Bhapa Ilish (Steamed Hilsa in Mustard based Gravy)9:43 AM
I wrote the below post last night and when editing the HTML something dangerous happened. I was all alone in the house with the baby but luckily a couple of friends came in to rescue. Now everything is fine and the hubby is also back. Am posting the same with a little change.
Yesterday was Biswakarma Puja. On this day we worship the God Biswakarma, the God of architecture and engineering and the creator of the whole Universe. Remember the architectural marvel and beauty of Indraprastha that Biswakarma built for the Pandava in Mahabharata? It is said that the floors of the palace was so shiny that it gave an illusion of water while the pools were so well made that it looked like flat surfaces. It is also believed that Biswakarma has introduced the idea of industry and science to mankind and thus is regarded as the very essence of creation and craftsmanship. All over Bengal workers from all sorts of life using any kind of tools celebrate this day with great zeal and enthusiasm. Big and small Industrial houses declares holiday and workers get together to clean and decorate the factory spaces to welcome and worship the God with puja, prasad (offerings) and a afternoon feast. For kids this day bears another significance as they get to fly kites the whole day and many elders also enjoy this ritual. The evening sky on this day looks spectacular with colourful kites dotting the sky till the horizon.
Apart from this puja many Bengali houses also observe ‘Arandhan’ or no cooking day. The day before after praying to the unun(chula/ modern gas oven?) a feast is cooked consisting of rice, assortment of fries, Kochu Shaag (arbi greens) and various Hilsa dishes the day before. I have heard that the cook who prepares this meal cannot talk during the entire time of cooking. Then on the day of the puja (the Sankranti day of the Bengali month Bhadra) this cold preserved meal is served to family and friends.
In Santiniketan, Tagore celebrated this day as Shilpo Utsab or Shilpotsab or the celebration of industry and craftsmanship. In Sriniketan, (a place 3 kms away from Santiniketan Ashrama where Tagore started vocational training schools for the local villagers) this day is celebrated with Tagore’s songs and dance.
In our family this ritual has never been observed but I enjoyed cold rice (panta bhat) meals at friend’s places. But Maa and my elder brother organize a small puja at our place to treat all their collegues and employees. Yesterday morning when Maa called up to say that the puja was over and they were enjoying the prasad, I felt a bit homesick. Hubby was again away on an official trip to another country and I hardly had any enthusiasm to cook anything special. I cooked this Bhapa Ilish a few days back with the fresh Bangladeshi Hilsa that Baba managed to send with a friend. According to me this is the easiest and most flavourful Hilsa preparation. The steam cooking process keeps the aroma of all the ingredients intact and the curd, coconut milk, mustard paste and green chillies nicely balance all the sour, sweet and spicy taste. Many people cook it with mustard-poppy seeds paste (sorshe-posto bata) but I prefer to give poppy seeds a miss. For me the sweetness of the freshly squeezed coconut milk is enough to balance the pungency and heat of the mustard paste. Maa always cooked this on stovetop either in pressure cooker or in a covered stainless steel Tiffin box in steam. But a friend taught me to cook this in microwave. That way it’s very easy and takes only 15 minutes from start to finish.
Hilsa pieces: 4 pieces cut in thick pieces
Mustard paste: 2 tbsp
Curd: 4 tbsp
Freshly grated coconut: 3 tbsp
Mustard oil: 2-3 tbsp
Green chillies: 4
Clean the Hilsa pieces and keep aside.
Beat the curd till smooth. To this add mustard oil, Mustad paste. slit green chillies, salt, turmeric and the grated coconut. I prefer to squeeze the milk in the curd mixture from the coconut before adding it to the same.
To this add the hilsa pieces and 1/3 cup of water. Keep aside for 15 minutes.
Now take a wide mocrowave safe bowl that has enough space to contain the hilsa pieces in a single layer. Spread the pieces and pour the curd mixture on top. Cover this with a cling film. Make a small cut on the top and microwave this for 2 minutes.
Take this out and stir the sauce very carefully. Again cover and cook for 3-4 minutes and repeat the same. Finally cook it for another 3-4 minutes and serve hot with some additional slit green chillies.
For the traditional method on stovetop please see my Chingri Bati Tarkari recipe HERE.
Enjoy this with hot steamed rice.
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