Of all the things I anticipated eating by being a Bengali is fish. How unpredictable!
If I recollect correctly, it was in grade eight that I learnt the biological name of rui maach is Labeo Rohita. I had a bad hand at science drawings then, so my grandmother or my little sister used to make all those diagrams for me - Rana Tigrina (frog), Rattus (rat), Ornithorhynchus Anatinus (platypus), or Periplaneta Americana (cockroach).
The only thing I have come gastronomically close to in the above mentioned living beings are frog legs, which upon picking up a packet at a Chinatown store, I quickly backtracked and went straight to the fruits and vegetables section. All my affinity for French and Cantonese cooking did not make me eat frogs for dinner.
But Rui (Rohu) or Labeo Rohita has remained with me since my childhood, in all its forms – jhaal, jhol, bhaja, chop, muri ghonto, just to name a few preparations.
I will concentrate on the jhaal today, which essentially has a mustard base and when literally translated means “hot”. Probably because of the two ingredients, mustard and green chilies which add an unmistakable zing to this dish. It also has a thicker consistency as compared to its cousin, the jhol which is rather runny.
For Rui Maacher Jhaal you will need:
4 pieces of Rohu fish
1 medium size tomato cut into thick slices
2 tablespoon fresh mustard (yellow) paste
Few green chilies, slit lengthwise
Few sprigs of coriander, chopped fine
2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
Apply salt and turmeric powder to the pieces of fish and deep fry them in piping hot mustard oil. Keep aside.
I made my mustard paste at home by first dry grinding yellow mustard seeds in my blender and then adding a tablespoon of water to make a paste. The traditional way of doing it is on the stone grinder.
Take one tablespoon of the remaining mustard oil (leftover from the fried fish), heat it in a wide-mouthed pan. Add nigella seeds and sauté for a few seconds.
Add the sliced tomatoes and green chilies and cook for a few minutes.
Make a not-so-thin sauce with the mustard paste, a cup of water, one teaspoon turmeric powder, red chili powder and salt.
Add that to the tomatoes and green chilies. Cook this sauce or jhaal for 5-7 minutes on high flame till all the raw taste of the mustard goes away. Gently add the pieces of fried fish and cook it on high flame for 5-7 minutes. Garnish with chopped coriander.
Serve with plain white rice and some side, like this spinach stir fry (Shaak Bhaja) I made today.
2 cups very finely chopped spinach
2 teaspoon yellow moong dal
3-4 green chilies broken from the middle
1 dry red chili
2 tablespoon mustard oil
Heat oil in a pan, add the moong dal and chilies.
Sauté for a couple of minutes and add the spinach.
Season with salt and sugar. Stir fry till the spinach wilts and all the moisture evaporates. A shaak bhaja like this is usually the first course of a Bengali meal. Its mixed with rice and eaten without complaining about being fed greens!