I am touched beyond words when Piyali Boudi, a dear friend and neighbour, sends me her grandmother’s hand-written recipe notebook.
From the 1920s.
A veritable treasure trove of stunning recipes from the turn of the century.
The sheer diversity of recipes leave me stunned.
Earthy Bengali dishes long forgotten.
Mughlai recipes fit for an august feast.
And a stunning smorgasbord of Anglo-Indian delicacies – roasts and bakes, puddings and pies.
Stoked by curiosity, I reach out to Piyali Boudi, eager to learn more about her grandmother, who in the early twentieth century had opened up her kitchen to the influences of the West.
Laced with bittersweet memories.
And the more I hear, the more impressed I grow, at the progressive lady far ahead of the times.
Educated in a convent.
Could mesmerise an audience of music aficionados with her performance on the esraaj. Or the organ.
Could challenge you at a hand of tennis.
Or could enthral you with her intricate needlework.
And of course was a prolific cook, the mildewed century-old notebook that lies in front of me is an eloquent testimony to her profound passion for the culinary art.
I spend days cooped up at home, glued to the notebook, reading and re-reading the recipes, making copious notes, adding measures for the recipe ingredients, reviewing and editing them till they feel just right, attempting to decipher the lines that have faded beyond intelligibility, often feeling like a persevering child hard at work on a jigsaw puzzle that has long lost some of the blocks.
Beggars cannot be choosers. Is there any maxim that implies just the antithesis ? When you are spoilt silly for choice, say like the proverbial kid in the candy-shop.
I ask S one morning as he sips his Darjeeling one morning.
It’s not everyday one feels so blessed.
Finally I zero in on Doodher Jhol as the first recipe from Thakumas notebook that I shall share with readers.
Doodher Jhol. A melange or vegetables and greens. Stewed in milk. Perfumed with coriander. Just a touch of ginger. Finished with a generous dollop of ghee. Quintessentially Bengali.
Do give the Doodher Jhol a try, I can guarantee that smile of contentment illuminating your face !!
Doodh er Jhol
- 8-10 potol or parwal or pointed gourds peeled
- 2 potatoes peeled and cut into medium cubes
- 2 bunches of lau shaak or bottle gourd greens
- 500 ml whole milk
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1 tsp coriander seed paste
- 1/2 tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
- 5-6 green chilies slit
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 1/2 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- Remove the tender leaves from the stems, finely chop the leaves. Keep aside.
- If the stems are tender, cut into 1- 1.5 inch long pieces, wash thoroughly and keep aside. If not tender, I would recommend avoiding using the stems.
- Boil the stems in salt water till tender. Drain from the water. Keep aside.
- Heat oil in a Kadhai, add the potato and potol, sprinkle salt, shallow fry, some 8-10 minutes.
- Add the ginger and coriander paste, cook over a medium flame for 5 odd minutes till oil starts to release from the masala.
- Turn the heat to low, gently pour in the milk, while stirring continuously, cook for another odd 5-7 minutes.
- Throw in the bottlegourd stems and leaves, continue to cook till the vegetables are tender. Sprinkle in the sugar.
- In a separate pan, heat the ghee, throw in the kalonji and green chilies. Allow them to splutter.
- Add the tempered ghee over the curry, give it a hearty mix.
- Adjust seasonings. Serve hot.