Jun 28, 2015
As I sit here in my English home, I think of my journey thus far in the culinary world. It all began possibly when I was a child. I was brought up in Bengal for the most part of my childhood. Hence, it has a massive influence on my palate and my weekly menu.
I spent few years in Durgapur and rest in Kolkata (Calcutta then). Baba was a scientist at CMERI Durgapur, and our quarter had a huge patio both in the front and the backyard. I was a very lean built child and our gardener would say to my mum “Didi, maach mangsho khelao maamoni ko, ektu mota to hobe” (Didi, feed your daughter with fish and meat to help her gain some weight).
My vegetarian aai would try to churn some egg omelettes to feed me some proteins. At times she made chena parathas to make me fitter! I recall Firoza our domestic help, who had a daughter my age. She would help my mum cook some fish or chicken at home. But I rarely relished those.
When we moved to Calcutta, we had a Bengali family living right across. Dida, two maashis (aunts), namely Milli and Jolly, mamu and Bhudor Kaku from this new neighbour family introduced us to their grand-daughter Poulomi, who became our best friend in the paara.
I had always seen Dida sit next to a jaalna (a window). The window had railings on the top bit and had a door to shut. The bottom part of the window, just had a door. It did not have any railings.
Every afternoon, post school, I used to go with my younger sister Shruti, to play at Dida’s baari. Dida let us in through the bottom part of the window. I was always amused every time we sneaked in through the window! More like a feeling of Alice entering the Wonderland.
I was always interested to watch Milli maashi cook on the unoon (earthen stove). The freshest of the moshla (masala) was ground using the Sheel Nora (a grinding stone). Bhudor Kaku would help her with the chopping of alu, torkari (veggies), maach or murgi.
There were two unoons in the small kitchen set up in the verandah. One with a huge degchi of bhaat (vessel of rice) and the other ready to churn the jhol (curry). When we visited them on the weekends in the morning, it was only then that we saw change in the menu at their place. Maashi would fry some luchis in the morning! I enjoyed Marathi food too. However, the Bengali ambience had a major influence then.
At times, when aai-baba had to visit somewhere far and had no choice but leave us behind, maashis would willingly agree upon looking after us. They would ask our parents not to worry about dinner. We loved staying at Dida’s baari.
This meant we could sit next to her as she watched through the window. Golpo (stories), Robindrosongeet followed by the news (in black and white) on the TV. Jolly Maashi would come along and say “Ashonta petechi…cholo, khabaar khabe” !
The food was served and Milli maashi made the best murgir jhol. This was the highlight of our stay at Dida’s baari. I used to relish the meal the most. This is probably where I developed my palate for Bengali food.
Years later, as a food blogger, I now know a few Bengali food bloggers in the virtual world. Last month, just when I was yearning for Maashi’s paatla jhol, I came across another blogger who made Kalyan’s didu’s macher jhol, a recipe I saw on India Food Network. That was it, I had to make a jhol that night.
After a quick chat with Kalyan and with his Didu’s recipe for murgir jhol, I set up my kitchen. I just loved the wafts from the pressure cooker…took me back to my Dida’s baari in Calcutta where Milli Mashi used to cook the meals.
The soft aloo in the jhol with the perfect use of spices…it was nostalgia for me! Even my husband and son loved eating alu and bhaat with the jhol. Kalyan’s Didu’s recipe is now a part of our weekly menu.
My husband was brought up in the plateau region of Maharashtra, and my son who has hopped with us from Pune to China, and then to England, is happy anytime I cook this recipe. I am glad one Dida helped me connect me with another Dida. Another Wonderland I visited!
For Kalyan’s Didu’s Murgir jhol one needs to:
Marinate the chicken in yogurt, salt, turmeric and red chilli powder and put it in the freezer. I kept it just over an hour. But, Didu’s recipe suggests keeping it overnight if possible. If keeping it overnight, thaw it the next morning.
1. Heat some oil in a pressure pan.
2. Next, fry some ground onion in it.
3. Add some ground ginger and garlic. Stir till brown.
4. Add the chicken and halved potatoes, green chillies and keep stirring till the skin browns.
5. Make a paste of turmeric powder, salt, coriander and cumin seeds in water.
6. Add some water. Transfer to a pressure cooker. Wait for three whistles. Let it cook on a low flame for some more time.
A pharmacist turned a special needs educationist, Preeti blogs at Isingcakes & more. She had started with cake baking, hence the name. However, this I-will-never-enter-the-kitchen-dame, now loves being in the kitchen and is cooking her way through Ruchira Cookbook by Late Kamalabai Ogale (very much Julie and Julia-esque) trying her best to adapt the recipes to suit the modern kitchen. Food photography is something that she enjoys too. A trained Kathak dancer, when she is not cooking, she dances.
Follow Preeti Deo on Twitter @Isingcakes