In India there's a belief, our soul chooses our own parents.
That is a particularly good weapon to have in one's arsenal as parents. I should know because every time I got into one of rebellious moods growing up & I would begin whining about how unfair my parents were to me, especially during those teenage years, they'd pull out that arrow - shut me up every time!
I wonder if that also applies to choosing ones mother-in-laws. If you think that I am going to start bitching and ranting anytime now you'll be sorely disappointed. Because I actually like my mother-in-law. Truly! She's a very nice person & believe you me when I say we are poles apart as people.
Let me explain how big a deal this is - I am the product of a fusion marriage - my father is North India n (Punjabi) and Mom is west Indian (Gujarati Jain). For those of you who are not familiar with Indian culture you're probably going - yeah, so what? well look next to you - if you're seated next to an Indian reading this, you probably just heard a gasp.
Back then my parents fell in love (another gasp) and got married against some serious odds. Basically I know all about 'black sheep'. Anyway, when I met my hubby-to-be and he turned out to East Indian (Bengali) as you can imagine the gasp wasn't so loud from my parent's side but there was definitely a rumble coming from the other camp. No one & I mean no one in my husband's side of the family had ever stepped out - this was big news!
Anyway, we did our dance, they did theirs and it obviously it ended up well because here we are all are 17 years & 2 kids later. Now back to my mother-in-law - she is a gentle soul and I am a loud mouth if there ever was one. If I feel it, you'll hear it! So when we get together it never ceases to amaze me - we actually like being around each other. I make her laugh and she teaches me many things but most importantly how to cook amazing Bengali foods.
This is the part where I wonder if I also chose my mother-in-law. Because she is an amazing master cook! That is where we meet unequivocally - when I see her cook, I am humbled. She has 'a hand' in Bengali cooking that I strive to achieve but quite honestly, either you got it or you don't and though I am quite good when she's in the kitchen, I step down.
Watching her is like watching Master Oogway work (I would say Master Yoda but she's much prettier & way younger) - underneath her gentle style, she cooks with such authority that I mainly just shut up and observe - grabbing onto every little pearl of wisdom she throws my way before heading back on that plane to India.
The Bengali recipes that I feature on the blog are hers. It is my attempt to recreate the magic she creates in the kitchen. Shorshe Maache - is a classic Bengali fish preparation that is cooked in every Bengali household but no one does it quite like her!
We begin by selecting a white firm fish such as shown here - I am using tilapia steaks though traditionally 'hilsa' or'rohu' grass carp steaks are used. You can also use tilapia fillets or salmon fillets if you prefer.
SHORSHE MAACHE - A classic Bengali preparation of fish simmered in a lightly spiced mustard & yogurt gravy
Serves 4 Shopping list:
2 lbs Tilapia steaks or fillets, Grass Carp steaks or fillets or Hilsa steaks 1 tsp Salt + 1/2 tsp turmeric powder for marinating fish
1 cup Vegetable Oil for frying (of which 4 tbs oil to be used for gravy)
Gravy: 1/2 medium 0nion (1 cup chopped)
4 garlic cloves
1/2 large tomato
1-2 green 'Thai' chillies (adjust based on tolerance to heat) 3/4 tsp red chilly powder 1/2 tsp Turmeric Powder
1-1/2 tbsp. whole black mustard seeds 1/2 cup yogurt 1-1/2 cups water 1 tbsp. chopped Cilantro leaves (optional)
Fish: Marinate the fish with salt and turmeric powder.
Onion - Peel & finely chop.
Garlic - Peel & finely chop garlic cloves
Green Chillies - Slit down the middle
Tomato - Wash, halve & slice into thick slices
Mustard seeds - In a grinder capable of grinding the seeds to a dry fine powder, grind 1-1/2 tbs mustard seeds very fine. Place plain yogurt in a mini-grinder/chopper and add 2 tbs mustard powder. Blend to a fine paste without adding any water. Cook's Tip- If you do not grind the mustard seeds dry first, they will not form a paste when added to the yogurt. The seeds will remain intact and you will have to discard & start over.
Cilantro - Wash and chop. Immerse in a bowl of water till ready to use. Any soil or dirt will settle to the bottom of the bowl.
In a non-stick frying pan heat 3/4 cup of oil and heat on medium high flame till fuming. When you drop the first piece of fish in it should sizzle immediately.
Fry for approx 2 minutes per side till is crisp and brown on both sides. I use a pair of tongs or a fork to gently turn over. Continue above method till all the fish has been cooked. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
Cooks Tip - Do not fry more than 2-3 pieces of fish at a time or overcrowd the pan or the fish will not cook crisp like we want it to. Also, if you drop the first fish in and sticks to the pan, that means the oil is not hot enough. Wait for the oil to heat a bit before you drop in the 2nd piece.
As when deep frying all foods the hot oil will splatter so once you drop the fish into the oil step back from the stove so you do not get hot oil splatter all over you.
In a separate saute pan or 'kadhai', take some the oil used for frying the fish . Keep on medium heat. Add the crushed garlic and onions and saute till soft and golden brown. Now add the chopped tomatoes, salt, turmeric powder and red chilly powder. Saute for a few minutes on medium flame till tomatoes begin to soften approx 3-4 minutes.
Add 1 cup water and bring to a simmer. Taste & adjust the salt. Spoon some of the gravy over the fish very gently. Add the mustard yogurt paste.Once again, spoon the gravy over the fish very gently.
Add 1/2 cup water into the mini-chopper with the mustard paste. Swirl to capture the mustard-yogurt paste on the sides of the wall and pour over the fish. Cover with a lid and simmer for about 5 minutes on medium heat. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Garnish with chopped cilantro leaves. Enjoy with white rice.