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Recipe: Maacher jhol (Bengali fish curry with eggplant, cauliflower and potato)

July 11, 2007
(Eric Boyd / Los Angeles Times )

Total time: About 1 hour, 45 minutes

Servings: 4

Note: Adapted from "The Calcutta Kitchen" by Simon Parkes and Udit Sarkhel. Nigella seeds can be found at Indian markets. A karai is a very deep, circular pan used traditionally in Indian and Pakistani cooking and found at some Indian markets; a wok can be substituted. This dish is served with steamed rice.

14 ounces catfish, cut into 8 half-steaks

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste

1 tablespoon turmeric, divided

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped

4 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 teaspoon onion seeds or nigella seeds

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons red chile powder, to taste

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 large wax potato, about 10 1/2 ounces, scrubbed and cut into 12 wedges

1 small head cauliflower, separated into small florets

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

5 to 6 medium fresh green chiles, slit lengthwise

3 to 4 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Rub the fish with one-half teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon turmeric. Set aside in a medium bowl.

2. Soak the cumin and mustard seeds in 4 teaspoons of warm water for 10 minutes, then put the seeds in a blender with the ginger and onions. Blend, using a little water as needed (we used one-quarter cup) to get a smooth, thick paste.

3. In a large wok or karai, heat the canola oil over high heat until shimmering, then reduce the heat slightly to medium-high and fry the fish pieces, turning occasionally until crisp and brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove the fish to a plate and drain the oil, reserving 2 teaspoons of the oil.

4. Add back the reserved oil to the pan and heat the pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion seeds and fry for 15 to 20 seconds, then add the onion paste. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 2 teaspoons of turmeric, red chile powder, ground coriander and potato wedges. Add a quarter-cup of water, cover loosely and cook until potato is almost done and a knife pierces the wedges fairly easily, about 20 to 25 minutes. Check the pan every few minutes, adding a quarter cup of water each time the contents begin to look dry, and stirring gently but often so nothing burns. Add the cauliflower, eggplant, green chiles, salt to taste and another quarter-cup water to thicken the sauce. Cover loosely and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower and eggplant are cooked.

5. Arrange the fish in the sauce and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Add more water if needed to thin the sauce, and turn the fish pieces over once, but do not stir. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 419 calories; 22 grams protein; 34 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams fiber; 23 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 47 mg. cholesterol; 390 mg. sodium.

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