Basa in a Mustard, Poppy Seed and Tender Coconut Gravy

We have Bengali Saturdays on each...well Saturday. I am Bengali and R is not, so I take it as an opportunity to teach him about the indescribable amount of culinary heritage we Bengalis come from. And ease my homesickness, in one fell swoop.

Bengali food is all about flavour. And not one flavour. There are as many ways to make a fish main dish, as there are fishes we eat. A warm flavoured onion garlic and ginger gravy best in winters, a soupy broth with pointed and ridged gourds, with ground mustard (even that has 2 types at least), with only the juice of the onions, with cumin, with mangoes, with rice. The list goes on. The spices that add flavour to the dish vary from dish to dish, and most have ayurvedic logic for being added in a particular order. We use multitudes of vegetables and leafy greens, in uncountable ways. Bengalis are expert in the "tip to tail" way of eating, no part to be wasted. We eat the fish heads (the brains and eyes being especially prized for its high nutritional value), all the way to the tail. We eat everything from the fruit, to the vegetable to the flower to even the runners of a plant. There is every cooking technique being used in the cuisine, and it is very important to pay heed to that.

There are stories of how the wives of the house would turn the scraps and bony pieces of fish leftover after the men of the house had their fill into something that is so delicious, we specially make it at home, and not just as a last resort. There are stories of how the widows, under draconian rules, many unfortunately self-imposed, created a cuisine of it's own that sticks to each unreasonable rule, but is unearthly delicious. This is my beautiful Bengali cuisine. A lot of thought goes into every dish, and it shows.

What I decided to make this weekend, in the middle of a working weekend, was a mix of old school Bengali food, and new age techniques. Old school, because of the smoky sweet traditional flavours of mustard and tender coconut, and new age, because it is made in the microwave, quick and in 15 min flat. Behold, my Basa in a Mustard, Poppy seed and Tender Coconut gravy. Delicate flaky basa chunks, simmered in a pulpy gravy of piquant mustard seeds, milky poppy seeds, the soft sweet flesh of the tender coconuts and the water of the coconut, with slit green chillies liberally flavouring the gravy.

Basa in a Mustard, Poppy seed and Tender Coconut Gravy

You need:
  • 500 gms of basa fish, or any other skinless white fish, even prawns
  • 1-1.5 tbsp of black mustard seeds
  • 1-1.5 tbsp of poppy seeds (you can adjust this mustard to poppy seed ratio depending on spicy you want it, more mustard is more spicy).
  • The water from 1 tender coconut
  • The flesh scraped from 1 tender coconut, roughly chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 green chillies, 1 chopped fine and 2 slit lengthwise
  • Salt and chilli powder to taste
  • Turmeric powder, a pinch
  • A splash of mustard oil
  • juice of half a lemon
  • a tbsp of maida

The How:
  • Soak the mustard and poppy seeds in hot water overnight.
  • The next morning, drain the seeds, and blend into a fine paste with the chopped chilli, a pinch of salt, half the coconut flesh and a splash of the coconut water. It should not be watery, but flow slowly.
  • Wash and marinate the fish chunks with the lemon juice, turmeric, chilli powder and salt for about 30 minutes.
  • Drain any liquid from it, and toss in the flour.
  • Lightly panfry it, it does not need to be fully cooked.
  • Take a microwave safe dish. It should preferably not be bowl shaped, preferably with a flat floor.
  • Sprinkle the onions in the dish, and add the mustard paste and the rest of the tender coconut flesh.
  • Pour a bit of the coconut water and salt, turmeric powder and chilli powder into it, mix.
  • Add the fish chunks and make sure the mix completely coats the fish.
  • Add some more coconut water, but make sure the gravy isn't watery.
  • Splash the mustard oil, and stud with the slit chillies and.
  • Cover it with a microwave safe plate, or the bowl's own cover, and cook in the microwave mode for 4-5 minutes.
  • Keep covered till planning to serve. Preferably make it immediately before serving.
  • Serve with steamed white rice.

And that's it!

Let me know how you like it!