The laal shaak resting pretty on the kitchen counter draws me to a listless afternoon decades back.
The heat is throbbing. The glare blinding.
Maa is usually in the garden at this hour. Waiting for me to return home from school. Tending to her flower beds.
This is one of those rare afternoons when she’s not there.
I sneak into the house. Surreptitiously.
Into Maa’s bedroom. With its stark poppy blue walls. And welcoming red oxide floor. The ancient fan whirring monotonously. A bumble bee buzzing around. An upturned novel by Maa’s side. She hardly gets time to read nowadays.
Maa has dozed off. As I had guessed.
I tiptoe around. Taking every little care not to wake Maa up. Leave my satchel on the table. And straight to the kitchen.
A streak of sun through the open kitchen window flirts unabashedly with Grandma’s shimmering golden kansar thala, a constellation of disciplined batis arranged neatly around the circumference of the thala.
A battered aluminum gauze dome rests on the floor over the thala and batis, a protection against the vicious flies perpetually on the prowl for food.
Feverishly hungry, I remove the dome. Curious to find out what awaits me.
Rice. Packed into a bowl and then neatly de-moulded on the thala. Such intricate precision, not even one grain out of place, I muse.
Daal with green mangoes.
A maacher jhol. With potatoes. Flavoured with cumin. And a dash of ground coriander. Topped with fresh coriander. And a generous squeeze of lemon.
But its the laal shaak bhaja with peanuts (Amaranth leaves stir fried with peanuts) that makes me feel blessed. My magic shaak. The wizardry that shall dye my finger tips. And my rice from a pearl white to a divine red.
I cannot wait to dig in.
It’s not laal shaak bhaja with peanuts that I decide to cook today.
But yet another of my childhood favorites – laal shaak diye bele maach. The gorgeous red amaranth paired with bele maach, a delicious fresh-water fish ubiquitous in rural Bengal and Assam. Perfumed with kalonji. A touch of onion. A hint of garlic. A generous helping of posto bata (poppy seed paste) spiked with fiendish green chillies. Earthy and unpretentious, yet finger licking delicious.
Enjoy my laal shaak diye bele maach !!!
Laal Shaak diye Bele Maach (Bele Fish with Amaranth Leaves)
- 4 bele maach
- 200 g red amaranth leaves stem removed, roughly chopped
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 1 tsp garlic chopped
- 2 tbsp poppy seed
- 5 - 6 green chili slit
- 1 tsps turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp kalonji
- 3 tbsps mustard oil
- salt to taste
- Soak the poppy seeds in warm water for 15 odd minutes. Drain, make a coarse paste with 2-3 green chilies. Keep aside.
- Marinate the fish with salt and a pinch of turmeric powder, keep aside.
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan, shallow fry the fish till light brown. Keep aside on a kitchen absorbent towel.
- To the same pan, throw in the kalonji and green chilies. Allow to splutter.
- Add the chopped garlic, saute for 1-2 minutes till light brown.
- Add the chopped onions, cook till light golden.
- Now add the chopped amaranth leaves, sprinkle in the salt. Cook over a medium flame. When the leaves are about 75% cooked, add the poppy seeds paste, give it a hearty stir.
- Place the fish over the wilted leaves, mix carefully. If it's getting too dry, splash a little water. Cook for a further 5-7 minutes till the leaves are cooked perfectly.
- Adjust seasonings. Drizzle the remaining mustard oil and serve hot with rice.