Macher Muro Die Bhaja Muger daal (Dry Roasted Yellow Lentil Soup with Fish Head)9:07 AM
Yellow lentil or Mug dal is like a special occasion dal for Bengalis. For everyday meals mostly red lentil or musoor dal is cooked, either in its plain soupy avatar or with sour mangoes or tomatoes. But on those special days when lunch or dinner needs an extra touch Mug dal is roasted on very slow flame with utmost care not to burn it and then delectable vegetarian and non-vegetarian version of Dals are made with it. Go to any Bengali marriage or party and the meal will start with this dal, begun bhaja (fried eggplant), Gandhoraj Lebu (Lemon) and some curry. Even in special occasion meals at any home this dal starts the show.
But not everyone is Bengali and not everyone can manage fish head with the expertise and élan in which Bengalis handle their ‘Macher Muro’ (fish head). If I understand it correctly then other than Asians (I am saying this as I have seen Chinese and Malaysians eat their fish heads too) no one cooks fish heads as a dish. Following this the obvious question rises…what happens to the fish heads then? If you have an answer please let me know. Anyways for us Bengalis Mache'r Matha or muro or fish heads are very coveted item. A new groom is always welcomed with a huge fish head, and on that occasion less is never more rather its ‘bigger the better’. Even on a baby’s rice ceremony (where the baby is introduced to real food) she is always presented with a fish head as an integral part of his first meal.
Go to any Bengali household during the lunchtime and you will see fish heads are force fed to childrens. We have always been taught that eating a fish head makes us intelligent and we never doubted that or thought its fishy or made up. My fish loving family is a big believer of this fishy theory and love this thick, creamy dal for lunch. Even my 2 years old cant wait to have is meal and patiently sucking all the juices out of his share of Macher muro.
Even if you don’t eat fish, cook the dish without the muro and it still tastes great.
Macher Matha Die Bhaja Muger Dal.
Mung or yellow Lentil: 1 cup; use the smaller version known as Shona mug in Bengali.
Fish Head: 1 (of one 2 kg fish, if the fish is bigger then use half of it or increase the quantity of dal and spices and enjoy it more)
Turmeric powder: 2 tsp
Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tsp
Cumin powder: ½ tsp
Sugar: 1/3 tsp
Ginger paste: 1 tsp
Garam masala powder: 1/2 tsp
Bay leaf: 2 small
Whole Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Dry red chillies: 3
Oil: 3-4 tbsp; Preferably mustard oil. but use any oil you like
Smear salt and turmeric to the cleaned and washed fish heads. Keep aside for 15 minutes.
Mix the turmeric, chilly, coriander and cumin powder in 2-3 tbsp water. Mix and keep aside.
In the mean time dry roast the mung dal on very low flame. Keep on stirring continuously to make it golden evenly. Once the beautiful aroma of roasted mung hits and the dals are nicely golden take it off. Rinse under running water. Pour in some fresh water (31/2 cups) and boil with little turmeric and the ginger paste. Make sure the dal is not over cooked. It should be soft but not mushy. You can also use a pressure cooker the way I do. Close the lid and cook it on medium high flame for one whistle. Let the steam release on its own.
Heat the oil in a big kadhai or heavy bottom pan. Fry the fish head till its golden. Drain and keep aside.
In the same oil add the bay leaf. After half a minute add in the cumin seeds and chillies torn in two. Fry till the aroma rises then add the spice paste. Fry on low ill oil oozes out.
Break the fish head in chunks, add to the pan with the boiled dal. Mix and cover. Let it soak all the aromas for a couple of minutes.
Mix in salt and little sugar to balance the taste. Boil till it thickens and the raw smell is gone. The dish would be thick but not dry so adjust the liquid accordingly by adding warm water.
Finish off with a final sprinkle of garam masala powder.
A Homemaker's Note:
if you are cooking for a crowd use finely chopped onions in this dish to make it fiery. fry the onions after tempering the oil and cook till mushy. onions adds a richness which is required when the food is cooked long before it is actually eaten.
with the similar tempering and spices winter vegetable dal could also be cooked. Cut cauliflower, carrot, beans, potato and pumpkin in big chunks. boil along with the lentil. make sure the vegetable only is cooked not mashed. add tomato and peas while the dal boils.
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