Neem Jhol

11:22 PM

We belonged to a time when the rule in every middle-class family was to finish whatever was served on the plate. Ingredients were local and seasonal. Food was wholesome and simple, but the rules were strict.

So much so, that we tried to bend the rules every now and then. We tried to hide the greens under the plate, threw them away when no one was looking.  We tried but it was difficult to fool our parents.

In our family, it was more so. Since both the parents loved their teto torkaris (Bitter dishes), some version of it was to be had every single day. Then the huge neem tree in front of our front yard added more to our agony. Either it was neem begun (crisp friend neem leaves) during spring and Early summer, or neem jhol and dried neem fuler shukto (dried neem blossom) in the other seasons. 
There was no dearth of supply and no end to our misery. 

Every day we vouched how we would never touch this again in our life once we leave this house. 
We left the house, but by some unknown trick of nature we grew up to become just like our parents. We started loving our bitters. 

Now my kids, especially the little girl hates bitter dishes with a vengeance. She will refuse to open her mouth when around lunchtime I would start dangling a morsel of neem begun-rice in front of her. She would scream and curse me. Tell me how she will never love me again.
But from experience I know, there is no winning over parents who love their bitters.
She sure would learn someday.

Neem jhol is said to be the poorer cousin of Shukto, another iconic Bengali dish. But it's medicinal, having it during the onset of spring suppose to boost our immunity. A very pertinent recipe for this time of the pandemic where the need of the hour is to make our body and mind strong. 

Neem Jhol
(serves 4)

any two or more of raw papaya, drumstick (this is actually a must for dishes like these, but if you do not have it at home, please don't risk going out. make with whatever you have), carrot, potato, plantain, yardlong beans (borboti), beans, sweet potato, brinjal etc. 

for 4 persons I used
Potato: 1 small: cut in thick batons: 6 pieces
Borboti/ yardlong beans: 4
Carrot: 1 small (cut in batons-8 pieces)
Drumstick: 3-4
Papaya: 1/2" batons-8 pieces
Brinjal: 1/2" thick batons: 6-8 pieces
Neem leaves: handful
Ginger: 1/2" piece
Panchforon: 1/2 tsp
Dry red chili: 2
Bay leaf: 1
Mustard oil: 2 tbsp

To roast and grind
Mustard seeds: 1 tsp
Panchforon: 1/3 tsp

Peel and cut all the vegetables in Batons. If using keep the brinjal pieces separately.

First, roast the seeds on low till they start to pop. Take out and grind to a somewhat fine powder when cools.

Heat little oil and fry the washed and dried neem leaves till crisp. Do it on low flame.

Heat the rest of the oil and temper with dry red chili, bay leaf and panchforon. Once they start to splutter add the papaya pieces first. The idea is to cook the hard vegetables for some time, so they are cooked uniformly. Cook with a little salt and after 4-5 minutes add the potato, carrot and drumstick pieces. Mix in the ginger paste and cook for 3-4 minutes then add the rest of the veggies except brinjal. just mix and then add 11/2 cups of water. Adjust the salt. Cover and let it cook for 5-7 minutes.

When the veggies are almost done add the brinjal pieces and the neem leaves. Check the salt. Cover and cook till the veggies are cooked through. 
Add the spice powder and adjust the seasoning by adding some sugar to balance.
Serve hot/warm with steamed rice.

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