Once in a way the Hubby asks me to cook a Bengali dish. This morning as we were in our local fish shop he bought a baby Bhetki and asked for a light and comforting alu, phulkopi'r jhol with a mountain of hot rice to be made for lunch. I used to call this 'jeere'r jhol' and one version or another of this simple preparation was made in my grandmother's kitchen and in those of all her sisters.
The fish was usually rui, a kind of river carp, and the vegetables in the stew would vary - there could be brinjals, pointed gourd or potol, plantain, and of course, cauliflower. The potato was omnipresent in all the versions. In winter when good cauliflower was available, the alu phulkopi diye jhol would appear quite frequently on the table.
As with most Bengali dishes, I had to do a little reading just to reassure myself of the basic recipe. Some recipes are so simple, and have such few ingredients they make you feel sure you've left something out! This was exactly the case today and though I was quite sure how this lovely, light jhol is made, I just had to check anyway.
Alu, Phulkopi Diye Machhe'r Jhol
I don't claim this to be an authentic or traditional Bengali recipe. This is my version based mostly on my memories of eating it at my Didin's (maternal grandmom) house, and occasionally at our own house in Mumbai.
1/2 kilo bhekti (or any other suitable fish), sliced
1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
2 medium potatoes, cut into long wedges
2 fresh green chillies
1/2 inch piece ginger
1/2 tsp nigella seeds or kalonji
1/4 tsp randhuni (optional)
1 tsp cumin or jeera powder
Wash the fish slices, drain and then marinate with salt and turmeric. Leave it aside while you prep the vegetables.
Heat some mustard oil in a largeish wok and fry the fish lightly till the fish just turns opaque. I prefer this lightly fried version over the darker more firmly fried version. You can fry the fish more if you prefer. Remove the fried fish to a plate or vessel and then lightly fry the cauliflower and the potatoes in the same oil, one after the other. You might need to add a little oil along the way. Remove the fried vegetables too.
Now add some oil and wait till it is heated up really well. Chuck in the green chillies, nigella, and randhuni seeds. Stir for a minute and return the fried vegetables to the wok. Add the jeera powder and stir well to mix. Grate in the ginger. Add a little turmeric powder and salt too. Add a generous glass full of water, enough to submerge the vegetables. Bring to a boil and then cover and cook on simmer till the vegetables are nearly cooked.
Slide in the fried fish pieces and let the whole thing simmer for another 3 or 4 minutes. Adjust salt if necessary and remove the jhol carefully into a wide mouthed large serving bowl. Serve hot with rice.
As you can see it's a simple, frugal recipe with no elaborate procedures or fancy ingredients. Yet, it is a delicious and flavourful dish that's made in households across Bengal. I'm happy to say the hubby enjoyed it thoroughly. As for me, I was back in our flat in Bandra, sitting at the dining table squabbling with my brother, being scolded by my parents - back to being a 10 year old demanding the 'lyaja' or the tail piece :)