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 dishes 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 mean: It is a sour dish, normally a curry made with various souring 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 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 Ramsay Gordon included fish tenga among one of his hundred favorite recipes (though his recipe is nowhere near the original Tenga, but that's another story). Check for the links on some interesting news related to Tenga and Assamese Cuisine:
1:Tenga gets a global twist
2.Gordon's recipe (his version which raised many eye brows here)
3.Aromas Of Assam (on news on 12.09.10).
Belahi-Machor Tenga Anja
- 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 (See the second image above). Apply turmeric powder and salt to the fish pieces and after keeping them aside for 5-10 minutes, light fry them. Heat very little mustard oil (you can use any refined oil, but it tastes better with mustard oil) in a pan. Add mustard seeds, and 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 minutes.
Now add one and a half cups of hot boiling water to the tomatoes and let it simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add fried fish to the mix and let it simmer for another 5 minutes.Your delicious Fish Tenga is ready. Many add chopped coriander and slit green chillies to it to garnish, but 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).
Massor-daal Boror Bilahi Tenga
- 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)
Method: Soak the daal in a bowl. Masoor daal needs very little soaking time (about an hour). Once you notice the splits in daal, it ready for grinding.
You can grind it in a mixer/blender by adding little water. 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 and 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 the mix may remain undercooked inside.
Fry them on both the sides until they turn light golden. Remove boras from the heat and keep them aside. Add some fresh oil (little) to the pan to heat. Once heated, splutter mustard seeds on it. Throw in the finely chopped tomatoes to it. Cover it with a lid till the tomatoes soften. Remove the lid 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 minutes. Now it's 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 and garnish it with coriander leaves. Serve it with plain boiled/steamed rice.