Thursday, 15 August 2013

Tetor Macher Jhol (Bitter Gourd Fish Curry)

Anything Bitter hardly finds takers. Same applies for Bitter Gourd. As a kid I hated bitter gourd in any form. Grown ups around me would make several preparation out of this vegetable and relish it. I found it strange - why would someone deliberately eat something which tasted bitter? My mother tried to feed me fried ucche (bitter gourd) or fried neem leaves or Karola bhaja to make my body immune against many seasonal diseases. If I had my way I would have never eaten any but out of fear of my father that he will scold me otherwise would have it grudgingly.

Going to Dadur Bari (Grandpa's home) during vacations would be much anticipated thing. My  Dadu (Grandpa)  was a big connoisseur of food. Holidaying at dadur bari meant lots of fun and good food. Every one at his home was used to getting up early - the day would start at 6:15 AM for us kids and for my Dida (Grandma) it would be at 5 AM maybe, we never were awake at that time to know. She would collect the Shiuli Phool (Night Jasmine) which would fall at night from the Shiuli Tree for pooja, do some chores, wake us up, make the bed by the time it was tea time. The morning tea was Dadu's department. He was very particular about the morning tea and would not let anyone else into the kitchen. Vacations were also the time when my mashi (aunty) would visit along with cousin sis. So in total, there would be nearly 10-11 cups of tea made in the morning. As soon as we got the news that tea was ready and being poured into the cups, the biscuits would be brought out to the veranda (sitting area) - Marie for the elders, Bourbon for the kids. The tea session would begin at 6:30 AM and end at sharp 7:00 AM. It was the most relaxing time of that day when we had full fledged adda with topics starting from political, sports, movies, animals, science, neighborhood, our school and some old time stories about dadu and dida.  Our pet cats (around 5-6) would also join us for biscuits. At 7:00 AM sharp the tea session would wind up and Dadu would go to the market. He would go early to get the freshest of the produce. Buying vegetables, poultry or fish was entirely his department again as he had a firm belief no one could pick and choose the best thing as him.

Once the fresh produce of the day was handed over to dida, dadu would declare what would be the menu of the day. He was the decision maker in the house in matters of food. He had such a vast knowledge of the dishes that he knew in and out of what would go with what. And when we were there he made sure no dish was repeated ever and we tasted all the delicacies possible, specially fish. There was a flood of Koi (perch), Chingri (prawn) and Ilish (Hilsa). He took so much care of food that most often the situation would be that we had stomach upset on the second day itself due to too much over indulgence. Then the rest of the days we would thrive on a staple diet of Metrogyl, Digene, Enzymes and ORS.

The food would be cooked with much care and love at the household with my dadu as the constant supervisor. Sometimes dida did get annoyed and gave him a piece of her mind. But the camaraderie between them would add to the fun of the stay. Among the many family recipes, one was that of Tetor Macher Jhol. My mother was a big fan of ucche and dida would make sure it was there on the menu in one or more forms. Of course I never had it but only took the fishes out and ate. Though I didn't eat it but would really like the look of the dish. It was a very green dish and looked quite delicious. It was only in my later teens one day I tasted this dish and took an immediate liking to it. And with that I started liking all other bitter preparations in the Bengali cuisine. Its an acquired taste but once you start liking bitter you fall more in love with this taste. After that I used to ask my mother to make any bitter preparation I visited home, unfortunately by the time I grew likeness for bitter dishes I went away from home to study.

Post marriage I came to know that my husband was also one of the bitter hating people. But now since I have fallen in love with it I really miss making bitter dishes at home. Another form of eating bitter gourd was introduced to me from the husband's family. Boiled bitter gourd with mashed potato (uchhe-alu bhate) together with salt and mustard oil. Again a very good combination to go with warm masoor daal.

My husband is away on a visit to Kolkata for this entire week, so its time for me to cook all those things which I love and he detests. Today it was Tetor Macher Jhol. I had it after ages and was totally over the cloud after having it. Lot of childhood memories gushed in with every bite and hence I penned down so many things from the bygone days. Bitter gourd has many heath benefits and cleanses our system so Bengalis prefer to have a portion of bitter in their meals.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes 

Cooking Time: 20 minutes


Cuisine:Bengali (Family recipe)

  • Rohu Fish - 1/2 kg
  • Ucche (Bitter gourd) - 2 big
  • Small Brinjal - 2 Medium
  • Potato - 1 medium
  • Tomato - 1 medium
  • Garlic- 12-15 cloves
  • Radhuni (Indian celery seeds) - 2 tsp
  • Jeera (Cumin) - 3 tsp
  • Bay Leaf - 2
  • Green Chilli - 4 
  • Turmeric powder - 4 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Mustard Oil 

1.    Clean the fish and cut them into bite size pieces or small pieces. Big cut fish would not be suitable for this dish as it would not soak up the juices properly.

2. Add 2 tsp of salt and 2 tsp turmeric to the fish and mix well. Let it marinate for 15 minutes.

3. Heat mustard oil and fry the fishes. Keep aside.

4. Slightly mash the garlic cloves with a morter pestle.

5. Cut the bitter gourd in thin half moons

6. Cut the Brinjals and tomato longitudinally into thin pieces

7. Cut the potatoes in the shape of brinjals 

8. Fry the potatoes till golden brown and keep aside

9. Heat oil in a wok. When steaming add Bay leaf, radhuni and jeera. When fragrant add the garlic. Fry for 2 minutes.

10. Add 3 cups of water to it. Add salt and remaining turmeric powder to the water and stir.

11. Add the brinjals, fried potatoes, tomato, fried fishes and slitted green chilli. Let it cook on high flame for 6-7 minutes.

12. When the brinjals are half cooked add the bitter gourd. Cook on high flame and do not cover. Keep an occasional check on the water level. This is not a soupy gravy, the final preparation should have very little gravy.

To preserve the color of the green vegetables it should be cooked on high flame and without a lid on. 

13. Cook till the bitter gourd is done, it will be semi tender when you switch off the heat.

Serve it with steamed rice and fried Papads. Try the Haldiram Papads, I found it to be tastier than the Lijjat Papads.

Today is the 67th Independence Day of India. I thought to celebrate it with this dish. As the bitter cleanses our body hoping it will cleanse the bad energy from our lives too. 

Happy Independence Day to all fellow Indians!

Sending this to Cooking 4 all Seasons' "Side Dish Mela" event.


Monday, 12 August 2013

Chilli Chicken - My Style

Its very difficult to find a Bengali who doesn't like Chinese food. Chinese is probably the first road side snack that we get introduced to back home. Momos, Hakka noodles, Manchurian, Chicken soup - you name it and you have it there right at the corner of the street...a unassuming small shack in an Indian city dishing out mouth watering 'Chinese' cuisine. Of course the Chinese we get in our country are the Desi version of their counterpart, revamped to suit our palates which expect a lot of spice and flavor in every bite. But who is complaining. We grow up with this taste and expect anything that claims to be a Chinese cuisine will taste similar to what we are used to.

That's when we get the rude shock once we stick to our expectation while having Chinese in a American city. Totally bland, minimal seasoning, thick noodles, minimal or no flavors and totally limited variety. I love Chinese food and while in US the moment our colleagues planned a Chinese luncheon I was too pleased.  I had been craving the same for too long and was all ready to satiate my cravings. P.F Chang - one of the leading names in the South Asian bistros.I remember I had ordered some rice, a hot and sour soup and some chicken sides. The soup tasted and smelled so bad me and my colleague left it as it is. The rice and chicken were equally bland and tasteless to me. One of my colleagues had ordered garlic noodles which was still better, but in the end that marked my last visit to the bistro. From then on if I had Chinese cravings I would visit small Japanese food outlets in the city mall. What they served was still much similar to what we have in our country.

To cut the long story short, we Indians are used to adulterated food, so authentic Chinese failed to make the mark for me whereas our desi versions are totally what I am in love with. When I speak of Chinese, Chilli Chicken is one dish that is obviously Chinese and on top of the charts for any Chinese food lover. For me the story had been otherwise. From childhood days whenever we had ordered Chilli chicken, the chicken came with a coating of flour which usually turned soggy due to the presence of the sauces in the dish and was a definite blah for me. Anything that comes in a flour coating, I simply cannot stand it. Thus chilli chicken and Manchurian were two things I consciously avoided while ordering my Chinese food.

Once while I had some chicken left in my fridge and not much vegetables in my hand, I decided to make a stir fry of everything. That's how I made this Chilli chicken which is too easy to make, not much ingredients required and most importantly not coated with anything. It's Chilli and Chicken and nothing in between :).

Preparation Time: 15 minutes 
Marinating Time : 2 hr

Cooking Time: 35 minutes


Cuisine: Desi style Chinese


Marination Items:
  • Chicken - 300 gm
  •  Yoghurt - 1/2 cup
  • Pepper Powder - 2 tsp
  • Red Chilli Powder - 1 tsp
  • White Vinegar - 3 tsp
  • Salt - 2 tsp
  • Refined Oil - 1 tsp
Main Dish:
  •  Capsicum - 1 Medium
  • Onion - 1 big
  • Potato - 1 Medium
  • Garlic - 12 cloves
  • Ginger - 2 inch 
  • Green Chilli - 3
  • Dried Red Chilli - 2
  • Soya Sauce - 1 tsp 
  • Maggie Chicken Masala cube/ Ching's Fried Rice Miracle Masala/ Ching's Schezwan Miracle Masala / Ajinomoto - 2 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar to taste
  • Refined oil - for deep frying
1.    Clean the chicken and place it in a big bowl. Add all the ingredients mentioned under marination items  to it and mix well. Let the chicken marinate for 2-3 hours or overnight if you have time on your hands.

2.    Chop the Capsicum longitudinally in thin strips, Onions as medium strips and dice the potatoes (Potato is optional in this recipe, I added it because my husband can't do without potatoes).

3. Chop the garlic in small pieces and the ginger into thin small pieces of half inch size.

4. Slit the green chillies

5. Shallow fry the diced potatoes till half done and keep them aside.

6. Heat oil in a wok and temper the oil with Dried Red chillies (break them into half before tossing into the oil), ginger, garlic. Saute for a minute.

7. When you get the aroma of red chilli and garlic, toss the onion, capsicum, and green chillies. Add 1 tsp salt and sugar to it. Saute for sometime till the Onion starts to become pink and the capsicum is tender. Add the fried Potatoes. Keep on  sprinkling water so that the veggies don't stick to the wok or get burnt. I prefer to stir fry the veggis without putting a lid on as that preserves the color better.

8. Move the contents of the wok into a bowl once the veggis are done. Clean the wok and add oil/ butter to it. Put the heat on.

9. When the oil is warm add the marinated chicken to it. Stir fry for 8-9 minutes or till the chicken are done. Continuously stir the chicken or it will stick to the wok.

10. Once the Chicken is done add the veggies prepared in Step 6. Mix well.

 11. Add Soya Sauce and adjust the salt and sugar level. Keep stirring.

12. When everything is cooked and mixed well, sprinkle either Maggie Chicken Masala cube/ Ching's Fried Rice Miracle Masala/ Ching's Schezwan Miracle Masala or if you have none of these use Ajinomoto (Monosodium Glutamet). Stir for a couple of minutes and remove from flame.

Serve with any kind of fried rice or noodles.

I had a totally unconventional pairing though. I served the chilli chicken with steamed rice and masoor daal. Try it and I bet you will fall in love with this combo. it will become your quick fix meal when you crave something good but involves less work.

Note: You can improvise on this basic recipe by adding any veggie that you like. I added corn, carrot and mushrooms sometimes and it turned out equally great.

Sending this to Cooking 4 all Seasons' "Side Dish Mela" event and Priya's and Spicy Treat's "Diwali Delicacy" event.

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