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“Aum Mahalakshmi Vidmahe
Vishnu PriyaYe Dhi Mahi
Tanno Lakshmi Prachodayat”
I had prepared this patka Ilish (hilsa) jhol (curry) quite sometime back, and the images had been in my folder since then. I was searching for the right time to publish this recipe, and nothing can be better than today. According, to Bengali customs it is said that no one should have hilsa between Lakshmi Puja and Saraswati Puja. Ilish is one of my most favorite fishes and I never liked this customJ. Sometime back, while searching for hilsa recipes on the web I came across an article named “The Last Hilsa Curry” in the Outlook India. Along with a dinner menu for the Chief Minister of West Bengal at the Prime Minister’s home there was the answer to my long lost question. Why we should not have hilsa between Lakshmi and Sarawati Puja? The scientific reason behind this custom is very simple. The little hilsa fishes swam back from river to the sea and then again came back in the next monsoon to lay eggs. With globalization everywhere, we are almost forgetting our own cultures, as a result of not following this simple custom the world renowned Padmar Ilish is on the verge of extinction. These days you can find hilsa all throughout the year and some weighing even less than 500gms.
Coming to a lighter note, today is Lakshmi Puja eve and the markets are flooded with people doing their last minute marketing for welcoming the goddess of wealth. Lakshmi Puja is carried out in almost all families, mainly the Bangals (families who came as refugees from East Pakistan). Ghotis households (the actual inhabitants of Bengal) worship the goddess on Kali Puja (Diwali) and they call it as Mahalakshmi Puja. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and the daughter of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Lakshmi is also depicted as the mother goddess, sitting or sanding on a lotus, holding a lotus on one hand and a vessel filled with grains on the other. The lotus in her hand symbolizes beauty and purity of woman. Her four hands depicts the four ends of human life – dharma (righteousness), kama (desires), artha (wealth) and mokhsha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).
Tomorrow is Kojagori Purnima and all households are getting ready for the day. Some families worship the goddess not as an idol but as a painting on terracotta discs (Paut in Bengali). The banana stem is modified to a small boat and filled with paddy and lentils signifying gold and silver. A pair of hilsa is offered to the goddess in some households.
Here is a quick and easy recipe with hilsa. I have used raw banana for the preparation, you can also use thin and long egg plants in place of it. Potato doesn’t go along with hilsa, so its better to leave potato out of this curry.
Preparation time: 10min
Cooking time: 15min
Hilsa (Ilish): 4 pieces
Raw Banana (Kancha Kala): 1
Mustard oil (Sarser tel): 4 tablespoons
Nigella (Kalo jeera): ½ teaspoon
Green chili (Kancha lanka): 2
Turmeric powder (Halud guro): 1½ teaspoon
Salt to taste
- Wash the fishes well, put in a bowl and mix well with 1 teaspoon turmeric powder and salt
- Cut the raw banana longitudinally into half and then into 2 inch long pieces
- Heat the oil in a wok and half fry the fishes, take out and keep aside
- Throw in the bananas and toss for a minute, add the nigella seeds
- Mix turmeric powder in 2 tablespoons of water and keep ready
- As the nigella seeds start popping pour in the turmeric paste
- Add the chilies (slit them if you like the curry to be hot), and pour in 1 ½ cup of water
- Let the water boil and reduce to half
- Gently add the fried hilsa pieces and cook for 2 minutes
- Take out of flame and serve with warm rice
Further Reading – Bong Mom’s Hilsa Curry, Hilsa story
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