Mustard and the Bengali-German connection
It’s that time of the year again! I am getting into the festive mood to celebrate the Bengali festival of Durga Puja, a 5 day festival which is celebrated by Bengalis all over the world. The festival epitomizes the victory of Good over Evil.
Pujo memories for me start with the morning of the Mahalaya, which marks the beginning of the countdown to Durga Puja. It is a kind of invocation or invitation to the mother goddess to descend on earth . This is done through the chanting of mantras, prayers and singing of devotional songs. I have childhood memories etched in my mind of my mother waking up in the early hours of the morning, every year, to tune into the radio station to listen to Mahalaya.
It is now 2016 and my mother is visiting me from India. On the 30th Sep was Mahalaya day. My mother woke up early in the morning and listened to it on my laptop; the sound of the mantras, conch shells and songs took me back to my childhood.
Last Friday, I had invited a group of Bengali and German friends for dinner on Mahalaya day and I thought of preparing something which links the cuisines of both regions rather than your average curry or chicken tikka masala. So, after experimenting with a few ingredients, I decided to create a dish centred on an ingredient which plays and important part in both Bengali and German cuisine – mustard.
Bengali cuisine is known for its use of mustard (shorshe), mustard oil and mustard paste. Most Bengali dishes are characteristic of this style, with lots of mustard and generally involving some sort of fish.
German mustard (senf) is an important part of German cuisine. In my kitchen I have a collection of range of German mustards – Sweet Bavarian style, medium-spicy, spicy and extra sharp German mustards.
I also have mustard powder from Calcutta, Kasundi – Bengal’s mustard sauce. Kasundi is a popular Bengali spicy relish of mustard. You can try Kasundi with sandwiches, hotdogs, burgers, grilled vegetables, or anything that you would normally eat mustard with!
In the end, I put together a recipe for “Sea bass with senf/shorshe/mustard”, “senf” and “shorshe” being the respective German and Bengali words for mustard.
Ingredients (serves 4)
Sea bass fillets – 4
Samphire – 100 gm
Mustard caper dressing
6 tbs oil ( for frying fish and sautéing the samphire)
Grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 3 tab lemon juice
2 Tablespoon small capers
4 tsp djon mustard/grain mustard ( I used a mix of djon and wholegrain mustard)
4 Tbs chopped parsley
salt and pepper
- To make the dressing, mix the oil with the lemon zest, juice, capers, some seasoning and 1 tbsp water.
- In a pan, heat oil and saute the samphire on high heat. Set aside.
- Now fry the fish in the same pan on high heat. Place the fish skin side down, fry in olive oil on high flame. Turn it over and fry for another 2-3 min.
- Arrange the fish on a serving plate, spread the samphire, spoon over the dressing. Scatter the parsley leaves.
- I served this with tandoori potatoes (recipe in my next post) and turmeric and spring onion rice.