The most that we missed once winter wrapped itself up in a Pashmina and traveled further North were the Tomatoes and green, leafy coriander. Ma, made bottles and bottles of Tomato ketchup which we hung on to until April or even May and after that dearly missed the maacher jhol with tomatoes and generous garnish of coriander which was a winter staple. Not a speck of green coriander leaf or a squishy red tomato could be found once summer set in. Later, even in the early nineties, the bunches of coriander that were sold post-Winter were sad, raggedy bunches that clearly wanted to join their sibling in a colder climate.
Summer always meant green vegetables with more water content and fruits brimming with juice. Jhinge or ridgegourd with raised thick skin, Pointed Gourd or Potol with its deep green stripes, and pale green Lau or BottleGourd were the standard. The tender potol in the early days of summer had a glamorous life. They were pounced upon to be made into stuffed dormas, fried to grace a cholar dal or steamed with coconut and mustard in a paturi. But as they say a life of fame does not last forever.
As summer progressed it was the mango which stole the show while potol and jhinge were forced to lead a sad backstage life featuring in every B-grade home cooked movie and being berated by home cooks. Just as the populace in the gangetic plains waited for the monsoon, for the summer to be over, they also craved for more color in their menu. For that though they had to wait. For Winter.
Thus there was a clear demarcation of Summer and Winter Menu with some overlap and rarities thrown in Spring when Drumsticks and copper colored baby neem leaves made a brief appearance.
Now as we all know it is not so. Six pack tomatoes, shiny and un-squishable lead a comfortable life all through out the year. Green, striped Potols stay put and no one's heart misses a beat on their first day, first show appearance. Here in the US though, the Indian grocer gets his Potol only in Summer. Good for me. I feel privileged to eat overpriced potol, a couple of times a year. The mundane is uplifted to the precious and I blog of alu potol diye maacher jhol which makes me go all mushy and tearful just like the tomato-dhone pata diye maacher jhol did with the first batch of deep red tomato.
Did you eat seasonally while growing up ? How did your menu change from summer solstice to winter ?
This alu -potol diye maacher jhol is a soupy, runny gravy of fish and vegetables. Suited best for hot summer afternoons it is a delight when mixed with rice and a squeeze of lime.
It is also my Ma-in-law's recipe as proffered by the husband. Unlike me, I think he hung around in the kitchen while his Mother cooked. He rattles off recipes without picking up a single phone to anywhere. And said that his Ma puts a little bit of onion in this jhol. Now,in my home a jhol will not have onion while a dalna might but this one does and it is from a Bengali home so you see when it comes to a dish there is nothing written in stone.
If you do not like Potol or do not get it you can make this same jhol with cauliflower and it will taste as good.
Alu Potol diye Maccher Jhol
Wash and clean fish pieces. The favored fish is Rui/Rohu. I have used fresh Tilapia. Rub with turmeric and salt. Keep aside for 20-30 minutes.
Chop 2-3 small potatoes in quarters and about 10 potol in halves. Before chopping the potol you need to scrape off its skin lightly and then peel of alternate strips. Heat some Oil and saute the potatoes and potol with turmeric powder and little salt, till golden. Remove and keep aside
Heat 2 -3 tbsp of Mustard Oil and shallow fry the fish till it is golden brown on both sides. Remove and keep aside.The health freaks can broil in the oven. It works.
Add a tbsp more oil to the pan. Once Oil is hot temper with
2 Green Cardamom
a 1" thin stick of cinnamon
roughly 1 tsp of PaanchPhoron(this time my PaanchPhoron had Radhuni instead of Mustard seeds)
Let the spices infuse the oil. To avoid the spices getting burnt I often switch off heat at this point and let the spices mingle in the oil.
Switch back the heat and to the oil now add 1 tbsp of minced onion and fry with half a tsp of sugar.
Once the onion has browned add 1 tomato finely chopped and 1 tbsp of fresh grated ginger.
When the tomatoes are totally mushed up add a wet paste of
1 tbsp Cumin Powder
1 tsp Kashmiri Mirch
Fry the masala with sprinkle of water for next 3-4 minutes till you see oil seeping from the edges.
Add the potatoes and potol that you had fried and kept aside. Mix well with masala.
Next add water for the gravy. Since this dish has a lighter gravy I usually add about 3 cups of warm water. Add salt to taste.
Let the gravy simmer and come to a boil. Once the potatoes and potol are cooked add the fish pieces. Lower the heat and simmer for 4-5 more minutes.
Serve with rice and a slice of lime on the side.