For the love of Bengali food – Basa Jhal (Basa fillets cooked in a spicy Mustard & Poppy Seeds paste)

The running joke in my family is that I was supposed to be born in a Bengali household but because I was such a chubby child the Stork that was carrying me dropped me accidentally in a Punjabi house. And this is because of my constant obsession with Bengali food, I can eat it all day every day and still want more. As much as I crave for “Rajma Chawal”, I hanker for “Macher Jhol” with equal fervor.


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It is almost an addiction, and I am definitely not looking for a cure, I am prepared to let it overtake me and consume me, and I still want more. The funny thing is both the cuisines are so different that there is almost no comparison. We Punjabi’s do not hold back the madness of our culture for our food either. A Punjabi meal is vigorous and heavy on Ghee, Tomatoes and cream; the Bengali cuisine tends to stay soft and controlled, it seems like someone holds the hand of the cook restraining them in adding a plethora of spices.

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And when we talk about Fish, I can write an ode and sing praises for the way Bengali’s play with their “Maach” (Fish). Maybe it is the fact that your average Bengali takes a lot of pride in knowing the Fish that he buys and cooks. It is hard not to fall in love with their love of Fish and be swept away by it. Hence, most Fish curries cooked in my kitchen are made using Bengali recipes. And I am hardly every disappointed. So today when I got some fresh Basa fillets, I knew what I would be making.

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This “Macher Jhaal” from my favourite Bengali blog BongMom’s Cookbook is a much-loved recipe in my house. She used Salmon for her recipe which works wonderfully well with the Mustard and Poppy seed paste. But since I had Basa, I used that instead and it tasted superb. I also like to keep this dish a little watery because I just love the lightness of it all. A perfect meal for the weekend, this is one dish that makes me glad that I can cook from a cuisine that is not my own but almost feels like mine.

Recipe (Cooking time 30 minutes, serves 2 -3 ). Recipe courtesy Sandeepa’s beautiful blog BongMom’s Cookbook.


For the Fish

2 Salmon or Basa fillets (skinless) cut into equal squares

One tsp Turmeric powder

One tsp Garam masala powder

Two tsp Mustard Oil (you can use vegetable oil)

Four green chillies slit in half

One tsp Nigella seeds

Rub the Turmeric and Garam masala powder on the fish and let it marinate till you prepare the masala

For the Paste

1 Tbsp Mustard seeds

½ tbsp Poppy seeds

Soak both of them together in 1 tbsp of water for at least 15 minutes. Grind and make a paste. The paste will be a little grainy which is fine.

For the Masala

One large Tomato

Two green chillies

3 Garlic cloves

½ tsp Turmeric powder

Salt to taste

Grind the Tomato, Green Chilli & Garlic cloves into a paste. Add the Mustard/Poppy seed paste and grind some more till everything is incorporated together.

Heat the Mustard oil in a pan and let it come to smoking point.

Add the Green chillies and Nigella seeds. As they start to splutter lower the flame and add the marinated fish. Frying the fish gently on both sides till half done.

Now add the Tomato & Poppy/Mustard seed paste, Tumeric and Salt and mix gently with the fish. Add ½ cup of warm water, cover and cook till the paste loses the raw smell and the Fish is cooked.

Serve hot on a bed of warm rice and eat with your fingers for a sensory experience.





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