in a 1:3 ratio and blended to a paste to make the sauce for the fish. It is less pungent than using only ground mustard and lets the delicate flavor of the fish come through. Here I have used smelt, a local fresh water fish but any small or larger fish can be used for this dish.

Although I have used dark leafy greens in the chhanchra, machher tel can be prepared with a number of vegetables such as lau (bottle gourd), bandhakopi (cabbage) etc. or be combined with a mix of veggies, for example you could add eggplant with the greens and potatoes in this dish. The basic recipe/concept is the same but all families have their own variations.

Chhoto machher jhal


1.5 lbs smelt or other small fish
1 onion sliced
1 spoon mustard seeds (shorshe)
3 spoons poppy seeds (postho)
Green chilies to taste
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon Kalo jeere/Nigella seeds
1 teaspoon Turmeric power (holud)
1 cup cilantro leaves (dhone pata)

  1. Thoroughly was clean and dress the fish (saving the innards or "tel" in a bowl). Rub with salt and turmeric and keep aside.
  2. Grind the mustard and poppy seeds together into a paste with water in a blender
  3. In a skillet heat oil and fry the kalo jeere and then the onion
  4. Add the fish to the pan and and fry both sides lightly
  5. Now add the shorshe-postho paste to the fish bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes, adding as much water as you would like and adjusting salt to taste.
  6. Stir in the cilantro just before taking off the stove. Serve with rice.

Machher teler chhanchra


3 cups black dino kale chopped (or any dark leafy green)
2 cups spinach chopped
2 diced potatoes
Half cup Machher tel mixed with salt and turmeric
dried red chilies
salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon cumin power
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

  1. Heat oil in a pan, add the dried red chilies and fry for 1 min
  2. Add the machher tel to the smoking hot oil
  3. Add the potatoes and stir fry adding the spice powders
  4. Add the green and salt, cover and cook til the green have wilted
  5. Give it a god stir and continue to cook til potatoes are done
  6. This chorchori should be dry, serve with plain white rice and dal.

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