Monday, 26 May 2014

Macher Matha diye Muger Daal ( Yellow Lentil with Fried Fish Head)

I am a person who cannot live without her daily dose of fish. For me fish is not an option but a necessity. As a person who was used to having fish during lunch and dinner during childhood, I barely manage through the office canteen food only to look forward towards the dinner when I would whip up a delicious fish curry to go with rice or roti.

I can have any fish in any form ( barring the dried ones, the smell just puts me off) - fried, curried, steamed, medley and the list goes on. I remember during our Engineering days when kids used to go back home during the vacations they would usually ask their moms to make all sort of chicken delicacies throughout the vacation. I would always give my mother a list of fish preparations that I would crave throughout my stay in the hostel. Not that the hostel didn't serve fish, it surely did and the fishes would be fresh too. But it would lack the variety and amount. We only got to have Rohu at the hostel and only one piece per person. I was crazy about Magur/Shingi (catfish) at that time and that is such a fish which is only cooked in individual homes as it does not have universal appeal. I would request my parents to get me Magur or Shingi almost every day of my stay at home. My father would insist on getting chicken but I would ask him to get lots of different fish instead. My mom is an amazing cook and she also has this experimental streak in her which proved most beneficial for me. She would look such varied fish dishes for me that I would feel at food heaven - Macher Paturi (fish wrapped and steamed in pumpkin leaves), fish croquette, fish crispy fry, macher ghonto (fish in vegetable medley), the quintessential Bengali fish curry, macher kalia (fish in rich onion sauce) and macher matha die daal (lentil cooked with fish head). There were some other recipes also which I am unable to recollect right now. Apart from Magur I also liked Katla, Koi, Hilsa, prawn and Tilapia. Among these Hilsa would be made rarely as it would cause an upset stomach if not eaten in moderation due to its rich oil content.

I still have vivid memories of every memorable fish encounter I had till date. Like the time we went to my aunt's home in Taki, a small town in Hashnabad near Kolkata. Its a border area of India and Bangladesh. The fish you would get over there was just amazing. I still remember having these huge juicy Jumbo prawns at her home, they would not fit in any serving bowl. Guys believe me I have never seen such huge prawns ever again in my life. Or the Koi macher Paturi that my grandma used to make when we visited her home during childhood. There was a time when Hilsa was fried in any home the entire neighbourhood would come to know about it due to the signature mesmerizing aroma of the fried fish. Gone are those days when you got such quality fishes. Original fishes are now exported to foreign countries and we are left with the option of Hybrid ones. Now even if you fry Hilsa in the kitchen the person in the other room wont know about it. The only hybrid fish that tastes better than the original ones are the catfish. And we get them in abundance in Pune. Magur are 'geol' fish or fishes with two respiratory organs hence they can live for longer time without water. That's why you would see me using catfish in most of my fish curries.

The love and craziness for fish continues till date. Even today when I visit home me and mom go to the market and purchase a cartload of fish to sustain us for the entire vacation. I hear my mom and granny say at times that the quality of fish has gone down over the years and you don't get good fish now but I still find the fishes from the local market in Kolkata amazingly tasty and delectable as compared to what we get in Pune. Though I love sweet water fish better than the salt water ones but on account of my job I am out of Bengal for more than a decade hence I try to get used to the salt water ones as well.
Though not a big fish fanatic as myself, my husband also shares the love for seafood equally. One of the biggest reason of choosing Kerala over Rajasthan as our Honeymoon destination, was due to the hell lot of fish we would get out there. And seriously it was an amazing experience eating fried fish paired with fine red wine in a rustic cottage 10 feet away from the sea, by the moonlight listening to the huge waves crash on the shore. Just us and the sea - simple and heavenly. The very mundane Goan fish curry we had at a small joint in the market of Munnar or the crispy fried fish from our very own Panshet Dam in Pune - each with a signature touch and comforting feel. Till date locations which would offer us seafood cuisine wins hands down over those which does not. The entire Konkan belt of Maharashtra offers a wide assortment of seafood. While in Goa last year we had one of the finest King crab preparations at Full Moon shack (Bogmallo Beach) at dirt cheap rate. Next in the list is having Trout fish in the emerald valleys of the Great Himalayas.

I can write an epic regarding my love for fish. But coming back to the main topic of discussion today - Macher maths diye Muger Daal.Daal quintessentially fits into the very staple diet of any Indian and 99% of the time its vegetarian preparation. But Bengalis are known for their love of non-vegetarian and fish of course. So its not very surprising to note that a Daal preparation with fish head would find its way into the elite list of Bengali delicacies. In fact the only other non-veg daal that I know of is Daal Ghost (Lamb in lentil soup) of the Mughlai Origin. Maybe there are other non-veg daals also present in the country but I am totally ignorant about those. Maybe any of you reader can tell me all about it.

Yellow daal or Mung daal is a very favorite daal in Bengal. Its reserved for all special occasions. Else where in the country you would get the normal Mung daal but in Bengal you would get a special variety of Mung daal known as the "Shona Muger Daal" which is a smaller grained more aromatic version of the normal one. You have to experience Shona Muger daal to know about its awesome taste. Macher matha diye muger daal is a very traditional dish only reserved for special occasions like wedding or birthday meals. Its an elaborate preparation which takes time and patience. The common way of preparing this dish is dry roasting the Muger daal lightly to make Bhaja Muger Daal. Dry roasting the daal gives off beautiful earthy flavors and imparts the dish body and richness. But I prefer to use Kacha muger daal or the non roasted version. The roasted version definately tastes better but is also difficult to digest. So if you want to relish your favorite non veg daal without the fear of an upset stomach use the un-roasted version.

Apart from Asian people I doubt whether anyone would know what its to have a fish head. Most of you would say it sounds so gross. A colleague of mine one said how can you eat a fish head with the eye staring back at you? Ah! the joys of a fish head can only be experienced and not explained. As kids we were always told to have fish heads as they would make us intelligent. We never tried to find out the truth behind the statement but since we loved fish head anyway logic or no logic we relished them wholeheartedly. My husband however doesn't like fish head at all which suits me fine because whenever I make this daal I get to eat all the fish head while he is happy with the mung daal only minus fish head. On Friday while coming home I saw this nice and big Katla fish with an equally huge head. Couldn't resist buying it and hence the menu for the weekend was going to feature the non veg daal recipe for sure. I replicated my mom's tried and tested recipe with a slight modification. As I have mentioned that hubby doesn't like fish head so to make the dall a bit more interesting for him as well I added a couple of veggies to the daal as well. Actually this particular preparation has two variants the veg one and the non veg one. Just minus the fish head and replace it with a lot of veggis to make the veg version. Mine was a medley of both worlds and it came out super delicious. Because whenever my hubby would say that this particular dish is tasting like a wedding preparation I know its well made.

Dont get intimidated  by the long list of ingredients, have patience and follow the steps carefully and you would have that super rich and creamy daal at your fingertips.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes  

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4

Cuisine: Bengali 
  • Mung Daal (Yellow Lentil) -300 gm
  • Big Fish Head - 1
  • Onion - 2 big 
  • Tomato - 1 big
 For Tempering
  • 5 Spice Mix (Panch Foron) - 1 tsp
  • Clove (Laung)- 3
  • Cinnamon (Dalchini) - 2 inch piece
  • Green Cardamom (Elaichi) - 3
  • Dried Red Chilli - 2
  • Bay Leaf - 2
  • Ginger - 3 inch made into paste
  • Garlic - 4 cloves made into paste
Other Spices & Vegetables
  • Garam Masala Powdr - 1 tsp 
  • Turmeric Powder as required
  • Red Chilli Powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Jeera Powder (Cumin Powder) - 1tsp
  • Coriander Powder (Dhania Powder ) - 1tsp
  • Green Peas (Frozen or fresh) - 1/4th cup 
  • Carrot - 1 medium diced
  • Green chilli - 2 slitted
  • Salt & Sugar as per taste
  • Ghee - for seasoning
  • Mustard Oil for tempering

1.Thaw the frozen peas or blanch the raw ones. Once soft drain the water keep them aside.

2. Make julienne of the onion.  Chop the tomatoes. Dice the Carrot into big chunks.

3. Make a paste of fresh ginger and garlic.

4. Marinate the fish head with salt and sugar for about 30 minutes. Heat oil in a wok and fry the fish heads taking care not to break them. For very big fish heads make sure you fry them enough on all sides so that the raw smell of the fish disappears. No need to drain the oil from the fried heads.

5. Wash the daal. If possible soak the daal for 10 minutes in water prior to cooking. It will help in cooking the daal faster. If you are adding Carrots add it with the daal to get pressure cooked.

6. Take a pressure cooker and add enough water to cook the daal. Pressure cook for two whistles or as required.  Once the pressure dies out, whisk the daal with a hand beater into a thick uniform consistency.

Take out the boiled carrots from the daal before whisking it. We don't want the carrots to get all mashed up. Add the carrots back  into the final whisked daal.

7.  Coarsely grind the clove, cardamom and cinnamon with a mortar pestle

8. Heat the remaining oil in the wok. Add a spoonful of ghee. When steaming add the bay leaf, ground clove, cinnamon, cardamom, 5 spice mix, dried red chilli torn in-between.

9. When you get the aroma of the spices add the ginger garlic paste, onion julienne and diced tomato. Fry until mushy. Add a bit of water frequently to prevent the masala from sticking to the bottom of the wok. Note: I also added some pointed gourd pieces also at this point to get fried along with the masalas. You can also toss in some raisins if you like at this point.

10.  When oil separates from the fried masalas add turmeric powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, salt and sugar. Fold in.

11. Add the soft peas at this point. Mix well.

12. Add the fried fish heads at this point. Coat it with the masalas in the wok. Keep tossing so that it doesn't get burnt. The fish head will automatically start break by the sides. If not slightly break them up to infuse the juices better into the daal.

13. Add the boiled daal with the carrots at this point. Mix everything well taking care not to break the fish heads too much.

If you want to prevent the fish head from breaking too much. Then you can take out the heads from the masalas before the daal is added. Add the daal let it boil and mix with the masalas completely and finally add the head back and boil for a couple of minutes.

14. Break in a few slitted green chillies for that added spiciness. Add enough water to make the daal medium soupy. This is going to be a thick daal and not a runny one.

15, Let the daal simmer for about 7-10 minutes with occasional stirring.

16. Add a dash of garam masala powder and 1 tsp of ghee. Mix well and turn off the heat.

Serve it with steamed rice or basmati rice along with an assortment of vegetable fritters. I served it with niramish Potoler Dolma (Stuffed Pointed gourd).

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