One of the unfortunate truths about India is that the weather is unbearable for the a large part of the year but mother nature does offer some compenstations for the beastly climate.
As the heat of summer starts to stifle the subcontinent succulent mangoes come into season. These are not the uniform – relatively tasteless varieties – that we get in Australia. The mangoes of India are diverse; official accounts put them at around 500 different kinds – although not all these are commercial varieties, the majority would be limited to small local culitivation, perhaps to a single orchard.
Indian mangoes come into season at different times during the summer and each is distinct in its size, shape, perfume and juiciness. Every Indian will have their favorite mango: so much so that while India is the world’s biggest producer of mangoes it exports relatively few of them such is the demand in the local market.
At the height of summer – and it is a height, the average temperature in the north hovers above 40c – the gods smile on their parched underlings and send forth the lychee. Within the rough rose pink shell of this most beautiful fruit – crisp, juicy, delicately perfumed- lies pleasure so great that it takes your mind of the hades like atmosphere around you.
Then as suddenly as they appeared the lychees are gone: it’s a sign that the monsoon season in nearing. I have lived through an entire Indian summer and I can cope with the dry heat but I cannot bear the monsoon months; 35- 39c and 98% humidity – truly hideous.
Whilst I disparage the monsoon for the intolerable living conditions it creates (great for the skin though – it is like a having a deep cleansing facial each day) the monsoon is vital for it is the time when India gets most of her rainfall and if the monsoon fails the result is disastrous.
The late monsoon is when hilsa come down from Bangladesh to breed in the waterways of Bengal. The flesh of this fish is like no other: slightly sweet and rich in flavour; a not too firm not too soft texture; it is also full of tiny bones. Bengali’s absolutely worship hilsa: they don’t even mind all the bones; so adapt are they in dealing with these that they are able to maneuver them in their mouths into a small ball which they spit out (figuratively, sometimes literally) when finished. Having recently been in Calcutta on the tale end of the monsoon I don’t think the hilsa, as toothsome as it is, is compensation enough for the horrors of the weather there. Then again I don’t have to live there, perhaps if i did I would be equally as keen to focus my attention on a fish to take my mind off the weather.’s
Bengali’s commonly cook fish with mustard oil and/or mustard seeds. The recipe below is inspired by my visit to Calcutta – which is a great food city but my advice is don’t even think about going there in the summer /monsoon months. This is a very easy dish to prepare and cook, great for a tasty work day evening meal paired with the accompanying salad. I have not suggested you hilsa as it is not easily available outside India. You can use any firm flesh fish but it works best with salmon as its firm oily flesh stands up well to the mustard and green chili in the crust.
Salmon with a mustard and green chili crust
2 tbsp black mustard seeds
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
2 green chilies
½ tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp turmeric
1-2 tbsp mustard oil
4 salmon steaks
Grind the mustard seeds and green chilies to a paste and then blend in all the remaining ingredients with the exception of the fish pieces.
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc. Heat an oven tray or dish.
Rub the fish steaks with oil and then coat one side with the paste.
Place the coated fish steaks onto the hot tray with the coated side up and bake in the oven until the fish is just cooked through, approximately 15 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish).
Pear and sesame salad
mixed salad leaves of your liking
1/2 red onion sliced as thin as possible
1 crisp pear sliced into matchsticks or thin slices
a generous handful of fresh coriander leaves
1 lebanese cucumber, sliced or diced
2 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
2 tbsp mustard oil
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar (or use the darker stuff if that is what you have)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp Brown sugar
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
Mix all the salad ingredients together in a bowl.
Blend the dressing ingredients together and dress the salad with it.