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Let me begin this post by asking you a question – Do you sometimes get bored of the taste of food cooked by you? A few months back a cousin of my husband, living just a few miles away, was visiting us during a weekend. She categorically told me that she was bringing a Bengali style poppy seed fish curry for us and therefore I need not cook anything for dinner. Trust me; her words were music to my ears!!! I had wanted to eat home cooked food but one that did not have a touch of my hands. And her proposal could not have come at a better time. I hastily and happily accepted her offer and told her that I was eagerly waiting to dig my fingers into her fish curry.

This cousin happens to be married to a Bengali. Post her marriage I got the opportunity to enjoy some of the most delicious fish curries, one of them being the Doi Maachh and the other one, the Fish in Mustard Curry. West Bengal is a coastal eastern state of India with rich vibrant culture. Indian coastal states (mind you, there are plenty) have an access to the best and freshest of sea produce but hands down none do justice to that produce as the Bengalis do. They are an authority on fish curries; the variety of their fish curries is mind boggling; they even add it to their lentils and veggies! If you don’t believe me, drop the name Hilsa and see the glint in the eyes of a Bengali. They can talk about it for hours!! Such is their passionate for fish.

There was a time when I couldn’t stand fish except when it happened to be Punjabi style fried fish sprinkled with Chaat Masala. However, getting married to a guy from Bihar changed all that. I remember telling my husband during our courtship that he shouldn’t expect me to dish out a fish curry for him. “There is going to be no fish on our dinner tableI hate fish, period.” And here I am, thirteen years down the marriage lane, happily eating and cooking fish curry! The poppy seed based fish curry was one such fish dish that we both loved and couldn’t get enough of. This curry is finger licking good and tastes best with steamed rice – simple comfort food for weekend nights.

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You will need…

550-600 gm White fleshed Fish (I used Rohu)

¼ C Mustard Oil (preferably, for authentic taste)

1 medium Onion, very finely sliced

½ tsp Nigella seeds

3 tbsp White Poppy seeds

¾ tsp Yellow Mustard seeds

5 Green Chilies (+/- as per heat and taste)

½ tsp Garlic paste

½ tsp Ginger paste

1 large Tomato (I blitzed it in the grinder instead of chopping it finely)

½ tsp Red Chili powder

½ tsp (plus extra for sprinkling) Turmeric powder

Salt to taste

Fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

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Wash the fish and drain water. Sprinkle with a little salt and keep aside for 5 minutes. Wash again and pat dry it. Sprinkle the fish with a little turmeric and gently massage it in. Keep aside for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, soak the poppy seeds in a little hot water for half an hour. Grind it to paste using a little water along with 2-3 green chillies and mustard seeds. Add the ginger garlic paste to it and keep it aside.

Heat the oil in a wok and allow it to smoke to remove its pungent smell. Reduce the heat and carefully add pieces of fish in batches to the oil. (Be very careful coz the oil will splutter.) Cover and cook on medium heat till the fish becomes deep golden in colour. Flip the other side and cook it the same way. Transfer the fried fish on an absorbent sheet.

In the same oil add the nigella seeds and once they crackle, add the onions and fry till they just begin to turn brown. Add the poppy seed paste and fry for 4-5 minutes or till the raw smell is gone. Add the tomatoes and dry spices. Fry for half a minute more and season with salt and add 1½ – 2 cups of water (depending on the consistency you desire) and bring it to a boil. Add the fish pieces and allow the curry to simmer in low heat for 10 minutes. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Note: I recommend not reducing the amount of green chilies in this recipe. They lend a lovely flavor but without adding any fire to the curry.

Serves 3-4

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