Til Rui (Rohu fish in Spicy sesame and mustard gravy)6:19 PM
I first met and tasted Sesame on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I was only 9 then.Was playing with my brother in the garden, when we heard the tung sound of someone opening the huge iron gate. that was the first month when we reached Santiniketan and we hardly knew anybody there. Coming from a life surrounded by plenty of cousins, loving grand parents and caring aunts in our joint family we were feeling very lonely in that nuclear set up. so we ran to the gate to meet someone new but found no one. Both of us raced for the stair way and rushed home and saw her there. A thin doe eyed women sitting on the mora and drinking water that my mother offered.
The first thing that we noticed is her cheery yellow saree which my mother never would have chosen for herself and her pretty face, bright with the bright orange sindoor (vermillion) on her parting. She was talking in hindi, with a Bihari tone, her native place. after finishing the glass of water she removed the cloth covering of the huge basket she was carrying. took out a tongue shaped snack and offered to my younger brother "Babu Tilkut". That was the very first time I tasted til or sesame in the form of tilkut, a fudge like sweet snack made with roasted sesame and jaggery.
After that day every Wednesday we heard her sweet melodious voice " Boudi Moa niben" (Sister will you buy sweet snacks). We loved those tilkut and chirer moa (Beaten rice laddu) and every week maa bought big boxful of these snacks to feed her three growing kids. And everyday after settling the bill she will give two extra pieces to bhai (yonger brother). She was very fond of that little monster who was hardly 4 years old and on their festival days she invariably will bring some thekua or pyaraki. The tradition was alive for almost 6-7 years and after that they went back to Bihar. after that I have tried many varieties of tilkut, even Maa made it once or twice but we never like the taste. either it was too sweet or little bitter, quite dry or lacked that crunchy bite. May be it was those fun filled years with frequent hunger pangs or her pretty face and sweet voice that made us love her tilkut but no, we never liked anything after she left.
many years later I got married and reached my in laws place. There for the very first meal they served something called til bhaja (fried sesame), a onion green chili laced fried paste of sesame. It was very new to me and the taste was very similar to Posto or poppy seeds. and later they also served til die macher jhal a fish preparation with Sesame and other spices. The taste was good and was a welcome change from regular fish curries.
Here in Japan the unavailability of many regular spices made me prepare this curry on my own. I omitted most of the spices like onion, garlic and cumin-coriander powder my MIL uses for this. Rather I simmered the fish pieces in a mixture of sesame-mustard paste. And following my friend Tanushri also added little milk for this gorgeous yellow hue. The result was heavenly.
Rohu steaks: 4 pieces
Nigella seeds: 1/2 tsp
green chillies: 3-4
Sesame seeds: 21/2 tbsp (I used dry roasted white sesame)
mustard paste: 11/2 tbsp
milk: 1/4 cup
mustard oil: 4-5 tbsp (can use other oil also but use at least a part of mustard oil for the flavour)+1/2 tsp more if you want to drizzle at a later stage to intensify the flavour
wash the fish pieces and rub salt and turmeric on them. eeo aside for 15 minutes.
in the mean time make a paste of the sesame seeds with little water (3-4 tbsp). Use the grinder in short cycles or the the seeds might start leaving oil which will make it bitter. once you get a smooth paste mix it with the mustard paste and 3/4 cup water and keep aside.
Heat the oil in a pan or kadhai and fry the fish pieces on medium flame. For mustard based curries the fish should be fried till little browned on both sides. 5-7 minutes on each sides. drain and keep aside.
in the same oil add slited green chilies and nigella seeds (rub the nigella on your palm to release maximum flavour before adding to oil). fry briefly till they start to splutter add the mustard sesame mixture. stir to combine and add little salt and turmeric. Cover and let it come to a boil. add the fish pieces, check the seasoning and cook it for 2-3 minutes and then add the milk. Mixa nd cover. let it cook for another 5-6 minutes till the fish pieces absorb the flavour and the sauce thickens.
You can also pour some mustard oil while the sauce is simmering to deepen the pungent mustard flavour. Also add more Grren chillies if you can handle the heat.
serve hot with white steamed rice.