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Recipes: Ilish Bhanpe and Gur da Halwa

Last month, we announced #BestKeptSecrets, a crowd-sourced recipe book on our pages, when the project invited recipes from across India. Over 30 entries came in, and based on the 400 plus votes, the top 16 stories were selected for the first edition of #BestKeptSecrets, now available as an e-book. From the Punjabi Gur da Halwa to the Maharashtrian Puran Poli — the recipes are a salute to India’s diverse regional food. Curator of the book, Perzen Patel, shares two of her favourites

(Inset) Perzen Patel; Batata Saung, a Karnataka speciality, is one of the dishes mentioned in the book
(Inset) Perzen Patel; Batata Saung, a Karnataka speciality, is one of the dishes mentioned in the book

Ilish Bhanpe
Indian shad, hilsa or ilish, Bangladesh’s national fish is the pride of every Bengali. From the pride that a Kaku (uncle) feels when he walks past the envious stares of his neighbours and mates, with a big ilish tail peeking through his fish-carrying bag; to the pride of a Kakima’s (aunty’s) fish filleting skills with a sharp iron cutting device (Boti); it’s pride all the way! And the best of it all has to be, when their young child starts eating the fish, without the fine bones stuck to his throat. I remember many such enthusiastic trunk calls made when cousins and neighbours found this skill in their child.
A perfectly cooked piece of ilish is ideally soft, flaky and full of flavour. I prefer making steamed ilish in a mustard sauce (Ilish Bhanpe) over and over. It tastes the best when the fish is fresh. The flavour of this flaky white fish lies in the numerous tiny bones all around its body, which makes eating it a skill.

Ilish Bhanpe recipe from #BestKeptSecrets

Ingredients
2 heaped tbsp mustard paste
2 tsp tender coconut paste (the creamy part of a tender coconut)
4 slit green chillies
Turmeric to taste
Salt to taste
2 tbsp dark mustard oil
1/4 cup water (or less, depends on the thickness of the curry you want)
4 steak-type pieces of hilsa/ilish

Method
In 1/8 cup of water, mix mustard and coconut paste, salt and turmeric. Smear each piece of fish in this paste till well covered on all sides. Keep it to marinate in this mix for 20 minutes. Then, depending on the amount of curry you want, add some water, mustard oil and chillies and cover it tightly with cling film or a lid. If using a cling film, do not forget to poke holes with a fork for the air to pass while cooking. Now microwave the fish on a high flame for 3 minutes. After giving it a bit of a stir, microwave again for 2 minutes, till the flesh of the fish becomes white, flaky and well-cooked. Depending on the size of each piece and the amount of water you add, cooking time will vary. For me, 5 minutes at 900 watts always gives out the best results. (As told by Antara Roy)

Gur da Halwa
Ghee and jaggery are a powerhouse of energy for the cold winter of Punjab. My nani’s (maternal grandmother) halwa still lingers in my taste buds. Gur Halwa was a delicacy to be had during every visit to nani’s home in winter. And today, when I make it for my children with the same affection and love; I can feel it nourishing their body and nourishing my soul.

Gur da Halwa recipe from #BestKeptSecrets

Ingredients
2 cups semolina (rawa)
1 cup ghee (2 cups according to the health conditions and taste)
400 gm jaggery (cut into small pieces)
5 cups water
A small spoon of milk
Orange food colour
Raisins
Chopped almonds
Chopped cashews

Method
Boil the water in a pan and add jaggery to it. When melted, add 3 to 4 drops of food colour. Then add the spoon full of milk and turn the heat off. In a heavy bottomed pan, roast the semolina till it turns light brown (don’t overheat). Add half of the ghee and roast a little more. Now through a strainer, add the jaggery water into the roasted semolina. Keep stirring constantly on a reduced flame. Cook until the water is absorbed. Now add rest of the ghee, bit by bit. Keep the mix moving, and it will come together. Add the cashews, almonds and raisins.
(As told by Pooja Khanna)

The e-book is available for free download at http://www.bawibride.com/go/download-bestkeptsecrets/?lp-variation-id=0

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