Bengali Recipe ~ Aloo, Potol, Chingri Mach er Jhol (Potato, Pointed Gourd and Shrimp Stew)

As a child I hated pointed gourd or potol as we call it in Bangla. It was okay initially in the early days of summer, but as the heat increased and people felt too drained of energy to cook and the vegetables in the market were all wilting, the pointed gourd would thrive. I mean seriously thrive, they would be fresh & green and  cheap, seasonal and plentiful. So we would get light summer stews  with pointed gourds either with fish or bori (dal dumplings) for lunch, a pointed gourd stir fry for dinner with or without potato, sometimes deep fried pointed gourds with dal, in all kinds of mixed veggies, if we were expecting guests my mother would get all fancy and stuff the pointed gourd with either fish or cottage cheese  and then deep fry them. Some people I have heard (oh the horrors) even had them just boiled with a dash of salt and mustard oil. Even the fabled Bengali wedding feasts were not complete without them. It was as incessant as the monsoon rains I tell you. By the middle of summer, just the sight of pointed gourds made me want to throw up.  Long after the mangoes had disappeared from the market (the main attraction of the summers, as far as I was/am concerned) the potol lingered on. And I was not alone, most people I knew back then in Calcutta felt the same way. But not my parents, oh no. My parents have wildly different eating habits and food choices but one thing they concur on are these pointy veggies. They both love them, specially the young ones deep fried.

Fast forward  to 2019. I actually miss potol. The first time this profound realisation happened a couple of years back,  I was dumb struck. I had to do a Kajol-in-DDLJ-style palat and double check with myself. When the answer was still a resounding yes, the teenager me from years back mightily rolled her eyes at the adult me. And the adult me could only hang her head in shame for becoming adult and giving in. In all this my mother had a great time, oh how she laughed when I asked her for recipes to cook this once upon a time abhorred vegetable.

The first time I saw these vegetables glistening in an Indian grocery store here in London I actually grew nostalgic. They say our taste buds change every seven years, mine have had several multiples of seven, so I guessed they changed. With the passing years every summer  my soul hankers for those dishes of my childhood. So I drag my  reluctant husband to Tooting in search of these pointy veggies. Usually I make the vegetarian version, but there was a tray of shrimps in my freezer so decided to a a light summery stew  with potatoes, pointed gourds and shrimp.

(Serves 2 for a meal with a bit leftover)
1. 7/8 pointed gourds, edges trimmed off and cut into two halves
2. 2 big potatoes, peeled and made into 4 pieces each, soaked in water
3. 300 grams or approx shrimps, cleaned and peeled
4. 1 big red onion, thinly slices
5. Half an inch of ginger and half a tea spoon of coriander seeds mashed together in mortar and pestle, a rough paste would do
6. 2 green chillies
7. 2 teaspoons of turmeric/haldi powder
8. 2 teaspoons of red chilli powder
9. Half a teaspoon of coriander powder
10. Generous pinch of garam masala
11. Salt to taste
12. 1 teaspoon of sugar
13. 2 table spoons of oil (any would do, I used cold pressed rapeseed oil)
14. 1 teaspoon of ghee (optional)
15. 1 bay leaf

Now let's make this jhol, the nearest word in English would be stew I guess

1. Let's first sprinkle some 1 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 teaspoon of red chilli powder and salt on both the shrimps and pointed gourds and lightly fry them (separately of course). Do use a slightly bigger pan/korai for we will do the stew in that pan itself. About one table spoon of oil should be sufficient to fry both of them. For the pointed gourds a light fry (3 to 4 minutes) is enough, for the shrimps fry till they turn light pink and are no longer raw (takes 2 to 3 minutes at the max). Keep them aside. 

2. In the the same pan add the rest of 1 table spoon of oil,  the bay leaf, the slices of onion, sprinkle the sugar and half a teaspoon of salt. Fry till the onions start looking translucent, then throw in the dry masala powders --  1 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 tea spoon of red chilli and half a tea spoon of coriander. Mix the powders nicely and once the powders are fried, add the ginger and coriander seed paste. Fry for a couple of minutes more. Might need to add a few drops of water if the masala is sticking to the pan to deglaze the pan and stop the masalas from getting burnt.

3. Next it is time to put in the potato pieces and frying them. This step I usually do on low medium heat for about 10 minutes cos I like my potatoes nicely pan fried. Again add a few drops of water in case it gets too dry and sticks to the pan. After about 10/12 minutes add a cup of water, the green chillies, snapped at the middle and salt (remember you had added a little initially when frying the onions so go easy), mix everything well, cover the pan and let the potatoes cook for 10 to 15 minutes on low to medium heat.

4. Open the pan, stir well, add a cup of water more and the fried pieces of pointed gourd and cover again. Let it boil for another 7/8 minutes.

5. Remove the cover, by now the water should have reduced and oil floated on top. Please check whether the potatoes are cooked through. Check the seasoning, adjust if necessary. Switch off the heat, add a teaspoon of ghee and sprinkle a generous pinch of garam masala and the fried shrimps, mix everything well. Put the lid back on and leave the shrimps to soak in the flavour for at least 10 to 15 minutes. 

Tastes best with hot steamed rice. If you want to serve this with rotis. add half a cup of water instead of a cup when adding the pointed gourds. Also dry the gravy a bit more. I like watery gravy when eating with rice.

Link to the vegetarian potato & pointed gourd curry is here.
And to impress you further I also have a recipe link for potato, pointed gourd and pumpkin stir-fry.

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