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.
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
- 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
- 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
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.