Often I wonder how uncomplicated life was when we were kids. Everything from our daily needs to entertainment options all were straightforward and non fussy. Sometimes too many choices take out the pleasure of life and leave us wanting more. And most of the time we do not even have idea what it is that we really want, something in us just keeps on telling don’t settle for anything less as something better awaits us somewhere. And the way of life we are used to now, never gives us the chance to stop or think that whether we really want the best of everything.
I grew up in Santiniketan, a very humble small university town (not so small anymore) in Bengal. Where people did their job lovingly and found joy in gardening in their free time. Life was easy and slow paced. People actually stopped to admire the first bloom of spring flowers or the beautiful evening sky. Most of the evenings my father came home by 6:30 and we all had our simple homemade evening snacks together. There was no price tag, competition or status symbol attached to anything we ate, we wore or where we lived. We hardly had any shop selling anything in the vicinity. To buy the barest necessity we actually had to cycle 3 kms to the nearest local bazaar in Bolpur.
Sunday mornings in the beginning of every month was meant for grocery shopping. The day before Baba would drop the maskabari fardo or monthly grocery list to ‘Adwaito Shop’ selling all grocery needs on his way back home. On Sunday morning an orderly would come with the driver to drop 3-4 huge jute bags full of lentils, flours and various spices. Then he would take the long list of vegetables Maa would require for the week and will leave for the market. Some days when Baba decided to do the vegtable and fish shopping, he would take all three of us brothers and sister to accompany him. We looked forward to this once in a month outing to a quaint dusty market in our mufassal town and loved our treat of local made ‘Mitu’ ice cream on our way back Back then they sold only flavoured popsickles like chocolate, milk, tutti frutti etc. We loved choosing from the tiny list they hung in front of their shop. Even Maa loved that small treat that we brought home for her. The almost melted ice cream always brought smile on her face. That smile always is priceless just like those simple pleasures of life.
We had very few choices back then. For entertainment we only had one TV channel, DD 1,and many of you could relate to that wait for Wednesday night chitrahaar which almost was the only window to latest movies back then. Going to school meant either cycling for 3 kms on each side or walking for a km to catch the school bus. But we dint mind either option as with friends we found enough joy in walking together through that dusty path. Maa always packed our Tiffin with something homemade and nutritious otherwise we went out to buy a packet of Dadu’r spicy Jhalmuri. Nothing much yet we miss those moments. I really am not trying to dwell in the past. All I want to point is that having ‘more or better’ is not what makes us happy and we seem to be forgetting that very soon.
The recipe of this very light soupy prawn curry is one of the few uncomplicated joy of life left. Which will definitely make you believe ‘life is beautiful’.
Jhinge Chingri’r Jhol
Prawns (medium size): 250 gms (cleaned and de-vained)
Ridge gourd: 2 mediums
Potato: 1 medium
Onion paste: 2 tbsp
Ginger paste: ½ tsp
Cumin powder: ½ tsp
Coriander powder: ½ tsp
Cumin seeds: ½ tsp
Cloves: 2 pieces
Turmeric powder: ½ tsp
Tomato: 1 medium
Green chilies: 2-3; depending on your heat quotient
Oil: 1 tsp+1 tbsp
Garam masala powder: 1/3 tsp
Mix the cleaned prawns with salt and turmeric. Keep aside.
Wash the potato and ridge gourds under running water, peel and cut in long wedges. Keep aside.
Mix the ginger paste, cumin-coriander powder with 1/3-cup water and keep aside.
Heat 1 tsp oil and fry the prawns for a few seconds till they turn pink. Don’t fry for long as that will make the prawns hard and chewy. Drain and take out on a platter. Keep aside.
Pour the rest of the oil in the same pan and temper with cumin seeds, cloves and slited green chilies. Once they start to splutter add the potatoes. Mix in a pinch of salt and turmeric and fry for a minute on medium heat. Now add the onion paste and the whole tomato. Stir and fry the spice till oil start to separate on the sides. Now add the spice mixed with water. Fry again on medium till oil comes out.
Now with a spatula prick and mix the tomato. It should be soft and cooked by now. Fry briefly till the tomato mixes well in the spice. Add 2 cups of water, preferably warm. Adjust the seasoning by adding salt and sugar if required and cover. Let it come to a boil and then mix in the ridge gourds. Cover and let it cook on low for 5-6 minutes or the gourds are soft and almost cooked.
Now it’s the time for the prawns, mix them in and check the seasoning again. Cover and let it boil for 2-3 minutes. Finally sprinkle some garam masala powder and give it 2 minutes of standing time for the flavour to amalgamate well.
Serve hot with steamed white rice.
A Homemaker’s notes:
If the ridge gourd you are using is not very fresh then you might like to fry them briefly before hand. Like THIS. (I cooked the Hilsa while in Bangalore and the vegetables there were really dry).
The consistency of the gravy should be really soupy and runny so please adjust the water accordingly. The gourds that I used here were from my Maa’s garden and released a lot of juice while cooking.
You can also temper the oil with bay leaf if you like.
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