She had never cooked salmon Tottora. In fact she had never cooked salmon in her life. Ilish, Rui, Katla, Chitol, Phansa, Chingri were the ones she was familiar with. She cooked jhal, jhol, kalia, paturi, awmbol and of course tottora. Dida’s white sari always had a red color in the border, indicating that my Dadu was still living .
Every summer, as soon as the school holidays begun, we used to visit our Dadu and Dida. The days would be lazy, revolving between eat and play. The highlight , of course would be the evening, when my Dadu would tell us stories. He would sit on the corner of his bed surrrounded by his grandchildren. It used to be very hot, even after sunset and the big window next to his bed was left open to let some fresh air in. How many times did we hear the story of this man in his village, who was travelling on a big steam boat. In one of the port of calls, you could disembark to have supper in one of the small eateries. Fish curry and rice used to be what our friend had ordered. By the time he was half done his food, however, it was time for the steam boat to leave. I can still remember the tension we all had, can he still make it back to the boat or not. The boat was sounding its foghorn, at this time Dadu would put his right palm sideways to his mouth, his two cheeks blown out full to make a “Vu Vu”, sound to mimick the foghorn. The left arm wrapped around the youngest grandchild who sat on his lap. Then he would suddenly stop the story, as if he could visualise something in his mind’s eye. “Dadu, tarpor ki holo?” Granpa, what happened then, we said in unision. Could he or could he not, our friend, was he able to make it back to the steamboat ? Not that we did not know the end of the story, but everytime felt like first time, such was his ability to mesmerise his listeners.
We never asked what he thought then. We were too young to let somebody else’s pain , come between our pleasure. Dadu and his brothers with their families lived as a joint family together, in their house, which sat on a good few acres of land. The land was dotted with mango, jackfruit, pomegranate, coconut and other fruit trees. The star was the lime tree though. They were the most fragrant limes ” Gondhoraaj lebu” he said with pride, emphasizing the ‘a’ in Raaj, ‘the King of fragrance’, as it would translate in English. It wasn’t only the fruits that were scented but also the leaves . Pinching the corner of the leaf, would leave the heady scent on the fingers for a long time.
The country was then divided, and they were forced to leave their house forever, in moments notice. They walked for days together, with a small bag in one hand, carrying all their possession now and the other hand tucked tightly to the fingers of his young son. They were refugees in the newly divided country. Just think for a moment. Try. Not only they had no idea of where they were going, what would they do for a living, they did not know what happened to all the cows that they left behind. Did the newborn calf make it? What happened to the beautiful garden? The fruit trees bent with the weight of the fruits. Most importantly what happened to the prized lime tree?
Nobody knows, for when these questions came to my mind, there were nobody left to give the answers. Dadu and Dida were long gone. They will always live in my memory though and in this recipe. From when I pluck the leaves from my limetree to when the Tottora hits my palate, I so vividly recollect the story. The lime leaves bring an ever so slight citrusy taste, balancing the sweetness of the tomatoes and the heat of the chillies, just like an experienced juggler.
This is my go-to fish dish. Packed with heart healthy oils, you never need to feel guilty, even if you feel like overeating.
Salmon: I bought Fillet from Costco, about 2.2 lbs. . Cut into one and half inches square.
Onions: Two large. Finely chopped.
Tomatoes: Two large. Cut in small pieces.
Turmeric Powder: Two tsps
Chilli Powder: I used two tsps. Use your discretion.
Salt: To taste.
Mustard oil: Two tsps
Lime leaves: Five or six.
Canola oil: One and half tbsps.
Green Chillis: Two (optional)
Tomato Ketchup; One tbsps
Add the turmeric powder and one tsps salt to the cut fish and set aside.
Take the canola oil in a wok over medium heat. When hot throw in the onions. Saute till very light brown colour. About five minutes. Add the fish. The fish should be fried lightly on both sides. Around seven to eight minutes total . Just untill it starts to change colour. Add the tomatoes and chilli powder. Cook till the tomatoes are mushy and the spices seem to separate from oil. Or things are drying up in the wok. Add one and half cups of water and the tomato ketcup. When starting to boil add salt, according to your taste . Cover and cook till the fish is done and all the tomatoes and spices have come together.
Turn the gas off. Add the lime leaves and green chillis. Drizzle the mustard oil, serve hot with Basmati rice.
Ilish, Rui, Katla, Phansa, Chitol, Chingri: Name of different river fishes commonly found in Bengal.
Jhal, Jhol, Kalia, Paturi, Awmbol, Tottora: Diffrent ways of cooking fish.
Frozen lime leaves are available from Asian food store. The packet that I have is a product of Thailand. I resort to plucking leaves from my baby lime plant only if I’m out of the frozen ones. If you’re lucky and living in a tropical paradise, go ahead, get it fresh from your yard!
Be very gentle turning the fish.
Apologies for the quality of some of the BW pictures.