Manikkaka gets home a plump little cauliflower, august with its pompous crown of green.
I am elated.
We are still not in today’s age of crass consumerism when anything is available anytime anywhere, there are vegetables and fruits that are strictly seasonal and it’s a longing wait for the next year once the current season runs off.
And this is the first cauliflower of the season.
Cauliflowers arrive in the sleepy hamlet of Karimganj at the onset of autumn, almost heralding the arrival of Maa Durga and by the time the frenzied colours of Holi have been washed clean, they are off the local vegetable-sellers rickety shelves.
Only to appear the next autumn.
It’s an immutable law of the household that the first crop of the season, fruit or grain or vegetable, is exclusively reserved for Grandma’s pujo.
So the green plumes are trimmed (Didi cooks a mean kopi shaak bhaja for dinner), the thick stalks discarded, the cauliflower is washed thoroughly and pat dried and finally offered to the Gods.
What I patiently wait for though is the adorable feast that I have learnt over years shall follow.
So when Maa beckons me around mid morning, I leave my crayons and sketchbook on the floor and dart to the kitchen.
The luchis smile at me from the kansa thala glittering in pristine glory and before I even know, I have punctured the phulko luchi with a stab of the finger, let the steam trapped inside escape and tucked into those gorgeous florets fried in mustard oil with just a throw of kalonji and some wicked chilies.
Manikda, koi maach paowa jaache na ? (Are koi maach not available yet ?) Maa asks Manikkaka one day as he sets off for his daily sojourn to the vegetable and fish market.
Let me check, Manikkaka assures.
Koi maach is Bapi’s favourite and he adores the Koi Phulkopi Maa makes, fresh off-the-boat koi maach paired with autumnal cauliflower.
I am not so excited though, I have yet not mastered the art of dealing with the hard bones of koi maach.
And reminiscences of a nasty bone injuring my finger the last time Maa cooked her Koi Komola doesn’t fill me with pleasure.
Manikkaka returns with some gorgeous koi maach.
Maa cooks her sublime Koi Phulkopi for dinner. Minimal spices. No fuss.
Bapi helps me manoeuvre those wicked bones.
Maa’s Koi Phulkopi. A song of the earth and the river.
Guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Koi Phulkopi (Climbing Perch with Cauliflower)
- 4 koi maach or climbing perch fish
- 10-12 medium sized cauliflower florets
- 10-12 badis (sun-dried lentil dumplings)
- 1 onion coarsely ground
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 3-4 green chilies slit
- 1 tsp turemeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp fennel powder
- 3 tbsp mustard oil
- salt to taste
- Smear the cauliflower florets with a pinch of turmeric and salt.
- Marinate the koi maach with a little turmeric powder and salt.
- Dissolve the fennel powder and cumin powder in a little water to form a smooth paste.
- Heat ½ tbsp oil in a pan, fry the badis till golden brown. Keep aside on a kitchen absorbent towel.
- Add another 1 tbsp oil to the pan, fry the cauliflower florets till they catch a tinge of light golden brown and become slightly tender. Drain from oil, keep aside on a kitchen towel to absorb the excess oil.
- Heat the remaining oil in a pan, shallow fry the koi maach. Keep aside on a kitchen absorbent towel.
- Into the same oil, throw in the cumin seeds, fennel seeds and bay leaves, allow the spices to splutter.
- Stir in the coarsely ground onion. Cook over a medium flame till the onions are cooked and the raw smell of onions is no longer there.
- Add the ginger paste, cumin-fennel powder paste, turmeric powder and salt, saute till oil starts to release from the masala.
- Throw in the fried cauliflower florets, give it a hearty stir and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Add ½ a cup of warm water, cover and cook over a medium flame till the cauliflower florets are just cooked.
- Carefully place the fish and fried badis in the curry, throw in the green chillies, adjust seasonings, cover and cook for another 5-7 minutes. Serve hot.