As the monsoon begins its advance into the country, I am reminded of dry fish….and Kusbeer!
For my vegetarian friends, this very same dish can also be made with roasted (not fried!!) papad. Tastes equally good – so read on…
The monsoon season and the heavy rains it brings engulfs the western coast of India for 3 – 4 months. In the earlier days, when there were no mechanised boats and hence deep sea fishing was not possible, no fishing was done during the monsoon. More importantly, this is also the fish breeding season – so fishing continues to be a big ‘No’ even today during this season. In fact, some states have laws against fishing during the monsoons.
However, the kokani palate needs its fish! So that is how dry fish came into the cuisine. Fish like prawns, mackerel (bangda), bombay duck (bombil) etc are dried under the sun by fisherfolk during the summer months – for consumption during the monsoons. Most kokani families stock up on dry fish in the month of May before the onset of the monsoons.
A variety of dishes are made with dry fish. Kusbeer (also known as Kismur in Goa) is one such – which is my favorite! Kusbeer can be made with dry prawns or shrimp – or even dry mackerel.
A couple of ‘fundas’ about dry prawns:
You get two varieties of dry prawns on the west coast of India – ‘Sungata‘ – which are the larger variety and ‘Golma‘ – which are the tiny dry prawns. They are also known as ‘Jawala‘ – should you go looking for them in the market. I have come across packets of ‘Jawala’ in some supermarkets.
The Sungata need to be cleaned – you need to remove the head, tail, etc. I will do a separate post one day – with pictures – of cleaning sungata. For now, if you are not familiar with the process either get it done by your local fisherwoman (yes, they do it for you!) or stick to using Golma / Jawala for this dish – which is less complex to clean!
To clean Golma, first sieve it properly. Remember, these are often dried in the open on the seashore – so they are likely to have sand or fine stones mixed in them (depends on where you buy the Golma from). Hence the sieving is necessary. Then do a round of manual cleaning – check for any left-over tiny stones or any other particles.
Also – it is important to remember that fish are dried with salt. So, take that into account while making any dish with dry fish.
Now you are ready to make the Kusbeer…
- Golma / Sungata – 1 cup
- Onion – finely chopped – 1 cup
- Coconut – fresh, grated – 1/2 cup
- Red Chilli Powder – 1/2 tsp
- Oil – 1/2 tsp. This dish tastes great with coconut oil. So if you like/ have access to coconut oil, best to use that.
- Salt to taste. Since the dry fish is already salty, you would need less than half a tsp of salt for this dish.
Stir-fry the dry fish in half a teaspoon of oil on medium flame – till they become really crisp. In fact, they give out a lovely aroma which is unique to dry fish as they get done. Keep aside.
Mix the finely chopped onion, red chilli and salt in a separate serving bowl. In fact, they need to be ‘crushed’ together by hand and mixed really well. The term in marathi for this is ‘churadnay‘. Keep aside.
Just before your meal, add in the coconut and the stir-fried dry fish. Mix really well. Add a tsp of coconut oil and serve! It is important to mix it ‘just-in-time’ – else the dry fish lose their crispiness.
Eat with chappatis, rotis or rice.
For enhanced taste, you can also add 1 tsp of soaked aamsol/kokum water. Add it to the onion while crushing.
For all ye vegetarians out there:
Instead of dry fish, you can make this with roasted papad. Use your regular Lijjat papad variety. Roast the papads and crush them into tiny pieces. And follow the exact same recipe above. Believe me, it tastes yummm and can add a zing to any meal!