Saturday, 22 July 2017

Macha Munda Chencheda / Fish head cooked with spices

 Too many people all around. Too much of noise. Too many talking together. Too much of laughter. Too much of cooking going on.
Complaints throng my head. I look around for a little solitude. And do not find any.
Voices float all around me ... someone calling out, someone laughing out, children shrieking as they play, family greeting the just arrived ones with much embracing, smiles, laughter and jokes.
House helps hurrying all around, trying to keep pace with the orders given.
There is an air of festivity all around.

I look on from the terrace on the third floor of our house. And finally turn away in disgust.
I am angry.
I do not understand this casual air around. This air of happiness spilling forth amongst people who have come to our house. I do not understand this feel of vacation among them.
I am so angry that I spend all my time in the little room on the terrace.

Ma, on the other hand is more welcoming. She is all around ... giving orders, looking into the guests' comfort, assigning rooms, everything.
I do not help. I do not want to be a part of any of this.
Given a choice, I would happily be back in my home miles away; would give anything to avoid this time here every year henceforth.

I know I am being unreasonable. I know everyone is trying to lighten the air, ignoring the real, morbid reason why they are here. But I can't help it.
I miss Bapi.
I look around and miss him all the more.
Bapi loved having people over ... be it relatives or friends or unkown guests.
When relatives dropped in for a day, he would arrange for the kitchen to be filled with all kinds of fish and meat and vegetables. He remembered each one's favourite and made sure it was there on the plate.
A variety of mangoes during summer, Ilish from Kolaghat during the rains, the best mutton and prawns, ... you just have to name it. And it is there.
He did not talk much himself but loved to have people, especially our huge family, around him.
Our house in the little hilly town, where Bapi, Ma and I stayed becuse of the proximity to Bapi's industry/factory, came alive, resonated with laughter and loud, boisterous talking whenever the family and Dadu and Thamma dropped down to visit or spend a day.

And now, when everybody is here, I look around but can't find Bapi. And feel angry all the more. 
I just want some quiet around me.
And my Bapi.
And his voice, calling out to me.

Back in Pune, I often cook Bapi's favourite dishes, pretending he has asked me to. And this fish head curry is one of them.
In Bengali, it is called the Macher matha diye chanchra, and usually has vegetables added to it.
Even the Odia version has vegetables most of the time. But this one is different.
This one is a replica of the chencheda from a restaurant ... one that Bapi took solace in when it was a pure veg day at home.
Since Bapi could never eat a pure vegetarian meal, and had to have a little fish on his plate, he would arrange for some of this chencheda to be delivered home and had his lunch with this on the side. I too loved this chencheda , but it was way too spicy for me then.

All I remember is the overwhelming flavour of garlic and the reddish oil floating.
There would be very small bits of potatoes, almost invisible.
But the flavours of the fish head and garlic would be intact. At times, I could see a small piece of the tej pata,  a little green cardamom and some  cinnamon at other times.

It has been so long since I tasted it last that I do not remember almost anything about it.
Except that it tasted heaven;y.
And Bapi loved it.
With the dominance of garlic, so common in Odiya food, this fish head chencheda stays on as one of my favourite dishes.

Need :

1 Rohu Fish head - fried and broken into pieces
Onions - 2, chopped
Garlic paste - 4 tsp
Ginger paste - 2 tsp
Tomato paste - 3 tbsp
Green cardamom - 1, crushed
Cinnamon - 2 small pieces, crushed
Tej pata / bay leaf - 2
Haldi powder - 1 tsp
Red chilli powder - 2 tsp
Dhaniya powder - 2 tsp
Potato - 1, chopped into very small pieces
Garam masala powder - 1 tsp
Roasted jeera powder - 1 tsp
Mustard oil - 5 tbsp
Salt - to taste

How to :

Heat the oil in a heavy kadahi / wok.

Add the crushed garam masala and the tej pata.

Add the onions and fry till they turn pink.

Now add the ginger + garlic paste and the tomato paste.
Fry well.

Add the haldi + mirchi + dhaniya powder and mix well.
Fry on low heat till oil starts to leave the sides.

Add the potato pieces, salt and a little water.

Cover and cook till the potatoes are done.

Remove cover and add the fried fish head.
Mix well.
Add some more water for everything to come together.
Cover and simmer till it dries up.

Add the garam masala powder and the roasted jeera powder, give a good stir, cover and remove from heat.


 Serve hot with rice.






Monday, 10 July 2017

Mooli ka Thepla / Radish flatbreads

It is quiet all around. Except for the birds ... flying and chirping and singing busily. The parrots are going crazy, screeching and playing around in the trees. There is a particularly large group living here and are the noisiest ones around.
It is a delight to watch them everyday and especially when it rains. ( I recently shared a video on Instagram of them bathing in a sudden shower. )
The sun has just come up from behind the little hillock in the east and I can see the brightness all around on the trees and their shining leaves ... but not the sun, not yet, as I am on my balcony in the west.
It is a gorgeous morning and still cold. And breezy too.
The rains are nowhere in sight but there are clouds, lazily passing by ... large puffs of white. An occasional dark one does pass by too, but it is too small to dim the brightness all around.
I take a sip of my Darjeeling tea. The breeze is strong and lulls the swing a little. Good ... since I did not want to move an inch.
Reclining on the swing, my feet to not reach the ground.
So I am grateful for the strong breeze.

A bulbul darts in and sits on the terracotta water bowl. I stay still.
Ever alert, it jumps up and down a little, looks this way and that quickly and jumps into the water.
Splashes around, gives a few quick dips and jumps up on to the rim again, shakes all over to throw away the excess water and is gone. Just like that ... in the blink of an eye.
I finally relax and move to wipe the water droplets on my arm.

It is a gorgeous morning.
I take another sip ... the steam is still coming out of the cup and curls upwards.
I am tempted to go back inside and get my half read book. I have just got my hands on Amish's Sita, finally, and am hooked to it ... just like I am to the rest of his books.
But I don't.
I love my time with myself and nature in the mornings and decide not to let anything else come in between. I can read later.
After all, the rains will start eventually. And I won't get to sit outside this way for sometime.

I will be away, at home.
Where it rains like all hell has broken loose. With thunder and lightening. With huge storm winds.
Where you see the sky turn ominously red, in the nights and know that it is going to pour soon. Pour incessantly; ceaselessly.
Where I will have to go back again and again, at this time of the year, when I rather would not.
When I would rather hide, burrow myself deep somewhere, or get lost somewhere where painful memories cannot reach me.
When I will have to relive those moments of agonising helplessness, relentless yet futile hope and the pain of seeing my father sink slowly into oblivion.
Where I will be reminded and mocked by life about the amount of time that has gone by, without him around me. And I can do nothing about it.
Where I will have to stay in those rooms and see him in every nook and corner of his beloved house.
Where I can see all his things around but not him.
Where my heart will burst with pain every single moment and yet I will be alive, with his memories and his absence.

The rains, that I had loved so much once upon a time, bring only pain to me now.

I have been trying to focus and bring myself to write a post before I leave, but the days are pure mayhem right now. The heart is heavy and yet, there are preparations to be made. I have been cooking in bulk and freezing. Then I need to pack too.
And to cap it all perfectly, we are having guests, relatives we cannot ignore.
So even a minute of a breather is welcome right now, but a far dream.

I will leave you with this thepla that makes for a filling breakfast as well as a dinner too.
I have made this mooli / radish, you can use any vegetable of your choice too.
A thepla is different from a stuffed paratha ... it has the vegetables kneaded in with the flours.
I say flours because I often add different kind of flours ... jowar, makka/maize, rice or a little besan. While the nutritional value does go up, the mutigrain flours add some extra flavours too.

Need :

Whole wheat flour - 8tbsp
Jowar / sorgum flour - 2 tbsp
Makka / maize flour - 1tbsp
Besan / Bengal gram flour - 1 tbsp
( If you do not have these flours, you can make with plain whole wheat flour too. )
Grated mooli / radish - 1½ cups
Ajwain / carrom seeds - ½ tsp
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
Chopped coriander leaves - 2 tsp
Amchur / dry mango powder - 1 tsp
Salt - to taste
Oil - to fry , 1 tbsp to add to the dough while kneading
Water - to knead dough

How to :

Knead everything together to make a firm, not tough, pliable dough.

Cut out small balls and roll them into round parathas.

Heat a well seasoned tawa and fry them one at a time, smearing a little oil on both side to brown them.

Serve hot with raita and achar / pickle.
The achar in the picture is my home made Amla ka achar.

Enjoy!!
And have a happy monsoon filled with fun and food!