I love winter vegetables because they show how the simplest of ingredients can evolve into something with a life of their own.
Mothers in many Bengali homes have over years used vegetables in their fish curries to add that hint of “health” to the meals they cook. And also dispel any myths doing the rounds that all our lunch and dinners are made of phish and rice only.
This maacher jhol (runny fish curry) is a classic dish in my family. Seasonal vegetables are cut and diced to be cooked in a rather runny mixture of spices to get all the flavours rocking and rolling together. Finally shallow-fried pieces of fresh water fish would be dunked in the end to create what I call is a marriage made in heaven.
There is no one way of making this jhol. Once you have made it a few times, your intuition will kick in and you will be able to make it with perfection and precision every time.
I have used vegetables like cauliflower, potato, green beans, whole sugar peas for today’s recipe. You can use Oriental eggplant, green banana, potol, or even sojne data when available.
Traditionally, a jhol like this is made of fish with bones (you can use rohu, tilapia, catla, pabda, or even bata). However, today I have made this with boneless-skinless Tilapia fillets. Just for the ease of eating when the husband and I take turns to have our dinner because of the way Little Miss N is programmed - to wail just when we sit down to eat. I have a feeling its also a camouflaged complain about what she is missing culinary-wise. That insipid bottle of formula can make anyone cranky!
Ingredients for Maacher Jhol are:
4-5 pieces of shallow-fried pieces of white fish
5-6 large cauliflower flowerets
1 large potato, cut into wedges
Handful of green beans, strings removed and cut into halves
Handful of whole sugar peas, strings removed
1 large ripe tomato, coarsely cut
Few green chillies, half made into a paste, others slit lengthwise
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander
2-3 tablespoons yellow mustard powder (I freshly dry grind mine when I am making this jhol)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
In a large, open-face pan, heat 1-2 tablespoons mustard oil and add the tomatoes and green chillies. Let them soften a bit before you press the tomatoes down with the back of the spatula to get all the juices out.
Now add the runny jhol into the pan. Let it come to a rumbling boil. Start by adding the hardiest vegetables for the maacher jhol first and follow with the green beans and sugar peas which take the least time to cook. Make sure the potato is half cooked before you add the next set of vegetables. I like to keep some crunch to my cauliflower and greens.
Slide in the fried fish pieces and cook them in the jhol for about 4-5 minutes. Check seasoning, add salt if needed. Turn heat off and add chopped coriander to the maacher jhol.
Serve this maacher jhol with plain rice. Squirt a wedge of lemon (or Gondhoraj Lebu) on the jhol-bhaat to take it to the next level.