I remember a rainy afternoon when Mashi cooked Ilish, an overnight catch from Kolaghat which the fishmonger at Jadu Babus Bazaar had proudly held up for Babi and me to admire, with green mangoes and bhindi, my husband reminiscences sipping his First Flush.
It’s a sublime rain-drenched morning. We sit in the garden, the metropolis yet to wake up, listening to the pitter-patter of the rain, taking in the intoxicating smell of the wet earth and watching a kit of pigeons huddled up in the mildewed rafters.
Mashi was an aged help at my husbands home in Kolkata and no narrative of my husband was ever complete without references to her, how she doted on him and how she would never spare an opportunity to pamper him silly with her delectable cooking. Soul food, he would wallow in sweet nostalgia, using the most basic of seasonal ingredients.
Ilish with bhindi ? I quiz. Cynicism stark in my tone.
I do adore pairing Ilish with vegetables. Deep fried eggplant. The humble green banana. Even red pumpkin, the sweetness of the pumpkin balanced by the heat from mean chillies.
But bhindi, never !!!
Are you sure ? I query.
Oh yes, of course. He responds confidently. That’s such an uncommon combination Mashi, he had countered as well, not quite confident that the flavours would appeal to his fussy taste buds.
But one bite and he had been a convert.
It tastes divine Mashi. By the way, did you invent the dish ? He had asked with a chuckle.
No dear, Mashi had confided with a toothless grin, this is quite common in our villages in Medinipur. I thought you might relish it as well.
Well, that was a year back.
But the bee was in my bonnet. I now absolutely needed the recipe of what, listening to my husbands anecdote, was a commonplace Ilish recipe from Medinipur.
The search though was far from easy.
Google for once drew a disheartening blank.
I furiously rummaged through my cherished collection.
My proud and pompous leatherbound books.
Maa’s notes. Collected painstakingly over decades.
My newspaper and magazine cuttings. Carefully catalogued and lovingly filed.
Recipes scribbled in haste from books of yore. Memories of my numerous runs to libraries.
Calls to friends. Relatives. Aunts. Whosoever I believed had the faintest chance of shedding some light.
But no, no ray of light whatsoever.
Finally a dear friend comes to my rescue.
She had relatives who hailed from Medinipur and yes, the aunt she had spoken to, did vaguely remember having Aam Bhindi Shorshe Ilish. Ilish with bhindi and green mangoes. And a dash of mustard paste.
A call and I had a sketchy recipe in hand.
So here it is. Aam Bhindi Shorshe Ilish. Gorgeous Ilish. Fried bhindi. The tart of green mangoes. The piquant zing of mustard. The fiendish heat of chillies. A generous drizzle of mustard oil.
Do give my Aam Bhindi Shorshe Ilish a try the next time you are looking at something novel with that pristine shimmering-silver Ilish. You shall not be disappointed for sure !!!
Aam Bhindi Shorshe Ilish (Hilsa with Okra, Green Mangoes and Mustard)
- 3 pieces Ilish or hilsa
- 10-12 bhindi or ladiesfinger
- 1/2 small green mango grated
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder
- 1/2 tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
- 4-5 green chillies slit
- 2 tbsp mustard paste
- 5 tbsp mustard oil
- salt to taste
- Marinate the ilish with a pinch of turmeric and salt.
- Dissolve the mustard paste, remaining turmeric powder and salt in a little water. Keep aside.
- Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in pan, shallow fry the bhindi till light brown. Keep aside on a kitchen absorbent towel.
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in the same pan, shallow fry the fish (I can see your frown there 🙂 yes, it might be blasphemy to some who doggedly persist that you should never fry the fish. Take a call - if the ilish is indeed very fresh, you need not fry it). Keep aside.
- To the same pan, add the remaining oil, when smoking hot, throw in the nigella seeds and green chillies. Allow to splutter.
- Add the grated green mango, continue to cook over a low heat till the mango pieces become tender.
- Stir in the mustard paste, cook for 2-3 minutes. At this stage, add about 1/2 cups of warm water, give it a nice stir and bring the curry to a boil.
- Throw in the bhindi. Gently add the fried fish. Simmer for 5 odd minutes. Add some more green chillies if you relish your heat.
- Finish with a hearty drizzle of mustard oil. Serve with hot rice.