Poi Besara ( Fish Head and greens curry from Odisha )

The scorching summers in Odisha are fiery enough to bleach, burn and obliterate most greens from one's backyard garden. But one creeper that is not only capable of withstanding this heat but thriving in it, is the Malabar spinach or 'Poi'. I vividly remember watering most plants twice a day during the summers, once early in the morning and another time during the evening, just to enable them to survive the wrath of the sun God. But this dark green plant seemed oblivious to the misery of it's fellow plants as it continued to grow at a vigorous rate and bloom. That is, inspite of the regular plucking of the leaves and the tender stem. With the vegetable supply dwindling down during summers, the Malabar spinach was a much needed addition to the summer menu.

One of my favorite curries with Malabar spinach was a frugal but delicious fish head curry. To quell the sibling rebellion over who would get the choicest bit of the fish, aka the head, my grandmother would fry the bit, crush it to bits and fry it up again. This would be made into a curry with malabar spinach, some pumpkin, potato and any other veggie one would find at the time. Instead of the heavy onion-garlic-ginger paste that goes into the chencheda, this one would be spiced with an ultra light mustard-garlic-chili paste.

Read on for the recipe - 


















Preparation Time - 30-35 mins

Ingredients -

  • 2 medium sized potatoes ( cut into small cubes )
  • 1 cup pumpkin ( cut into small cubes )
  • 1 cup Malabar spinach stems ( slit into 2 )
  • 2 cups malabar spinach leaves ( shredded)
  • 1 large Rohu/Catla fish head 
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 2 dry red chilis ( use for if you want it hot )
  • 5-6 tsp oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1/5 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp mustard seeds for tempering
  • a pinch of nigella seeds ( kala jeera)

Preparation - Wash and marinate the fish head with salt and a little turmeric.

Make a fine paste out of the 2 tsp mustard seeds, half of the garlic cloves and red chilis. Dissolve this paste in 1 cup water and keep aside.

Crush the remaining garlic. Chop the onion into medium sized pieces.

Cooking - Heat 3 tsp oil in a wok. Add the fish head and fry it.

Once it looks browned on all sides, remove it and crush it with a heavy object. Add it back to the wok and fry to a crisp on a low flame.

At the same time as you start cooking the fish, heat the remaining oil in another wok. Add the mustard, nigella seeds and crushed garlic. Once they turn fragrant, add the onion. Fry to a translucent.

Add the potato, pumpkin and malabar spinach stems. Sprinkle salt over the veggies and let them cook for 6-7 mins on medium flame.

Finally add the malabar spinach leaves and toss on high for 2 mins.

Now carefully pour the mustard paste water over the vegetables taking care to leave the solid residue in the cup .( The solid portion can make the curry bitter )

Add another cup of water and adjust the salt. Cook covered till all the vegetables are done, especially the malabar spinach stems which take long time to cook.

Once most of the water is gone, add the crisp fish head bits to the curry. Mix and remove immediately from flame.

Serve hot with white rice and dal / pakhala. 

















Note - If you do not have fish head, this can be made using other parts of the fish. But with fish head, the taste is best.

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