Sunday, 6 April 2014

Kacha Potoler Patla Macher Jhol ( Pointed Gourd Fish Curry)

After a beautiful winter the summers are finally here full on. And this time it promises to be intense with the mercury touching 39 degree centigrade at the beginning of April. Pune has a very dry summer unlike the humid summer of Mumbai. You feel the heat but it doesn’t leave you drained. The apartment where we are currently staying is in the outskirts of the city for which after sun down the evening breeze coming down from the surrounding hills creates a pleasant weather.

The best part of Summer is waking up to the sweet cooing of the cuckoo in the morning.  I had almost forgotten what it’s like waking up to the song of a cuckoo once I left Kharagpur for attending college a decade ago. The city lifestyle had taken over from there on. The beauty of living among nature, summers bursting with the fiery blossoms of Palash , monsoon bringing in an array of colorful critters and petite white lilies, autumn ringing in the tall Kash Phool hedges , winters with the classical chilly evenings and spring coloring the landscape with golden Radhachuda.

We stayed in a huge B-type  quarter in the IIT campus, specially allocated to professors.  The quarter was bigger than 15000 sq. ft pent houses of today. And we had a lawn like a football ground surrounding our quarter with huge tall trees as boundary lines between two adjacent quarters. Summers would be pretty intense in the campus. And the hollow brick house would heat up quickly in the day. During summer vacations as soon as the sun went down behind the trees me and ma would set up a small table and a few chairs in the red stone paved area before the lawns.  With sun down the temperature would come down and a nice breeze would start. As the evening progressed the air would become heavy with the smell of Madhabilatas.  We settled down in the chairs with some snacks and summer special drinks like lassi, bel er shorbot etc.  I would study in advance for the next class and she would sit engrossed in some book. As the evening set in ma would light the Hurricane lantern or a few candles (Emergency light was still uncommon back then). It was difficult to read and write in that flickering flame but it had become such a natural thing for us that we never felt at
unease. Now-a-days Hurricane Lantern are only used as décor for rustic themed restro-bars, but back then it was a way of life. There would be evenings when it was breeze less, we would then bring out our brand new table fan.   My cats would play around us, sometimes one of them would curl up on our laps or lie down on one corner of the table to enjoy the fan. Dad would come home late from the institute almost by 7:30 PM. He would sometimes join us outside after that. There would be long hours of mother-daughter talks once I was done studying.  I believe those were the evenings over which the two of us bonded as friends.  I remember this one particular evening when I was studying for my entrance exams into the new school. Ma was as usual engrossed in some book. The Hurricane lantern would only light the top of the table. Down under it was all dark. I suddenly felt some things slither over my feet and jumped in alarm. First we thought it was one of my cats but then we heard something rustle over the fallen leaves and saw a snake run away. It gave us quite a fright but snakes and living in the IIT campus was synonymous.  There were snakes everywhere you could imagine. So even though we were scared and took precaution to light up more Hurricane lanterns and set on the ground all around us, we didn’t refrain from enjoying our evening sit-outs.

Summer would also mean endless hours of watching children program on DD1 throughout the morning as there would be no school. Chandrakanta, Potli Baba, Dino Danasur, Duck Tales, Shaktiman, Aladin all these would be studiously devoured. My dad would also buy me many story books to spend my summer. I was a vivid reader and books always made me super happy. Covering the new class books and copies with brown papers and smelling the crisp pages was another of my favorite activity. As ma would cover the books I would meticulously select the fancy label to be put up on each book – a mermaid one for the science book, goofy for geography and so on. Ah the joys of childhood!

Another thing that I remember from the Summer months is the cooing of the cuckoos in the wee hours of the morning. They would start cooing even before the first ray’s of the sun hit the earth. And it would be a powerful orchestra as dozens of them would sing in unison. You see we never needed a rooster to wake us up back then. We were used to it so it didn’t mess up with our sleep. But once my grand pa was visiting us and all this cooing made him wake up. He complained throughout the day about the Cuckoos. The cuckoos of IT were fabled for their early morning choir even till day.

Compared to all those cuckoos here we have only a lone cuckoo singing in the morning and afternoon. Sometimes it is joined by its mate. But these two loners really ring in all the beautiful childhood memories for me. I have never seen them but I have heard them every single day.  I have a lot of pigeon friend though for whom I keep boiled rice on the terrace every night. By day break they are all polished off.  And with the onset of summer I have made it a practice to keep a bucket of water outside in the patio so that thirsty birds can have a drink anytime. I would urge all my readers to also do the same. Think for the earth, and you will not go unrewarded. As I witness the enormous speed at which the concrete jungles are encroaching the nature I just wish that somewhere some cuckoos are still there to regale the children in the days to come. 

During the summer days you don’t prefer to have spicy and heavy stuffs. The heart craves for soothing light food. The Bengali household would almost discard the usage of onions in their gravies during this time of the year. And you would find all the high water content rich summer vegetables like potol (pointed gourd), kacha pepe (green papaya), jhinge (ridge gourd), kach kola (raw banana),  sojne data (drumsticks), begun(brinjal), kumro (pumpkin) etc made into very light gravy in every household. We usually call such gravies as “patla jhol” or “thin gravy”.  The recipe that I am going to write about today is a soupy gravy of fish and vegetable. It’s ideal for the hot summer afternoons and easy on the stomach too. I used two types of fish for the gravy, you can just use Rohu if you want.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes 

Marination Time: 30 minutes

Cooking Time: 30 minutes


Cuisine: Bengali

  • Magur (Catfish) - 4 pieces (medium cut)
  • Rohu - 4 pieces (medium cut)
  •  Potato - 2 medium
  • Potol (Pointed Gourd) - 10 
  • Jeera whole (cumin) - 1 tsp
  • Jeera paste - 2 tsp
  • Bay leaf - 2
  • Green chilli - 3 
  • Beaten curd - 3 tsp
  • Charmogoj paste (Dry Melon Seed paste) - 1/2 tsp (optional)*
  • Salt & Sugar - as per taste
  • Turmeric - (for marination & gravy)
  • Mustard oil for frying

  • Procedure:

    1. Clean the fish pieces and rub them with salt and turmeric. Marinate for 30 minutes.
    2.  Heat mustard oil in a deep bottomed pan. When the pungent smell dies down, slide the fish and fry till slightly browned on the edges. For Magur, shallow frying for 5-7 minutes will also do as they don’t need deep frying. Take a tissue paper on a plate and keep the fried fish on it.

    3. Wash the potato and pointed gourd. Peel the skin of the potato and cut into 4 longitudinal pieces. Peel the skin of the pointed gourd and make deep scrapes on the sides all over. Cut them into longitudinal halves.

    4. Fry the potatoes lightly and keep aside

    5. Make 2 tsp Jeera paste.

    6. Beat the curd and keep aside.

    7. Smash the green chillies coarsely with a mortar pestle

    8. Heat oil in a wok. Let it steam. Throw in the bay leaf and whole jeera and let it splutter. Add 3 cups of water (or enough water for a runny gravy)

    9. Add salt, sugar and half a spoon of turmeric – stir into the water.

    10. Add the fried potato, fish and pointed gourd into the water. Cover and cook on high heat till the vegetables are well done and the gravy looks translucent.

    11. Add the beaten curd, jeera paste and smashed green chillies at this point. Fold in. Adjust the water level to maintain the runniness. At this point you can add the charmogoj paste to make the consistency of the gravy slightly thick. I didn’t add though, I prefer my gravy very light.

    12. Cook for 5 minutes till everything is well blended. Switch off the flame and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

    Serve the fish curry with steamed rice and a lemon wedge. Bon Apetite!

    • I added the beaten curd on high flame only. Some prefer to switch off the heat and then add curd because the heat would curdle it. Depends entirely on the curd. Mine doesn’t curdle even if added at high temperature. Hence to be safe you can switch off the heat and then add the curd if you are unsure.
    • It would be better to make a thick paste of jeera, curd and green chillies together. But I made them separately.
    • The more tender the ridge gourd the better taste of the gravy
    • You can also add a few pieces of ridge gourd into this gravy

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