Come Winter, I start recollecting the exact way this light fish curry with tomatoes would taste. It is not that I make it only in Winter. No, it is an easy dish and I make it throughout the year whenever I have less time on hand which apparently translates to often.
But never do I think deeply about it as I do, when the mercury drops and I seek out a patch of sunlight sliding through the high windows of my family room.
Years ago winter meant sunshine on your back, a sunshine that warmed you unlike the folly outside my window. It also meant lots of fresh plump red tomatoes, their skin smooth and taut as a baby's bottom and green coriander leaves, dhone pata, with a smell that reminded you of green fields stretched out luxuriously in the winter sun.
Ok, I am not really sure if they reminded anyone of anything but food but that statement sounds pretty nice so that is how it will be written.
It also meant mid-terms or half-yearly as we called them.Coming home early, dusty and tired after half a day of writing about meaning less things on a sheaf of paper, right in time when Ma would be serving lunch. On such days, this light fish curry with the fresh tomatoes was what I most looked forward to. Made with Rui(Rohu) or some fresh Chara Pona, this halka jhol solely relied on the tomatoes and the fish to impart the right taste. With some fluffy white rice, this would be the only bright spot on a day that would be later spent ruthlessly memorizing the details of Panipat War.
Better days of December would soon follow and there would be rich fruit cakes, pastries from Flury's, juicy Darjeeling oranges made into kamola kheer, but this macher jhol would still hold its place and would whisper "home" while we made a pledge to survive on only rum balls the entire life.
Perfect to be described as "kalojiire ar alpo aadar ros, kNachalonkar kuchi diye ekta machher halka refreshing jhol ranna korlam, sathe seddho chaaler jhorjhore bhaat" -- Kuntala
In the US, if you have access to an Asian Market, I would insist you get fresh fish like Striped Bass or Buffalo Carp cut in steak sized pieces from there. They taste awesome in this gravy. Even Pomfret or Butterfish from there will work well. Rohu from your Bangladeshi Fish seller works very well too. If everything fails try with fillet of Tilapia or Rainbow Trout.
Never, ever make this dish with Mahi Mahi like I did this Sunday. It took away all the taste of the dish. Also no Salmon. Sweet water fish works best for this kind of light gravy.
I blogged about exactly this dish in October when I just started blogging way back. Things don't change that much foodwise.
Tomato diye Macher Patla Jhol
Serves 3 adults. About 6-8 pieces of 2" x 3" fish pieces.
Wash the fish pieces in warm water, pat dry & and smear them with half a teaspoon of turmeric powder and salt. Keep aside for 15-20 minutes
Heat Mustard Oil in a Kadai/Wok till you see smoke just coming out, indicating it's hot enough.
Fry the fish in hot oil till it turns light golden on both sides, kind of deep fry. The only draw back of this is most of the oil goes to waste as you discard most of the oil after frying. You can also save this oil for frying fish again next day as my Ma would do.
If you are using fillet of fish you can shallow fry them in much less oil.
Heat Mustard oil to smoking in Kadai/Wok.
Temper the hot oil with a little less than 1/2 tsp of Kalonji/ Kalo Jeera and 4-5 hot Indian green chillies slit through the center.
Puree or finely chop two medium tomatoes of good quality. I used about 1 cup of fresh tomato puree.
Saute till they become a fine pulp, kind of mushy and you see the oil seeping out on the edges. The raw tomato-ey smell should be totally gone.
Add 1 tbsp of freshly grated ginger and saute for a minute
Now add a pinch of turmeric powderr and 1 cup of water. Add salt to taste.
Simmer till the gravy comes to a boil.When the gravy comes to a boil add the fish pieces.
Add a fistful of fresh chopped coriander leaves.
Cook for a few more minutes and you are done. The gravy is light and is best enjoyed with white rice.