Once upon a time a friend of mine had decided to abandon amish (non- vegetarian food) and become a vegetarian. It is a difficult task especially when you have friends who are carnivores and who will test your will power by ordering the chicken meal. In such trying times of transition this friend allowed himself occasionally to dig into the curry/ jhol of chicken dish. Whenever he held his spoon for a helping of chicken curry we grinned at our success. While garnishing my Alu Phulkopir Jhol ( A curry made of Potato and Cauliflower) with coriander I was irritated by the fact that I had run out of fish. Bengalis are self proclaimed Jhol (milder curry is called Jhol ) fanatics. We have jhols for every occasion. Jhol is part of our everyday cuisine.
What is a Jhol? It is exactly opposite to “Indian” curry. It is a slow method of cooking where each Jhol has specifications for the ways in which we chop our vegetables, to the spices we add ( usually a combination of not more than two wholesome spices are added to Jhol). For instance for my favourite comfort food Alu Phulkopir Jhol you need to chop medium sized potatoes into not more than six pieces ( in cube shapes). While cutting the floret of the cauliflower you need to be careful while dicing so that you leave half an inch stem to each floret . After chopping them rinse the cauliflower thoroughly in hot water, boil them and keep it aside. Add mustard oil to the wok. When the oil bubbles, temper the oil with cumin seeds and dry chilli ( not more than 2 for 300 gm cauliflower). Lightly sauté boiled cauliflower florets and boiled potato cubes with a pinch of salt and turmeric and keep it aside. Add tomatoes, ginger paste and a generous dose of cumin powder ( my mother adds fresh paste of cumin seeds) to the oil and let it cook till the smell of masala blends with the oil. After this add the florets and potato to the masala; add water and let it cook for 15 min. Stir well, add a pinch of sugar and garnish it with coriander. If you want to add Fish (preferably add Rohu or Bhetki). Fry the fish and add it before finishing off with chopped coriander.
We make similar Jhol out of Parwal ( Alu potoler Jhol). Instead of fishes like Bheki / Rohu Alu Potoler Jhol tastes best with fried de-veined shrimps. But the garnishing has to be of dollops of ghee and garam masala. Most of these gravies are light but the best one is which my mother makes after every grand feast. For her “Jhol” is a cooling agent. She cuts vegetables like Potato, Raw Banana, Green Papaya, Beans and Parwal into long pieces. She tempers the oil with Panchphoron (five spice mixture used in Bengali cuisine available in any supermarket) and then adds four green chillies, sliced ginger. To this she adds freshly made coriander and cumin seed paste (one table spoon each for 200 gms vegetable) She fries the paste for two to three minutes adds one and a half cup water , salt and adds the vegetables to this paste and cooks it for 20 min. She finishes the dish with roasted cinnamon and crushed peppers. This heavenly dish is a total comfort food and can be customised with the change of seasons. In summer you could add raw mangoes/ finish off with a generous helping of lime juice to add to the tangy flavour. In winter you could add some fried onions and ginger garlic to bring that hot zest.
Jhols taste best with steamed rice. So what are you thinking? Dawn your chef’s hat and perfect the art of making a Jhol– comfort food for a “Bengali” soul.