Bangladesh

We have been pretty busy the last few weeks, but we finally got back to cooking last Sunday!  Bangladesh was next in the alphabet.  Once again, I was completely overwhelmed by the options.  I guess that is what happens when you try to cook a single meal from one of top 10 most populous countries in the world.

I wasn’t too surprised to learn that there is a lot of overlap with Indian cuisine, specifically the food of West Bengal, since the Bengal region was split in two when Bangladesh became independent.  Still, there were so many options.  I read that among other things, many foods include mustard based sauces (both mustard seed and mustard oil), seafood (particularly the Ilish fish), and of course, rice.  We weren’t feeling extremely ambitious at the time, so we also tried to limit the number of complex and labor-intensive recipes.  That is always easier said than done, though.

We selected:

  • Singaras: these fried appetizers are similar to another Banladeshi/Indian appetizer called samosas.  A filling of tasty things like cauliflower, peanuts, peas, potatoes, spices, etc. are stuffed in dough and then fried.  They are typically served with a chutney, which gave us our “simple” recipe for the night.
  • Tomato and green mango chutney: See above description–this was an accompaniment to the singaras.  This chutney included mango, tomatoes, and spice mix called panch phoron.
  • Mustard fish and mango curry:  This satisfied the “mustard-based sauce” and “seafood” requirements, although I was a little hesitant since we generally haven’t had the best luck with fish-based dishes.  We couldn’t find the traditional ilish fish in Iowa, so we substituted sea bass steaks.
  • Bengali Dal: As you will read below, we had some problems with the fish dish and decided to make a second attempt at cooking a Bangladeshi main course the next day.  I had been planning doing a dal dish for Bangladesh for weeks but backed out when I decided it would be more adventurous or authentic or something to do the mustard-based fish meal.

Singara (recipe)

The recipe called for a tablespoon of ground spices, such as cumin, coriander, bay leaf, red chili, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom.  Once again, I got to measure about a bunch of spices and dry roast them until they become fragrant.  I am starting to love recipes where I get to do this… I love seeing the mix of colors and textures and smelling the different spice mixes as they heat up.

singara_spices_roasting   singara_spices_ground

The cauliflower and potatoes were fried:

singara_cauliflower_potato

Then everything else was added to make the filling:

singara_filling

The dough was pretty straightforward, and it ended up being rolled into small balls, which were flattened and cut in half.  After the filling had cooled, I started rolling up the dough into cone-ish shapes (sealing the edges with water), then stuffing them with the filling.  As usual, we had more filling than dough… but we found that the filling was DELICOUS by itself and quickly disappeared.

singara_dough   singara_stuffing

By the way, I really don’t know why my hand looks so pink in that picture.  Since we cut the recipe in half (bad idea, these things were amazing), we ended up with 6 singaras.  Here they are, before and after frying.

singara_pre_frying   singaras_cooked

Tomato Mango Chutney (recipe)

This was our “simple” recipe for this meal.  It did use another new spice mix, however, called panch phoron.  It used cumin, nigella (also known as black cumin or onion seed), fenugreek, mustard, and fennel seed.  These were fried in oil with a dried chili pepper (or in our case, a dried serrano from last summer’s garden).

panch_phoron_and_chli_roasting

Then the diced tomatos and mangoes were added with some salt and turmeric.  I love how colorful some of these dishes are.

chutney_fruits

These were cooked with water and sugar until the liquid was reduced/thickened.  I didn’t watch the clock to see how long this took… we just kept an eye on it while cooking everything else.

tomato_mango_chutney

Bangladesh_appetizer

Mustard fish and mango curry (recipe)

We rubbed the mixture of chili powder, turmeric, and salt on the fish, then fried them in the wok.  Pretty straightforward, although it took a while.  Little did we know, this was the fatal flaw in this meal… as it turns out, they were not fully cooked in the middle.  More on that later.

frying_fish   Bangladesh_fish_cooked

Meanwhile, we had the mustard seeds soaking in water.  These were blended with with peppers (we used more thai/bird’s eye peppers since we STILL have a container full of those that has lasted over a month), and oil.  We couldn’t find mustard oil, so we substituted sunflower oil.  Tyler attempted crushing this mixture into a paste in the mortar and pestle (fail) and then in the small food processor (still a fail).  The “paste” was really chunky.  I didn’t even bother taking a photo of it.  I did, however, take a photo of the nigella seeds that were heated until they “crackled” in the oil.  I was extremely fascinated by the pattern the seeds made over time as they cooked in the oil without being stirred.  I’m still fascinated and curious at how they formed the repeating pentagon pattern.

onion_seeds_cooking

The “paste,” tomatoes, remaining oil, nigella seeds, other spices, etc. were mixed together on the pan and cooked until the oil separates.  It was not pretty due to the chunky paste.  I can’t be sure, but I don’t think this is what it’s supposed to look like.  I don’t remember if this is before or after we threw it back in the food processor for a while to break up the chunks.  That only helped a little bit.

mustard_fish_sauce

But we were committed, so we marched on down the path… next we added the mango, then the water (too much water, I think… oops again), and the fish.  It cooked for a while longer.  In another twist of fate to doom this meal to even more failure, we realized we forgot the cilantro to put on top.  Actually, I’m pretty sure I just thought the parsley in the fridge was cilantro when I made the ingredient list.  Either way, here’s the finished product.  Considering our struggles with the sauce, it didn’t look half bad.

mustard_fish_mango_curry

Bangladesh_dinner

Well, as we started eating, we both got about 2-3 bites in… and then at the same time, we both stopped, looked at each other, and asked, “Are you sure this fish is cooked all the way?”  It wasn’t raw by any means, and it was slightly flaky, but the texture was just… off.  We covered the pan with remaining fish and turned the heat back on to bake it some more.  I cooked mine in the microwave for a couple minutes, but neither of us quite had the appetite to eat any more fish that night.  SO, we made a resolution to try again the next night with a simple dal recipe.

We ended the night with a nice cup of chai tea (homemade by Tyler… he has been perfecting his chai recipe for months) to recover from the partially cooked fish trauma.

Chai

Bengali Dal (recipe)

I mostly followed the linked recipe, but I made all of the changes suggested in one of the comments.  We 1. Substituted chana dal for red dal (dal=lentils), 2. Substituted 1 or 2 small romas for the cherry tomatoes, 3.  Changed the ratio of onions to only frying 1/4 of the onion and putting the rest in with the dal, and 4. Used small thai peppers (which we had on hand) instead of serranos.

This recipe was pretty simple… sauté the onions and garlic, then add lentils, turmeric, bay leaf, tomatoes, slat, and pepper and cook for a long time.  I think the time of 20 minutes may have been accurate if I used the red lentils that the recipe called for, but the chana dal, which is actually baby chickpeas cut in half, took much longer to cook.  Fortunately we had two leftover singaras to relieve the hunger!

Bengali_dal_cooking

After 40 minutes or so of waiting, I started Googling chana dal and read about its long cooking time.  So we put the lid on the pan and cranked up the heat again.  After abutter 20 minutes or so, the dal was soft so we called it done.  In the mean time, I fried the onions. I learned that it is very important to have consistently sized onion slices for this!  I ran into problems with the thin onion slices being dark brown right away, while some slightly thicker slices were barely cooked.  Some of the small pieces ended up a little burnt, but it wasn’t really noticeable in the final dish.

fried_onions_for_dal

The fried onions were mixed in with the dal, then served over rice.  Unfortunately, we forgot to get cilantro again, so this was missing. 😦

Bengali_dal
Meal review:

The singaras were AMAZING.  I very much regret scaling the recipe in half… for some reason, we thought we would have a ridiculous amount of food if we made all of them.  We were wrong.  I loved the flavors, and I loved the flakiness of the dough.  The chutney was good and did a great job of balancing out some of the more pungent spices in the singara, although it was a little too sweet, and I almost preferred the singaras without the chutney.

The fish… as discussed above, was a bit of a disaster.  The good news is that we didn’t get food poisoning from the partially cooked fish, and it was decent as a leftover.  However, I had a hard time getting the memory of biting into partially cooked fish out of my mind when I ate it at lunch the next day.  I think the mangoes might have been a nice addition, but they mostly dissolved into the sauce after giving the fish so much time to finish cooking.

The dal was good.  The flavor was very different from what I expected.  I’m not entirely sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this.  It was good, though.  I can see where many people describe it as a comfort food.

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