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Aug 14

Chanchra

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Bengali cuisine has evolved since its birth. There were many invasions from foreigners like the Muslims, the British. Different styles and recipes got incorporated into the Bengali culinary chart. But, there are still some that have not evolved much and Chanchra (or Chancharika, that’s what the other name for this dish is as mentioned in “Bangalir Khawadawa” by Shankar) being listed at the top of this list. I can tell this because I have seen my grand mother cook the same way my mom or even I cook the dish. My granny used to say that she learnt this recipe from her mother, so you see there has been almost four generations where chanchra has remained what it was, and I don’t think it’s going to change any soon.

Chechra

So, what is chanchra? When I thought of writing about this recipe, I was thinking how to spell it in English. Anyways I decided on this spelling. Chanchra (or may be Chenchra). This authentic Bengali recipe can be very lucidly described as a curry made of one or different types of herbs put together along with vegetables (mainly potatoes and pumpkin) and fish head. I am not sure how this curry came into existence, but it was most probably due to the habit of Bengalis not to leave out any part of anything that is edible. Mostly people don’t prefer to have a full fish head during meal, so the fish head is fried and broken into smaller pieces and mixed with other vegetables to prepare succulent and yummy preparation to serve mainly during lunch time. This typical Bengali recipe is  an all time favorite among Bengalis and those individuals who like having Bengali food.

Chanchra is an inevitable side dish for any feast. If you visit a marriage ceremony at lunch (Bengali marriages are held at evening, the day time is only for people close to the family), you just can’t get away without tasting this recipe. Chanchra with warm rice is a delicacy. It is prepared mainly with climbing spinach or pui saag in Bengali, along with potatoes, aubergine and pumpkin to increase the volume of the prepared item. There is a vegetarian version of this which though not widely cooked but exists. Different types of lentils are used along with the vegetables and herb (the detailed recipe will post later). The use of the climbing spinach (also called Malabar spinach or Malabar nightshade) and the fish head gives the distinct smell and taste of this particular dish. Though this dish is a little tricky to prepare, and doesn’t look much appealing too, but the taste of it is what counts.

Other names of this herb is Pui shakh or Puin shaak in Bengali, Poi saag in Hindi, Pasalai keerai in Tamil, Bachhala kura in Telugu, Balasale soppu in Kannada.

Preparation time: 20mins

Cooking time: 30mins

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • Malabar spinach (Pui shakh): 2 feet long stem with leaves
  • Pumpkin (Kumro): 100gms, cut into medium size dices
  • Potato (Alu): 2, cut into medium size dices
  • Fish head (Macher Matha): 1
  • Panch Phoron: 1 teaspoon
  • Onion (Peyaj): 1 medium size, cut thinly
  • Garlic paste (Rasun bata): 1 teaspoon
  • Chili powder (Sukhno Lankar guro): 1 teaspoon
  • Turmeric powder (Halud guro): ½ teaspoon
  • Cumin seeds (Jeera): 1 teaspoon
  • Mustard Oil (Sarser tel): 6 tablespoon
  • Salt to taste

Preparation:

  • Chop off the leaves from the Malabar spinach stem, chop the leaves into halves, and cut the stems into 2 inch long sizes and slit longitudinally
  • Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a wok and fry the fish head, smash it into pieces, keep aside
  • Heat the rest of the oil and pour in the panch phoron and onions, sauté till the onions become light brown.
  • Add the vegetables and garlic paste, chili powder and cumin, toss for 5 mins
  • Add half-cup of water and cook until the vegetables are half cooked
  • Put in the leaves and stems of the Malabar spinach and cook till the leaves are soft
  • Add the fried fish head and cook for 5 more mins, and take out of flame

Chechra (1)

Hot Tips – Keep the leaves and stems under running water for sometimes, to get rid of any dust particles and fertilizers sprayed to the plants.

Further Readings – Malabar Spinach, Pui with poppy

Sending this recipe to Indrani of Appyayan for hosting the first event on her blog, Spotlight: Fish. Along with this I am also sending Bhapa Chingri and Macher Dimer Vada to the same event.

Fish-logo

Also sending this recipe to A Food Lover’s Journey hosting this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging, originally created by Kalyn and it is now in the care of Haalo.

WHB3

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27 comments

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  1. sulakshana dasgupta

    Hi,

    I tried your recipe. I replaced it with palak due to unavailability of pui saak. But I must say it turned out finger licking delicious. Thank you so so much for the recipe. I’ve been hunting for a good chhyanchra recipe for a long time. It has come to an end with your recipe.

    Sulakshana

    1. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Thanks Sulakshana for the comment. You have given me an idea to try chancchra with spinach

  2. Gautam

    Great blog. Couple of points with your permission. Pui saag [Basella] is [was!] a seasonal green in Bangabhumi, say late spring to end of rains. Actually, the parvan called ARANDHAN, i.e. “the absence of cooking” held latish August usually signalled the end of Pui eating, just as another event in January meant that radish season was over!

    There are 2 poles, Warm season: pui saag, and Cool season: radishes +/- sweet potatoes. Potatoes, pumpkin & eggplant remain constant. Some vegetables may make seasonal appearances, e.g. cabbage midribs in winter, a stray parwal or two in the warmer months, to add to the “hard” vegetable component.

    The cool season mixed veg. West Bengal calls “gha^nt” and East Bengal Hindus at least, “Labraa”. There is another “white sabzi”, but maybe that is for another time.

    Calabaza pumpkin in the US is closest to the Indian type, (or peel-on acorn squash cubes is good too, mixed with peeled Hubbard chunks, Yukon Gold potatoes, and maybe the purple-skinned sweet potato sold in Asian markets make a good combination. Of course, the Ur-Bangali tuber was the taro, staple of the land long before rice was domesticated.

    Rarh cooking favors the very sweet [cane jaggery here for the right note], and often is missing the alliums. The pui saag, besides the fried head, may also include the fried maw [swim bladders] and the fresh fatty livers of large carp called the “tel”. The same set of parts from Hilsa may also be used, but separately, one species or the other. Or, just shrimp “heads” from tiger prawns is a third alternative, but for home-cooked meals, not the grand party affair.

    In the styles where onion & garlic are not used, there is usually a dry-roasted powder applied at the finish. In Bengal, Oriya festival cooks [often attached to extended families for generations] would gain renown for their “secret” spice “bhaja masalas”!!

    [For mere mortals like us, roasted Panch Phoron will have to do. Please do not put mustard seed in your mix. If you cannot find Randhuni or ajmud seed, just go with Nigella, cumin, fennel & fenugreek in descending order. Bengalis also use this roasted powder to perk up their “chutneys” which comprise a sweet course at meal’s end, taken with plain papad].

    Be that as it may, close observation would have revealed that these worthies fried every chunky component vegetable, including eggplant, in a king’s ransom of oil, and braised everything in the oil +natural caramelized vegetable juices. God forbid that any water should ever come near their blazing brick choolas!! You try this too, and like Chinese take-out, see what a magic difference it makes!!

    The very name LABRA or GHA^NT implies vegetables melted beyond decency and stirred to a fare-thee-well. Chenchra has some of the same consistency & oleaginous character if cooked by a thakur: horrible to visually & psychologically contemplate, but ambrosial!

    1. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Gautam,

      Thank you so much for the comment. Its really helpful for us as well as our readers.

  3. beetha

    can we add fried fish pieces instead of fish head?

    1. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Beetha,
      The essence of this preparation comes from the fried fish heads. If you don’t want to use it then just omit it then. I have not used fried fish pieces, but I don’t think that would be a good choice.

  4. Anindya Ghosh

    Hey Thankss….. a ton.
    My boudi gave me some pui data from her garden and I was wondering about the macher matha that I had bought today.
    Thanks to google it brought me here and I know it will be just fantastic.
    God bless you.

    1. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Hi Anindya,
      Its great to hear from you, and thanks a lot for the comment. I’m sure the chanchra turned out well.

  5. Tulip

    Hi Sudeshna,
    thanks for your comment and visiting my blog. hya thik-i bolecho, aage wordpress-e jakhon chilo takhon ami anekbar visit korechi …but this one looks so professional and nice.
    tomar lekhata pore khub valo laglo… ekdom thik, amar biye teo lunch-e puishak-er chanchra hoychilo jeta kheye shobbai khub praise korechilo…but alas ! I dint even get to taste it, coz sedin to bor-bou er upos !! :P
    ekhane ar eshob korar upay nei…pui shak konodino dekhini store-e. kolkatay gele Ma khaoabe :)
    btw, i tried to make misti doi few days back.but jemon vebechilam-ota set koreni… i guess maybe becoz i used 2 % milk. next time i will buy whole milk and try again !
    (so long comment !)
    .-= Tulip´s last blog ..A very pleasant surprise – 5 awards at a time :) =-.

    1. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Tulip,
      Khub bhalo laglo tomar comment ta pore. Satti biyer din er ae byaparta amar khub adbhut lage, je dujoner janne eto kichu, tarai khete paina :(. Amar ma bolen doi na boshbar anek karon ache, doi dewar paure r jeno na narachara na paure batita, and pour hot milk over the yogurt to set. I hope this helps you. I’ll ask mom if there is any other tip to have a good set yogurt.

      1. Tulip

        Hi Sudeshna,

        Thanks for replying back. I did stir after adding the yogurt in lukewarm milk, dint know this. Next time will surely follow these tips :)
        .-= Tulip´s last blog ..A very pleasant surprise – 5 awards at a time :) =-.

      2. Gautam

        Tulip Didi,

        My 2 poysha: Laldoi banate gele ghono doodh chai: full fat evaporated milk phootiye nin ektu half & half + ektu organic whole milk er shathey.

        Ghono doodh holey matha wala doi boshbey, kintu shob homogenized boley temon math jombey na. TOBEY, jokhon doodh phooley uthbey, dui-teen baar, boil anben, and shut heat, and foam ta ke kaanta fiye ektu phetiye nebe doodher upor, besh bar bar. Jokhon set korbe, besh ek rokom marbled ba textured surface hoye thakbey.

        Accha, eibar ektu doodh agey thekey tule rekhey chen boiling milk thekey, dui bhagey bibhokto korey, 1) for dissolving caramel for flavoring Lal Doi 2) for dissolving active yoghurt culture from HIGH Quality organic yoghurt like Brown Cow, or excellent local organcic yoghur with LIVE cultures. Sometimes excellent excellent local artisanal yoghurts are found with thick matha, smelling of rich ghee. Those are the best. Take about 1 tablespoon of yoghurt, dissolve in about 1/4 cup COOLED milk from the boiling pot.

        When the whole mass has reached 115-113F add the yoghur culture solution and the caramel solution and immediately pour into a pre-warmed thermos flask, or yoghurt maker. It is important to keep the temperature at this 112-114F mark. In India, using an unglazed clay pot allows water to escape into the hot, dry atmosphere and further thicken the yoghurt while keeping a balance in the temperature. Plus adds a great flavor and texture. Not possible here. Texture vaaries because different bacterial strains than those common in India and Bangabhumi, in particular. Still, you will get a thick yoghurt if you use the high solids/high fat milk that already has a caramelized taste, e.g. canned evaporated full fat milk, to which half/half and some fresh whole milk has been added.

        There is a cheater’s way that used condensed milk, 20% fat Greek yoghurt, and caramel dissolved in a little evaporated milk. Bring Greek yoghurt to room temperature. Dissolve caramel in heated evaporated milk and allow the condensed milk to mix into this scalding mixture. When in the 80-85F range, carefully and GENTLY FOLD into yoghurt without destroying structure, arrange in heat-proof glass casserole, and place in a very gently warm oven,< 200F, until it just sets. You will have adjusted sugar levels, of course, and the yoghurt will soon set. Or you can place it in a large degchi of warm water, around 112-115F, and wait for it to set, gently rewarming the water from time to time with utmost caution.

        These are commonly adapted ways of making Lal Doi, just as there are common cheater's ways of making Kancha Golla or Kamala Lebu-r shondesh.

  6. Sharmila

    Hi Sudeshna! Thanks for leaving lines in my blog. Haven’t had the time to come here and check out every post recently. Will do that soon. Your blog looks great now. :-)
    I usually make chenchra with palak as I don’t get pui here. :-(
    .-= Sharmila´s last blog ..Heartfelt Thanks …. =-.

    1. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Thanks for returning here Sharmila. I’ve been a fan of your blog too. And guess what? I’m currently doing a Project and want to feature you on that. Will get in touch.

    2. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Hi Sharmila,
      You can even try out with amaranthus, what we call notye saakh.

  7. Soma

    Beautiful description. macher matha diye onek din kichu khayini, don’t get it here. Thanks for linking to me..
    .-= Soma´s last blog ..Blueberry Gelato =-.

    1. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Soma,
      You are most welcome.

  8. Debashree

    My mouth is watering seeing your photo. When my mother used to prepare Chanchra, I used to finish all my rice with it. But my Chhoto Pishi’s Chanchra used to be even more delicious. Whenever I visit her in Kolkata, this is my first request to her. I think the Chanchra tastes divine if “Ilish Machher Matha” is used.

  9. Sangeeta Chatterjee

    Hi Sudeshna,

    is there a substitute for Pui Saakh?? I belong to Punjab and have never come accross pui saakh ever at this place. I love this dish though.

    1. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Sangeeta,
      You can prepare chanchra with data saag or Amaranthus (Amaranth) in English. I am not exactly sure but its probably called chauli in Hindi. I hope you find it at the market. All the best. :)
      Please let me know if you need to know anything more

  10. Pinky

    Really Bengali Delicacy… Plz accept the awards and tag form my blog.. sudeshna…….
    .-= Pinky´s last blog ..Country Thick Soup with Almonds =-.

    1. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Pinky,
      Thanks for your comment. I have already added the award to my Awards page. :)

  11. Anh

    I have never heard or tasted this dish before! Thanks for sharing with us!
    .-= Anh´s last blog ..Asian-style Watercress Prawn Salad =-.

  12. Parita

    This is a different one and sounds very flavorful!
    .-= Parita´s last blog ..Creamy Butter Beans and Green Peas =-.

    1. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Parita,

      It really tastes great with warm rice. Try it and you’ll know

  13. Divya Vikram

    Havent heard of this spinach. Looks healthy.
    .-= Divya Vikram´s last blog ..Show Me Your Omelette! and the winner. =-.

    1. Sudeshna Banerjee

      Yeh Divya,
      Its available in Kolkata and I have seen it in Bangalore also, but not in other cities of the country. The leaves are thick and sometimes have some spots over those.

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