there are several tomato mahasha recipes on the net. they all sound pretty good. one of them particularly, since you stuff the tomatoes with raw rice and chicken and it just feels so complex and authentic. my mother in law would say once in a way as she went about getting the stuffing ready that the really good baghdadi jewish cooks never cooked what went into the mahasha beforehand. then she’d forget about all that and make it her way.
i’d never had or heard of mahasha till i started dating my husband. grinning at these words, two lines into the piece and already mother in law and husband are in, wonder who else is visiting this recipe cum ramble.
that’s the thing, though. food to me is really not so much about the authenticity and technique of it… both are important and yes, staring at some youtube video on making the kachhi biryani just so, i might end up doing. but all the while in my head i’ll be thinking of my maternal grandmother, whose light fragrant beautiful kachhi biryani was unforgettable.
food really is about the people who made it and perhaps even those who ate it… i keep thinking.
mahasha. in baghdadi jewish food, and maybe baghdadi cuisine in general, mahashas are all the stuffed vegetables as far as i know. very akin these are to the dolmas found in parts of the arab world and right up to greece. bengalis make something called potoler dorma/dolma – potol is pointed gourd – sounds like we got the idea from makers of dolma, maybe the armenians or even the baghdadi jews (so says a website) or someone else. so many trading people came to calcutta…
you can make mahashas with tomatoes, cucumber, gourd, brinjal, any vegetable you like, cabbage leaves taste great too. my mother in law or mummy, as i called her, liked to make tomato mahashas. sometimes the extra stuffing went intoo cucumbers and gourd, but it was her tomato mahashas that were loved by all.
i suddenly remembered her fixing my brother in law, all of twenty-five or something then, with a stern “mind it!” kind of look and saying, “your tomatoes, you know, must be really red.”
she would trust him with the sacred task of buying the tomatoes once in a way. usually, she would get them herself, checking each one to see if it had what it took to turn into a perfect mahasha. she loved to cook and was fastidious about every aspect of it. going to the market with her could be exhilarating or maddening, never boring. she insisted you had to get the right raw materials, otherwise what was the point. so if she made chicken chattani, the rice had to be golapshoru gobindobhog, sorry basmati not making the grade.
anyway, back to mahashas.
she fried her mahashas after stuffing them with a delicately flavoured mixture of rice and minced chicken. for how long? well you had to make sure the tomatoes were looking as wrinkled as her face. any less, and it would be bland… not quite it. never seen anyone making such sound use of her wrinkles and how i miss those women who took age in their stride (though of course one was never encouraged to discuss this crass thing).
was also thinking, it’s practically a meal in itself… rice, meat, vegetable. and really, eat two mahashas and you’re full. wondering what the real story behind these stuffed veggies is. the recipe is entirely from memory. the measurements are approximate. actually, if you get the basics right, hard to mess this up.
tomatoes: about 10 large, really red, firm tomatoes. not the sort that goes suddenly soft and squishy when you fry.
minced chicken: about half a kilo
cooked rice: in terms of quantity nearly one and a half times the amount of the chicken. cook the rice till it’s almost done and cool it. i used gobindobhog because that’s what mummy liked to use.
bay leaf: one
cinnamon: small stick
onion: around one cup, diced, the red variety.
ginger paste: about a tablespoon.
garlic paste: a little less than a tablespoon.
turmeric powder: about half teaspoon and a bit you want a pale yellow colour.
green chillies: two/three, finely minced.
spring onion: finely chop the greens, about one and a half cups.
coriander leaves: again chopped fine, about one and a half cups.
parsley: finely chopped, about half a cup.
mint leaves: this is the top note, the flavour that should reach you first, and linger so a lot of mint leaves chopped.
tamarind: about half a cup of tamarind blended in a bit of water, seeds removed.
black pepper: about a teaspoon
salt to taste
pinch of sugar (optional)
vegetable or sunflower seed oil: a little more than what is strictly healthy. okay, maybe, six/seven tablespoons, though really, it’s a matter of estimate. the oil should be enough to fry the mince.
oil to fry mahashas.
to prepare the tomatoes
slice off neatly the top of the tomatoes. keep the little pieces. using a teaspoon, carefully take out the pulp and seeds. main thing, the walls of the tomato should remain intact and firm. if you’re using a paring knife, please be careful not to pierce the skin.
to make the stuffing
heat oil in a wok. when it’s pretty hot, throw in the bay leaf, then the cloves, cinnamon, and cardamoms. please remember to crack open the cardamom skin and pinch off the top of the cloves, they tend to burst and leap about otherwise.
add the onions, fry till its translucent and beginning to turn brown. add the ginger and turmeric powder and keep frying, let the “raw” smell go, then add the minced chicken and stir away, let it all come together and cook. add salt, keep turning regularly and frying/cooking over medium heat. minced chicken doesn’t take that long to cook. somewhere along the way, add the green chillies and black pepper you can sprinkle a little water a few times to help blend the spices but the chicken should be dry. you can add that pinch of sugar as you fry too, if you like a little of the “opposite” taste to balance the taste and bring out flavours.
i think it takes about twenty minutes or so and you’re done.
while the chicken is hot, add all the greens, the spring onion/coriander leaf/parsley/mint. mix it all in thoroughly. let the chicken cool. try and remove the cloves, cardamoms, cinnamon. discard the bay leaves.
finally, start adding the rice to the chicken. you’re looking for a mostly rice and much less chicken proportion. add the tamarind a little at a time. stop when you feel it’s as tangy as you like. it should have a slightly sour taste.
also, the stuffing should not taste too subtle and fine, add a bit more of the leaves if you like… the tomatoes are large and will sort of absorb a lot of the taste, if you know what i am trying to say.
just to give you an idea of the “look” of the stuffing. you can add more leaves if you like.
when it’s ready, stuff the mixture into the tomatoes, till the top, since everything is cooked and won’t be expanding. place the top back onto the tomatoes. just press them down. no need to seal them with flour or anything. you will have quite a bit of stuffing left, i realise, you could use it to stuff other vegetable or make less of it, taking around 250 grams of minced chicken.
once all the tomatoes are done and looking gorgeous on the plate and you’re feeling pretty pleased with yourself, the scary bit…
take a wide frying pan, heat and pour oil about half way up. when the oil is hot, lower the flame, i actually take the pan off the fire. then carefully place the tomatoes in it, top side down. so you grab the tomato with your thumb on the top and turn it then place it in the pan. sometimes, the top slides away, don’t worry, just use whatever is at hand to push the tomato back onto the top. once you’ve got as many tomatoes in as you can, raise the fire to medium and let the mahashas sit in the oil, frying. there’ll be plenty sizzling and a bit of sputtering too.
remember mummy’s wrinkle gauge. the tomatoes must get some time to just be. after a while, gently turn the tomatoes over and again wait for the wrinkles.
when they’re done, take them out and let them cool a bit. tomato mahashas taste nicer the next day, mummy usually didn’t heat them again. she just left them out, under a mesh food cover.
okay, caveat: to repeat, this is entirely from memory… my measurements may be off, but you’ll know how to get the taste you like. that tangy, minty taste is important. if you make the mahashas, i know someone will be very happy. i can almost see her smiling that cool, slightly lopsided smile of hers.
frying the mahashas… i added some more oil later.
the broken mahasha. sounds like a story.