Ilish Macher matha die Chalkumro’r Tarkari (Ash gourd curry with or without fish head)12:40 PM
Do you believe India and Bharat are two different nations? I DO. Whatever we see or experience in the big metros or towns are mostly unheard of in the remote villages. Take for instance Education. When we get to choose from a variety of good play schools for our hardly 2 years old infant, in many parts of India students have to walk miles after miles to reach a basic educational institute. Leave aside the problems like bad infrastructure or medical facilities, even Safe drinking water is a big hurdle in most of the villages. I have many relatives living in villages in and around various parts of West Bengal and most of them have migrated to bigger towns for the basic amenities for their kids like education or medical amenities, or have send the kids away to Kolkata for their studies.
My Maternal aunt lives in a big town in Midnapore district with her husband (my uncle or Mesomashai as we call in Bengali). The two grown up kids are working and studying in Kolkata. Recently, my uncle experienced vigorous pain in his left chest. Immedieately they assumed heart problems and took him to a renowned doctor (with 3 very important degrees from foreign Universities). He checked him and said its not heart problem but normal indigestion and acidity. Gave him some antacid. Next day after lunch he again had pain in the same area, this tim it was excruciating. Again the same Doctor checked him and gave him more antacid with some de warming medicine. But my family wasn’t happy with these circumstances and decided to transfer him to Kolkata for a good check up. On Arrival to a good multi specialty hospital in the metro he was diagnosed with several heart attacks and severe artery blockages. He was put into the ICU the very moment and remained there till he was finally transferred to the operation theater for an open heart surgery.
Though we all are thankful to God for giving us another chance to safely take him to the doctor but what if we have believed in the previous doctor’s observations and had kept him there. And this also raises the question of what happens to others who do not have the means to come to bigger cities for medical needs. Not everyone is blessed enough to spend such huge fortunes on treatments. But isn’t it the basic amenities that we all need? Why cant we make it sure that everyone is getting minimum facilities to live a healthy life. Is it really difficult to upgrade the govt run hospitals and health centers with proper facilities, equipments and good Doctors? I do not have any answer to this. But am scared to think of all those people living in the villages, without any resource depending on the health centers there.
This curry that I am sharing today is a no nonsense no fancy everyday dish which is sometimes cooked with Hilsa head for suitable special occasions. Though this looks very similar to the bottle gourd but has a very distinctive flavour. Which is more noticeable when cooked. Mostly it is cooked with simple spices like ginger and cumin or with fish heads. I never cooked this dish as it was difficult to get tender ash gourds in Bangalore which is a prerequisite for this dish. Mostly ripe varieties were available there for adding to sambar. Also the Chalkumro (ash gourd) plant I had in my Bangalore house never rewarded me with fruits. It gave me ample amount of leaves and stalks to cook this and this but it never bore any fruit.
So this time when after the operation of my uncle my masimoni chopped the gourd to cook I dint waste any time and was ready with my camera. It tasted delicious with steamed rice and since then I have cooked it twice in 2 weeks. Just today I made it without fish and trust me its still delicious. Am not much of a fish eater and being a Bengali I should be ashamed to declare that I liked the vegetarian version more (now my hard core non vegetarian family will disown me for sure).
Chalkumro’r tarkari with or without fish head
Tender ash gourd: 1 medium (5 cups when chopped)
Whole cumin: 1 tsp
Ginger paste: 11/2 tsp
Cumin powder or paste: 1 tsp
Coriander powder or paste: ½ tsp
Dry red chillies: 2-3
Bay leaf: 1 big
Mustard or any refined oil: 2 tbsp (if you are using Hilsa then try to use mustard oil or use 1 tbsp each of mustard or refined oil)
Turmeric: 1 tsp
Sugar: 1/3 tsp
Head of one hilsa fish
Potato: 1 medum
Wash, Peel and finely chop the gourd in thin long pieces. Keep this submerged in water.
If you are using hilsa head, smear it with turmeric and salt and keep aside.
If you are using potato, peel and cut in small cubes.
Mix the ginger paste and cumin-coriander powder in ¼ cup water and keep aside.
Heat the oil in a kadhai or pan and fry the hilsa head till golden on all sides. Take out and keep aside.
In the same oil add the cumin seeds and red chillies (torn in two pieces). When the splutter add the potatoes if using. Fry till they are golden. Or directly add the spice paste. Keep on frying on low till oil oozes out at the sides.
Drain the excess water from the chopped gourds and add this to the spice mix with salt and turmeric. Give it a good mix to coat everything with the spices. Break the fish head in chunky pieces and add to the gourds. Mix and cover. Let it cook on medium heat for 10-15 minutes.
Lot of water will come out and the gourd will be cooked in its own juice. Don’t add any water just keep on checking from time to time and give it a good stir.
When all the water evaporates, check if the potatoes have cooked. Adjust the seasoning and fry it for another 3-4 minutes till you see oil coming out from the sides. The gourds will be soft but not mushy as seen in the picture.
Once done, mix in the sugar, adjust seasoning and serve with steamed rice.
That day my family had it with macher dimer bara (fish roe fritters), aam dal (Red lentil soup with raw mangoes) and Ilish macher patla jhol (hilsa in light gravy). A simple and satisfying meal to remind ourselves how beautiful life is.
A homemakers Notes:
For variation you can also cook it with soaked black gram or chola. Add this along with the chopped ash gourd and cook the curry as mentioned above.
If you plan to cook it with fish head you can use head of any big fish like katla or rui (rohu).
Bottle gourd could also be cooked in the exact same way. For variation try adding musur daler bori (fried red lentil dumplings) or soaked black gram.
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