Monday, May 19, 2014

Chanchra ( Kumro - Pui Shaak r Chanchra ) / Bengali Mishmash

Hope all my San Diego friends are doing fine in the midst of this scary hot and wild summer. Things have calmed down a bit after last two day’s fire and smoke all over the place. Wish it doesn’t come back in near future. I captured the pictures of my new post a few days back but couldn’t concentrate to write down the recipe. Also since this is the last month before summer vacation of my son’s school, we were busy with many field trip events. I usually try to post one recipe each week. If I skip one week, then it becomes a bit difficult to get back to the old track. 

Anyway, today I am going to share a Bengali recipe, so my non-bengali friends have to bear with several Bengali terms. The name of today’s dish is Chanchra / Kumro-Pui Shaak r Chanchra. Kumro means pumpkin and pui shak is commonly known as Vine Spinach. Its scientific name is Basella Alba. The other names of this category of spinach are red vine spinach, climbing spinach, creeping spinach and malabar spinach. Bengalis named this spinach Pui , puin or pohi. It is an edible vine, generally found in tropical Asia and Africa, where it is widely used as a leaf vegetable.  “Chanchra” is the word to describe the cooking style. It's a semi-dry curry, a medley of vegetables and green leaves that are cooked at low flame with minimum spices. It is widely popular as a side dish at any feast especially during lunch in any Bengali wedding ceremony.  I can still remember that in our childhoods, we used to eagerly wait for this dish while attending any Bengali Marriage. Things might have changed today when lunch/dinner menus in Bengali marriage are largely influenced by foods/cultures from other communities.

 The "Chanchra" is generally cooked with leafy vegetables, along with pumpkin, potato and with eggplants and few other vegetables. If you don't get malabar spinach, it's fine. Normal spinach or any other leafy vegetables ( shak ) will work here. You can make this dish in complete vegetarian way too with no fish head. But most of the time we add the fish head of hilsa, Rohu or katla and it tastes awesome. Here since we don't get these fishes regularly,  so it's not a common dish in my kitchen.
Fortunately last week we got Hilsha fish from local grocery shop here. So I didn't miss the chance to have some chanchra after a long time. I was not big vegetable lovers in my younger days, but as we grow old, being forced to change eating habits. This is a good healthy choice for the people who wants to add more fiber to their diet. 

The recipe is very simple. Even though it's a traditional dish, it still varies and from one home to another. I follow the way it used to be cooked at my home.  

Recipe of Pumpkin and Vine Spinach or Spinachwith Fish head ( chanchra / Kumro - Pui Shak r Chanchra ) : serves 4 to 5 

Ingredients :

Vine Spinach / Malabar spinach / Pohi / Pui Shaak: 3 to 4 cups (leaves along with stems, wash and chop them into 1 inch long pieces ) if you don't get vine spinach, use fresh spinach only
Pumpkin: 1 cup, peeled and cubed 
Potato: a small, peeled and cubed 

Flat beans (optional) : 1 cup, cut into 1-inch pieces 
Eggplant: 2 cups, cut into 1-inch pieces 
Radish: half cup, cut into small pieces 
Fish head: a big one ( preferably of Rahu, Katla or Hilsa fish )
Turmeric powder: 1/2 teaspoon 
Dry Red Chili: 1 or 2 
Panch Phoron(Indian five spices): 1 teaspoon 
Onion: 1 medium sized, finely chopped 
Garlic: 1 tablespoon paste 
Red chili powder: to taste 
Coriander powder: 1 teaspoon
Oil: 5 to 6 tablespoons

Method :

1. Wash and clean the fish head and sprinkle salt and turmeric on it. Rub it well and let it rest for 5 to 7 minutes. 

2. Heat oil in a wok, once oil is ready add the fish head. Fry it until the color changes to light brown on all sides. Once it is done, drain it and set it aside. 

3.  Add red dry red chili and panch phoron to the same oil. Once it starts to spatter, add the chopped onion. Saute it till it is soft and add the garlic paste. 

4. Stir it until raw smell goes off, add the cubed potato, chopped radish, and flat beans. Keep stirring and mix well everything together. Add coriander powder and red chili powder. 

5. Add pumpkin and eggplants. Stir it. Soon the vegetables will get well coated with spice and oil will start to separate from the spices. Add the fired fish head to the wok. Mix in and break the fish head into pieces with spatula. Add the spinach. Give some good stirs to mix it. Add salt and cover the wok with lid. 

6. Let it cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, the spinach and vegetable will release a lot of water and it will be cooked by that. Stir it occasionally to prevent burning at bottom. 

7. Once vegetables are well cooked and water dries up, and 
when oil separates and starts to leave from all the sides of the wok, check the seasoning. Serve hot with steamed rice. 

Note: You can cook the same dish without the fish head ( this is the vegetarian version ), or you can add a cup of shrimp, in the place of the fish head. 

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