Spicy Mashed Sardines (Sardine Bhorta)
It’s difficult during this time of the coronavirus to not have feelings of anxiety, especially living in New York City which has become the epicenter of the epidemic in the US. How do you manage to keep calm when the world seems to be falling apart all around us, when we and our families could fall victim at any moment to the coronavirus? But keep calm and carry on we must, while sheltering in place and social distancing. All these words and terms – they would have sounded bizarre even a few months ago, but how quickly they’ve become part of our everyday vocabulary now. Living in this new reality, now on week 3, I’ve slowly started adjusting. We are very adaptable creatures, us humans. And as New Yorkers, we are resilient. We have been through 9/11, through Hurricane Sandy… This coronavirus is worse than either of those according to New Yorkers I’ve spoken to, but collectively ultimately we’ll get through this too. I remind myself of that.
In the meantime, I’ve started to appreciate some of the positive aspects of this situation. If we are lucky enough to still be healthy, there are some things to be grateful for. For example, it’s nice to have time to lie in bed and watch the rain fall. When was the last time I had the luxury of just drifting off to the sound of rain, without having an endless list of things to run around and do? Maybe when I was a teenager? I’m finding time to read books too, more than just a few pages here and there between doing the usual hundred different things. I’ve also finally had the luxury of time to get on the phone and have real long meaningful conversations with friends and family. For so long we all have been sucked into communicating by text or digital messages, most of us rarely have long phone conversations anymore. Now in the past few weeks I’ve spoken to many people, at length – some who I haven’t connected properly with in months or even a year or more maybe. It seems that the virus, while wreaking unbelievable devastation on us, is also in an odd way pushing us to be human again.
And of course I’m finding time to prepare food. Because I can’t make frequent trips to the grocery store, I am making do with what I had bought, with what’s around at home. Like most others I’ve bought some food items that will last a long time. I generally dislike canned food, but I do like canned sardines so I stocked up on that. Sardines are packed with nutrients, such as Omega-3 fatty acids which fight inflammation and help prevent heart disease and stroke. They also have a good amount of vitamin D and calcium. These are very good things for our bodies at this time.
I love to make a “bhorta” out of the sardines, which is basically spicy mashed sardines. In Bangladesh, bhortas are simple mashed food items such as mashed potatoes, mashed vegetables, or mashed fish with fresh herbs that are just a little bit spicy, and extremely delicious! Just the mention of bhortas can bring on severe bouts of longing in a Bangladeshi, and can lead to excited conversations about one’s favorite type of bhorta. We don’t have sardines in Bangladesh, so a sardine bhorta is not a typical dish by any means. Once I experimented with making sardine bhorta I really liked it, so why not! Plus it takes only a few minutes to put together, which makes it one of the easiest meals. It makes a good light lunch with plain white rice. This spicy mashed sardines recipe would go well with crackers too.
You could use canned tuna for this recipe, although I don’t recommend it. Tuna has higher levels of mercury than we should consume, hence I consider it to be bad for our health. Also, eating tuna is bad for the marine ecosystem. Overfishing of tuna has depleted its stock; in addition, the way tuna is fished leads to other marine animals such as dolphins and turtles being needlessly killed in the process. For these reasons I stopped eating tuna some years ago. Sardines are one of the most sustainable fish, and this recipe is tasty with sardines.
One other note: in Bangladesh we use mustard oil for most bhortas, so I tend to use it for my spicy mashed sardines. Mustard oil adds a zing, like wasabi – and the pungency of a bhorta with mustard oil is balanced out by eating it with plain white rice. I have sometimes made this recipe using olive oil instead as that’s tasty too; and sometimes I do prefer the non-pungent version with good olive oil.
Spicy Mashed Sardines (Sardine Bhorta)
- 1 can sardines (in water or olive oil; don’t use flavored versions)
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots (or, can use red onion or regular onion)
- 1 small bird’s eye green chili, chopped (or, can use 1/4 teaspoon chopped jalapeño or dry red chili pepper flakes)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2-1 teaspoon mustard oil, or olive oil
- salt to taste
- Pour out liquid (oil or water) from the canned sardines and moved the sardines to a plate.
- Mash the sardines.
- Add chopped shallots, green chili, cilantro, oil. Mix together well, and add salt to taste.
Serve with plain white rice.