Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jhaal Jhol - Mixed Vegetables in a Spicy Mustard Curry and Mustard, Lemon and Coriander Grilled Chicken

I follow Bong Mom's Cookbook very closely - seem to identify with the general disregard for rules where cooking is concerned, her penchant for adaptation and the close relationship she shares with her daughters. Plus she spins some fabulous golpo :)

I have been able to try more than a few recipes from her repertoire - especially Bengali cuisine. I have made a couple of the fish recipes, but the vegetarian recipes fascinate me with their lilting names - Charchari, Tara Tari Paanch Mishali, Shorshe Begun.....they call out to me to discover what they must taste like. So, one Sunday afternoon, while we were lying sprawled around the house after a heavy breakfast of puris and kurma - "pythonish" - as the household idiom goes; I wondered what to cook for lunch. Something light...hmm, maybe rasam, rice and a porial. Naah....not porial today - too bland for what I was craving right now this cool, rainy day in September. No coconut based masalas after the kurma in the what else can I make. I open the refirgerator and meditate in front of the crisper until the 'fridge beeps indignantly at being left open for so long. I look at the summer vegetables we have - now restricted to the gourd family since we have already eaten cauliflower, potato and carrot in the kurma.

And then I think of the other cuisine with a penchant for using as much of a variety of vegetables as we do in the South - ridge gourd, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, radish, pumpkin - Bengali cuisine. And not only do they love all the variety but they also like to mix it up together into one dish - all the better to have a perfect melange of sweet, sharp, bitter and sour flavours.

I remember my Bong friend here making a maacher jhol- a thin, light curry which had the pungency of mustard underlying it. And then I thought of the Charchari on Bong Mom's blog as well. As always I wanted everything; I wanted the mixed vegetables in a jhol like curry rather than the semi-dry consistency of the Charchari and I wanted the pungency of the mustard as well. So I adapted this recipe  - Borar Jhol/Jhaal Whatever (her title, not mine!)- secure in the knowledge that since she herself had adapted the recipe from her Mom's repertoire, she wouldn't mind. Especially, since I did stick to her Mom's tweak to the original recipe to make it jhaal (spicy) - so what if the daler bora (lentil fritters) were replaced with mixed vegetables? Wasn't the bora itself a replacement for the fish in Macher Jhol?

Armed with these justifications, I ground the mustard paste (shorshe bata) - managed to avoid the bitterness that she cautions may happen while using a blender. My theory is that a low wattage blender (like a coffee grinder) may overheat if run for too long and therefore turn the paste bitter. So if you are using one, grind it on slow, with breaks in between.
I also used yellow mustard seeds since I find that black mustard seeds tend to be bitter sometimes. I used 4 tbsp of yellow mustard seeds soaked for 20 minutes in warm water along with 1.5 tbsp of poppy seeds (khus khus) and ground together with 2 green chillies to a smooth paste adding two tsp of water at a time. Be patient.

For the vegetables, I diced raw bananas, egg plant, bottle gourd and ridge gourd - didn't have pumpkin or bitter gourd which I would have loved to include. I did not steam them separately and instead cooked them in the curry itself after frying them for 3 minutes - this way they didn't get overcooked and mushy, as gourd vegetables sometimes do, and also absorbed the spice paste beautifully.

The jhaal jhol was amazingly flavourful - the mustard-chilli paste gave the right amount of heat to the dish for us; though for people who find it too spicy, they can omit the red chilli powder - Bong Mom says she usually doesn't use red chilli powder for preparations with the mustard paste. The mustard paste in this case was an addition made later by her mother to the dish - something which according to me, takes this dish from simple to sublime! We had this mixed with rice and it was lip smackingly delicious. This one is going to become a staple in our house.

Recipe adapted from this one

Tempering of nigella seeds and asafoetida as per the recipe, then the onion and tomato (I used 1 medium one each, chopped fine) and 1 tsp of ginger garlic paste (since I didn't have ginger paste).
Skipped the potato and turmeric and went straight on to the coriander, chilli and cumin powders.
Then the diced vegetables (eggplant, bottle gourd(lauki/sorakai/dudhi),smooth ridge gourd (turai) - about 2 cups) fried for 3 minutes and then cooked cover in 1.5 cups of water and salt to taste for about 8-10 minutes. The vegetables should be cooked through and soft but not mushy.

Remove from flame and serve warm with rice.

This goes to Nupur's event Blog Bites 7 - the Iron Chef Edition - where we have to pick one ingredient and cook it two ways using recipes from other food blogs. My ingredient of choice for this event is Mustard - something we take for granted in Indian cooking, but one that has many more uses than the basic tempering we are used to.

The other recipe I have picked is Kalyn's Mustard, Lemon and Coriander Grilled Chicken Breasts - something which I knew would go down very well with us, having cooked similar recipes before. This was the first time I was including mustard though, but seeing that this was from Kalyn's Kitchen, I didn't have a shred of doubt on how it would turn out.

Kalyn's recipes are all tried and tested and beautifully healthy as well. Her blog is a treasure trove of information on healthy recipes, especially suited to the South Beach diet. Her step by step instructions are a testimony to the time andenergy she spends creating these menus/recipes and meals.

Her casseroles are a favourite at home and I have tried many of her other one pot meals. This recipe is no exception - the marinade of mustard,olive oil, coriander and lemon juice worked beautifully on the chicken and I also mixed in about a half a tablespoon of the mustard paste which was made for the dish above. I used English mustard instead of Dijon mustard and added a tsp of black peppercorns while grinding the coriander leaves for a little more heat.

Breast pieces with bone were used instead of boneless pieces. The preparation was also a bit different - I flash fried the chicken breasts for 3 minutes on each side in a frying pan and then baked it in an oven for 35-40 minutes at 180C, turning once half way. The top was nice and crispy while the insides were beautifully cooked and tender. Served this with pasta tossed in a light, sauce with tomatoes and herbs.

A must try.


Arch said...

I like the sound of your jhaal jhol...I tend to go to Bengali cuisine too at times - its a real change from the usual south indian or typical 'north indian' classified dishes...

Kalyn said...

Your comments about my blog are so nice, thank you! So glad you enjoyed the chicken, and the mixed vegetable curry looks delicious too.

Miri said...

Thanks Arch and Kalyn!

Sayantani said...

the Jhal looks good Miri. being a Bengali I love anything with mustard paste and you recreated it perfectly. I make a dish with egg plant the same way. guess Sandeepa also has blogged about it.

Nupur said...

Miri- I really enjoyed reading this post! And I completely agree with the lilting names of Bengali vegetable dishes. Thank you so much for sending a fantastic post to BB7 :) I appreciate it.

Bong Mom said...


Your version of my version of my Mom's version of Jhaal/Jhol is actually the REAL thing.
I remember my Mom cooking a similar dish with veggies pretty often at home. Just like your friend, fish would sometimes be added to it. Potatoes, Brinjal & Patol were the usual veggies in it. Thanks for reminding, I never cooked this dish, soon I will do though, thanks to you.

I made your Basil Pesto with basil from my pot. It was really good. Used it to toss some pasta.

Miri said...

Bong Mom - thank you! coming from you that makes me so happy :)

And Sayantani and Nupur too :)

ninasubramani said...

superb recipe! its what they call a 'must try'

Cynthia said...

Miri, it feels as if I have not been to your blog in ages! How are you?

Miri said...

Cynthia - good to see you :) I have been well! It happens sometimes, we wonder how is it that we haven't stopped by for such a long time. But always nice to catch up again!

The knife said...

Congrats on trying out alien cuisnes and making them part of your home. No Bengali could have spoken as confidently as you did about the dish. Bengali cooking has a good repertoire of light vegetarian dishes. This is often forgotten. Thanks for showcasing it

Miri said...

Thanks K! I agree - Bengali vegetarian cuisine is nuanced and a fine art - something which is hidden under the hullabaloo made about bhaapa illish and mangsha gosht ;)