Ilish Macher Matha die Kochur shaak (Taro stems with Hilsa fish head)

8:30 PM

My Maa, a women with many many qualities mastered several arts in her life time. Designing,for which she was known the most and which got her many accolades and awards including President's award was only one of them. Even at the age of 60 she was always ready to learn new art forms. Drawing, designing, all forms of stitching, tie dyeing, Kalamkari, Macrame, Tatting, Manipuri style loom...she learned and mastered all. With time I will share a few of her art works that she did for personal use.

In our extended family she was known for her cooking. Unlike many, her style of cooking was with less oil, less spices and definitely that cooks quickly. With a huge business to run and three kids to bring up she hardly had time for elaborate dishes on a busy day. But I could never remember a day when we left for school at 9 in the morning without 4 piping hot dishes and rice. And my father and us kids always left home with homemade snacks for the day. When my uncles would visit they would always request for her signature vegetable dishes and choto mach or small fish curries. Her charchari and ghantos were to die for if you like bengali food. She used scraps of veggies from the day's cooking and would turn them in such a delectable dish that we would finish our rice only with that. 
Another recipe of hers which we jokingly named bagan charchari or mishmash of garden veggies was a concoction of all the veggies one can gather from her huge kitchen garden. A little bit of hardened shoots of greens, the left over mini potatoes after the harvest, a scrap of brinjal 3/4 of which is eaten by the insects, a dis shaped carrot, the stems of cauliflowers, or the ripe, hard, yellowish okras, pointed gourds (patol) etc would turn into a delectable dish by her magic. I have tried it so many times following her recipe which turn good but never as delish as hers.

This Kochur shaak is one of her signature dish. Kochur shak or arbi/taro stems is a delicacy in Bengal now a days. I remember my grandmother used to say that they could never serve such dishes to guests as taro stems were mostly foraged and it would reflect badly on the family's status. But now a days with minimun time spent in the kitchen these recipes are becoming exotic. Restaurants are serving anything in the name of tradition and heritage. I am no one to comment on that but I strongly believe such dishes tastes when cooked simply in a home style manner, not cooked in a gravy of onion-garlic and what not.

These taro stems are from my maa's garden in Santiniketan which my brother brought with him. Generally most taro plants have saponins-like substances that ends up in a feeling of  itchiness in the mouth and throat, for hich it is always advisable to clean them several times in running water and then boil them with some souring agent. In our part of the globe we prefer to add a marble size piece of tamarind to the boiling water which helps in reducing the itchiness. Luckily the variety maa grows is not at all itchy so everytime we end up with one delectable dish.

Ilish muro die Kochur shaag er ghanto

Kochur shaak: 1/2 kg
Ilish macher muro/ Head of Hilsa fish: 1
Ginger paste: 1/2 tsp
Cumin paste: 2 tsp (See notes)
Chili paste: 1/2 tsp (See notes)
Nigella seeds: 1/3 tsp
Green chillies: 2
Freshly scraped coconut: 1/4 cup
Black chickpeas: handful (wash and soak for 3 hours)
Mustard oil: 4 tbsp
Sugar: as per taste (See notes)

First using a small knife peel the skin of the taro stems. The procedure is same as THIS.
Cut them in small 1" pieces and soak in turmeric water.
Boil in enough water with a pinch of salt, turmeric and marble size piece of tamarind. Cook till softened but not disintegrated. Drain and keep aside. Once cooled press them to release the extra water.

While the stems are boiling mix salt and turmeric to the hilsa head and keep aside at least for 15 minutes.
For best result do not use cumin powder rather soak fresh cumin seeds and whole dry red chillies in water for 30 minutes and make a smooth paste in the Mortar and pestle or mixer grinder.

Once the stems are boiled heat oil in a heavy bottom pan. Fry the hilsa head for 3-4 minutes by flipping it once. Take out and keep aside.

Reduce the flame and in the same oil add the nigella seeds and slit gren chillies. Let it splutter and release it's aroma. Now add the ginger-cumin-red chilli paste mixed with 2 tbsp water. sprinkle some salt and turmeric and cook till oil starts to separate at the sides (3-4 minutes). now add the boiled taro stems and soaked chickpeas, make sure to remove the tamarind. Mix and cook on medium flame till it starts to release the water. Break the fish head and mix in, adjust the seasoning. Cover and let it cook on medium flame.

It will take close to 10-15 minutes for all the moisture to dry up and oil to start separating from the veggies. Now add most of the scraped coconut and mix. The final dish would look like a mash of the stems which eventually gets disintegrated. Cook for a couple of more minutes and then adjust with sugar and salt if needed. 

Finish with the rest of the coconut and serve hot with rice.

A Homemaker's Notes:
Try to make a paste of whole cumin for this recipe. The store bought powder never gives the flavour also it's coarsely ground and takes away from the taste and texture. Soak the cumin in warm water for some time, then grind.

Also make a paste of whole dry chilli. soak it in warm water and then grind either in mortar and pestle or mixer grinder. I prefer to grind the ginger, cumin and chilies all together in a mortar and pestle.

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