In these food-centric times there is a greater appreciation for regional cuisines than ever before in history. Forget about the fallacy of “Chinese food” or “Indian food”–people are digging deeper into the various regional cuisines that comprise these two well-established food cultures. The internet has a lot to do with that, and travel, as well as the fact that people are more curious than ever about food, and are seeking flavors, techniques and ingredients that they’ve never tried before.
The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles (Hippocrene Books, 2012) by Rinku Bhattacharya is a book for these new times. Much more than simply a collection of recipes, the book presents a vast amount of information about the history and culture of Eastern India tempered by personal insights and anecdotes. A qualified and passionate insider, Miss Bhattacharya is just the guide to teach us about her own food and culture (and that is the only way I would want to be introduced to a new cuisine).
As Eastern India and Bangladesh is a region of rivers, fish comprises an important part of their diet. I wanted to make a dish from this book that really reflects some of the typical cuisine of the area, so I chose Salmon with Yogurt & Fresh Herbs because in addition to looking incredibly healthy and delicious, the recipe called for an ingredient I have never cooked with before–fresh fenugreek leaves. I’ve used fenugreek seeds many times, as they are a component of Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, but the fresh leaves were new to me. After using them in this dish, I can say they have a very mild but unique flavor and a texture not unlike spinach when cooked. You should be able to procure fresh fenugreek leaves at any Indian store, but if they don’t have them, chances are they will at least have the dried variety, which would make an acceptable substitute according to the author. I must admit, however, that although I forgot to add the onions when I was making this dish, it still turned out amazing, so I’m looking forward to trying it again with onions.
From The Bengali Five Spice Chronicle (Hippocrene Books, 2012) by Rinku Bhattacharya
1 ½ pounds salmon steaks, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 to 3 cloves garlic
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 to 3 green chilies
2 to 3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 green cardamom pods
2-inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup strained or Greek yogurt
½ cup fresh fenugreek leaves
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1.) Rub the salmon with salt and turmeric and set aside. Finely chop the garlic, ginger, onion, chilies, and tomatoes in a food processor.
2.) Heat the oil in a wok or skillet on medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, cardamom pods, cloves, and cinnamon stick and cook for 30 seconds, until the spices darken. Add the tomato mixture and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently till the liquid evaporates and the oil shimmers through the spice mixture, about 15 minutes.
3.) Gently add the seasoned salmon to the tomato mixture along with about ½ cup water. Simmer the salmon for 10 minutes.
4.) In a small bowl beat the sugar with the yogurt until smooth and then stir in the fenugreek and cilantro. Gently add this to the fish curry and cook on very low heat for about 5 to 6 minutes. It is important not to let the curry boil at this point otherwise the yogurt will break.
Makes 6 servings