Koke Pallo is a very traditional Sindhi style fish. Photo: Alka Keswani
Strangely enough, a great number of the golden moments of my childhood, etched in my memory are pertaining to food, Sindhi food to be precise, since my mother always cooked our regional food most of her life.
The best of the traditional meals were reserved for Sundays, when the whole family used to eat together.
Starting the day with Rangoli on Doordarshan, we used to wait patiently for the breakfast of Dal Pakwan, the signature Sindhi breakfast consisting of sinful, crunchy deep fried puris served with mushy chana dal, topped with chopped onions and gidamri ji chutney (tamarind pulp, diluted with water, spiced with salt and red chilli powder, dash of sugar and some chopped onions).
Gorging on the royal breakfast while watching Ramayana or Mahabharta was how our Sundays were spent!
Another Sunday special breakfast used to be Chola Dhabhal brought from a roadside cart.
The spicy garbanzo bean curry with the bread dunked in, lined with the flavours of tangy chutneys, crispy sev and crunchy onions was most sought-after breakfast for lazy Sunday mornings.
Then there was this option to line up early morning at the local Dal moong wala for the takeaway of sizzling mix of yellow split beans and green gram to be savored with homemade rotis or Sindhi Koki.
Then there were some Sundays when the breakfast used to be light, so as to make a room for the heavy lunch consisting of yet again signature Sindhi dish, Kadhi chaanwaran, the tangy, flavourful besan kadhi (or Tamatey ji kadhi).
The unstimulating Sunday afternoon would suddenly turn exciting with the wafting aroma of roasted besan, fenugreek seeds, hing and curry leaves, the sizzling sound of blended tomatoes being added to the kadhi, and then the sight of a large bowl of kadhi with floating vegetables, as enough to titillate our senses.
As for Kadhi, our favourite way to savour it was to take a bowl, put some cooked rice, and ladle some kadhi, garnish with sweet boondi (unsalted boondi soaked in sugar syrup) and enjoy with crispy sinful Aloo tuk (double fried potato snack). Heaven in a bowl!
Not all Sundays were dedicated to Kadhi.
Sometimes when the fish monger would bring a fresh catch at our doorsteps, discussions were held whether to buy Dhambhro (Rohu) to make fish in onion curry, or whether to buy Kurree (Not sure what kind of fish was used to make this stuffed, whole, tawa fry fish) to go with Tidali Dal dodho, or the most famous Sindhi fish, Pallo (Hilsa) to go with rice and dal.
Then there were other ‘Non Veg’ Sundays when Goat meat ruled the menu.
So, it used to be either Teevarn (meat cooked in caramelised onions), or Keemay ja kofta (mined meat Kofte Curry) while at times Fifir (Goat lungs) were cooked in onion tomato curry.
Even if the mutton curry was meant for dinner, it was cooked before dusk.
The freshly baked laadi pao, brought from the nearby bakery was torn into big pieces, placed on a plate, some piping hot mutton curry was ladled on the top, garnished with some mint chutney, onion rings and nylon sev would be snacked upon, while watching the Sunday movie in the evening, followed by a hearty dinner of mutton and soft rotis.
Today’s recipe is very special because it is one of the traditional Sindhi recipes, rarely made now. Its name is debatable since some call it as Koke Pallo, while others refer it as Dhakyal Machchi (Covered fish) or Wadi ji Machchi.
Originally the fish was stuffed and wrapped in rolled dough and left to cook in the sand on the shores.
Since this method of cooking was no more feasible for urban Sindhis, it became a lost recipe. Now thanks to oven, it could be recreated though it’s hard to match the flavours imparted by natural earthen oven (hot sand).
Koke Pallo boasts of a traditional and unique way to cook fish. The tender, moist texture of fish and the perfectly spiced stuffing makes it a fantastic party food.
Koke Pallo is a whole fish stuffed with tamarind, spices and herbs. Photo: Alka Keswani
Recipe for Koke Pallo
Preparation time: 30 min
Marination time: 30 min
Cooking time: 25-35 min
Pallo (Bhing/Hilsa) 1 (whole)
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Freshly squeezed lime juice - 2 tsp
For the Stuffing:
Onions - 2 (Grated or minced)
Garlic - 4-6 cloves
Ginger - 2 inch piece
Green chilies - 3-4
Fresh coriander leaves - 1 cup
Turmeric powder - ½ tsp
Red chili powder - 1 tsp
Coriander powder - 1 tbsp
Tamarind pulp - 3 tbsp (sieved)
Salt to taste
Oil or ghee - 1 tbsp
To wrap the fish:
1. Flour - 2 cups (whole wheat flour as well as maida could be used)
2. Water to knead the dough
1. Remove scales from the fish if any, clean and pat dry it. Cut open the fish, moving the knife from head towards the tail, to make space for stuffing the fish, without separating the two halves.
2. Marinate for half an hour with salt, turmeric powder and lime juice. Drain and keep aside.
3. Knead a stiff dough from wholewheat flour (or use maida) and water. Let it rest for a while.
4. Pound coriander leaves, green chilies, ginger and garlic in a mortar pestle till a coarse mixture is obtained.
5. Grate onions and mix with the pounded mixture.
6. Add the spice powders, tamarind pulp, and 1 tablespoon ghee. Instead of tamarind, the juice of 3-4 lemons could be used.
7. Stuff the fish with this mixture. Using a pastry brush, apply a thin layer of oil to the surface of fish.
8. Divide the dough into two halves and roll each so as to make a roti big enough to hold the fish.
9. Place fish on one rolled roti and wrap it. Place rolled dough to completely cover the whole fish from all sides. Seal with dough, if any portions of fish are visible. The wrap must cover the fish tightly from all the sides.
10. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
11. Place the wrapped fish on a greased tray or aluminum foil-lined tray and bake for around 25-35 minutes or till the wrapped layer turns golden brown.
12. Transfer the baked fish on a serving plate and break open the crust while serving. Serve it on a bed of cabbage leaves, along with some lime, tomato and onion.
Alka Keswani is a microbiology graduate, a hands-on mom and food blogger. Besides contributing articles to various magazines and newspapers, she has also co-authored a food section in ‘We The Sindhis’ book. Her blog Sindhi Rasoi won the Best Regional Food blog in 2013 and Best Vegetarian food blog in 2014 at the Food Bloggers Association of India awards. She also manages another blog called Recipeonclick for non-Sindhi recipes.