Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bilahi Tenga :A Sour Dish in Assamese Cuisine

This post was previously published in N-zine  ( Food and Beverages issue ).
In the pic:Fish and Tomato Tenga )
Assamese cuisine is characterized by very little use of spices but strong flavors mainly due to the use of endemic exotic herbs, fruits and vegetable.One of the most popular dish from Assam, the Tenga , is an indispensable part of a proper meal in Assam.Meal is served in courses here.A traditional meal in Assam begins with a Khar an alkali dish and ends with a Tenga, a sour dish. These two dishes characterize a traditional meal in Assam.Now let me tell you what does the term Tenga-Anja means :It is a sour dish, normally a curry made with various soring agents like Tomatoes , Lemon(kazi nemu ..a local variety), Thekera(Mangosteen), AouTenga(Elephant Apple). A tenga dish can have various versions .Many of these souring agents are not easily available outside Assam.Keeping this fact in mind and focusing on the easy availability of the ingredients I am going to share here two very simple recipes one a non veg i.e.with fish and another a veg version i.e.with Masoor Daal(red lentil) with Tomatoes being the basic souring agent.Tenga is making its presence felt internationally too,recently British Celebrity Chef included fish tenga among one of his hundred favorite recipes(though his recipe is nowhere near the original tenga ,that's another story).Check for the links on some interesting news related to tenga and assamese cuisine
3.Aromas Of Assam( on news on 12.09.10).
Belahi-Macchor Tenga Anja:
ingredients: 5-6 tomatoes (preferably ripe)
5-6 pieces of rohu fish(any carp)
: pinch of mustard seeds/fenugreek seeds
:mustard oil :turmeric powder
:lemon juice 1-2 tbsp(optional,i use it only if the tomatoes are not sour enough)
Method : Cut tomatoes into small pieces like shown above.Apply turmeric powder and salt to the fish pieces and after keeping them aside for 5-10 mins . Light fry them . Heat very little mustard oil(you can use any refined oil too but it tastes better with mustard oil) on a pan . Add mustard seeds , as soon as they splutter add tomatoes .(If you choose to use fenugreek seeds ,remove the seeds as soon as they are done spluttering).Cover the pan and let the tomatoes soften upon a moderate heat. Once tomatoes soften add turmeric powder and salt to it-mix well and cook covered for another 2-3 mins..

Now add a cup and a half of hot boiling water to the tomatoes and let it simmer for 2-3 mins.Add fried fish to the mix and simmer it for another 5 mins.Your delicious Fish Tenga is ready.Many add chopped coriander and slit green chillies to it as garnish-i don't use it as my folks love it just like this.Serve it with plain boiled rice (please ,please don't eat it with fried rice of any kind).

Masoor-daal Boror Bilahi Tenga
Ingredients: Masoor daal (red lentil) 1 cup
:5-6 Tomatoes finely chopped
:mustard oil /refined oil for frying
:Turmeric powder
:lemon juice 1-2 tbsp (optional)
:saltMethod: Soak the daal in a bowl.Masoor daal needs very little soaking time (about an hour ), once you notice the splits in daal ,consider it ready for grinding.

You can grind it in a mixer/blender by adding little water at a time,if the paste has too much water ,boras will not turn out well.I use a stone grinder most of the time and occasionally a blender if i am in hurry.The reason for using a stone grinder is to keep the texture little coarse ,i feel that the boras taste better this way.

The preferable texture of the masoor daal mix is shown here in the picture.Now add 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder and salt to taste .Mix well.Heat oil in a pan -add the mix to the oil with the help of a spoon ,one at a time.Fry them upon moderate heat to avoid fast cooking as high heat results in a burnt exterior and an undercooked inside.

Fry them on both the sides until they turn light golden.Remove boras from the heat ,keep aside.Add some fresh oil(little) to the pan,once heated splutter mustard seeds on it.Throw in the finely chopped tomatoes to the it.Cook it covered till the tomatoes soften.Remove the cover and add turmeric powder and salt to the tomatoes.Mix it well .Add two cups of boiling water here (we need more water here because once we add boras,the water is sucked up by them),simmer it again for 2-3 mins.Now its time to add boras -do it gently.

After boras are added ,let it simmer uncovered for another 3-4 minutes .If you want you can add lemon juice to it after removing the pan from the heat.If you like garnish it with coriander leaves.Serve it with plain boiled/steamed rice.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jayanta Bhattacharya :Creatively 'Art'rageous

( In the picture -Coin And Building )
Jayanta Bhattacharya is a well known name in the field of art in Noth East of India.Being immediate neighbors Jayanta and I usually bump into each other .I mostly see him working on his canvas or taking an evening stroll .Whenever we meet we talk a lot about his ongoing exhibitions,future tours and his latest work . Time to time he invites me to have a look at his work.He even shares some of the finest books related to art . On one such meeting last week he invited me again .Next day as i was about to leave my house i saw the crew members of the most popular regional TV channel making their way to his house and i remembered that he had mentioned that he is going to be interviewd by famous art critic and writer Mousumi Kandali.I decided to wait for a day and visited him the next day . By his permission i am going to share with you some of his art work and the conversation we had that day.

(Black Goat - he is presently working on this painting)
Born in Tuichindrai ,a small tribal village of Tripura,Jayanta grew up in a lower middle class joint family.He grew up at a time (80s) when the state was passing through turbulent times due to the community clashes between the Tribals and Bengalis of Tripura.The continuous riots,curfew and violence had a profound affect on Jayanta who was then only a child.Later in 2002 he passed out from the Govt College of Art &Craft .During college he started writing for local newspapers ,published magazine like Muktodhara and also initiated workshops and street exhibitions.His restless mind made him travel the country like a vagabond.He visited Shantiniketan and many other places.Not having found what his mind knew not ,he spent time with in the interior tribal villages of Tripura ,isolating himself from the rest of the world.He kept no contact with anyone .He lived amongst them and was deeply affected by their lives and their art forms.In 2004 he came to Assam and took an art teaching job in a very prestigious educational institute of Guwahati .Seven months back he left his job so that he can devote more time to his only passion-painting !

(The Road -Black Pitch &Metal)
This is how Mousumi Kandali speaks about his work . Moushumi is a renowned writer,art-critic and translator.
'Abstracted thoughts.Innate lyricism.Minimalistic rendering with layered sparks of sensuousness and eroticism hidden beneath. And reflexive gestures about the socio-political implications of our space and time overwhelmed by violence, turmoil and hostile social systems. These are the underlying artistic currents and undercurrents I experience whenever I see the works of Jayanta Bhattacharya. For my curatorial exhibition of the North-Eastern artists for the Octave Festival organised by Rastriya Lalit Kala Akademy and Govt. of India ( Trivundum,2008) young turks Jayanta Bhattacharya and Mrinmoy Debbarma were my choice of artist alongwith the senior artist Dipika Saha from Tripura. I included Jayanta's "The Road ",an experimental sculpture-installation.This work ( Black Pitch & Metal) has captured the uncertainty and terror of our time very meaningfully with certain motifs like the manhole, impressions of bare feet and boots and strains of bullet marks'.....

(Untitled Painting)
In Jayanta's own words-- "There is nothing much to say about myself.Compared to the endless spectrum of ever changing human civilization,my quantum of experience is minuscule.By birth i have been naturally acquainted with certain words - certain sensations were within me ever since birth and now they are a part of me.I feel myself bound and tied down by the troubled and restless mental state created by today's world.

(Titled :Dragonflies over a smoked city)

Through these turbulent times ,i walk across the busy footpath,the over bridge above ,the railway track,shopping malls,playgrounds and parade grounds.I watch the setting sun through the small window of the city bus.As i walk along the road in the scorching sun ,my eyes fall on the cut pieces of watermelon ,sparkling a bright red.

(Titled :Mahishasurmardini)
Sometimes the sounds of shots ringing in the night air jolt me out of my dreams.I remember ....years ago ,i had gone with grandma to cast my vote for the first time.Some elderly people had thrust chocolates into my hand then.Grandma ,me and an endless road....

(Mural by Jayanta)
The road to dad's office would be strewn with the yellow flowers of the Golden shower trees.On that yellow road,i had ,at times walked with my ,the golden yellow flowers,the road and me .The rat-a-tat-a tat of bullets wake me up and through the haze i see a road ,shells of spent cartridges,boot marks and some dry leaves....rustling."

                                                         (Untitled )

Later he talked a lot about Tracey Amin ,he suggested me reading more about her .Further he told me  about the works of Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor .He gave me two books to read from his personal collection one is A World History Of Art and the other  The Contemporary Art Book.He is into short movie making too .What i really like about him is that despite being so good in his work,he does not give himself any airs.I wish there was someone better than I to tell you his story.