Thursday, July 10, 2014

জিকা-মাছৰ জোল (Fish Curry with Ridge Gourd)

This was a staple in our household back home, and now it has firmly taken a place in my kitchen too. I religiously prepare this fish-curry at least twice a month. I know, I know it’s not a BIG number but you may already know, I am a lazy cook; for the most part :-), so I end up cooking only every other day. That and between my work tours, I think twice a month is frequent enough.

Let me talk about the main vegetable of this curry, Ridge Gourd. In my mother tongue (Assamese), we call it "Jikaa (জিকা)". I am not really sure if this is a familiar vegetable outside India, but it's definitely popular in India. It has thick dark green skin which you need to remove and spongy white flesh with seeds inside. Don't worry, the seeds are not much of a problem. You can see in the picture that there are some spikes on the outer skin :-) ; I remember my grandfather teaching my mom that if the total number of spikes is odd, the taste is going to be bitter. Bitter jikaa is not desirable :-) I am not sure how to describe the taste of this vegetable though! From childhood, I have enjoying jikaa prepared this way, so for me "jikaa" exclusively relates to this curry. I love exploring different recipes and flavors but I am not sure if I would ever want to try 'jikaa' in any other way :-), This recipe is typically made as a Fish curry but you can of course make it without the fish as well. And yeah, any kind of fish should work. Back home, we get very small freshwater fishes, with which this recipe is simply delicious!

Anyway, let's discuss the recipe. It's pretty simple, quick and easy. It also needs very less supervision; which means it's one of those recipes that is very hard to mess up :-) The great thing is that once you get the hang of this recipe, you can simply replace jikaa with vegetable like Pumpkin (Rongalao), Bottle Gourd (Panilao), tomato etc. Recipe remains exactly the same, but you get to taste very distinguished flavors with each of the different vegetables. This is one of the reasons I love authentic Assamese food. We use minimal oil and spices, and the taste of the vegetable stands out very distinctly rather than being masked by hundred different spices!

Ingredients: Red chili, Bay leaves, Pas furon (five spices mix), Oil, Salt, Onion, Garlic, Ginger, Cumin powder, Turmeric powder, Ridge Gourd (jikaa), Fish (optional), Potato (optional), Coriander (optional), Green chili (optional)

  1. First you will need to clean the vegetables. It is easier if the spikes are peeled off first, you can then easily peel off the rest of the outer skin. 
  2. Once you get all the hard dark skin out of your way, chop the inner spongy flesh into really small pieces. Smaller the pieces less time it needs for cooking.
  3. Make a paste of ginger, chili and garlic. Chop some onions.
  4. Marinate the fish pieces with salt and turmeric for few minutes. Fry in your choice of oil, make sure it is well fried or alternatively, you can oven-boil it too! (Confession: I used the remainder of the frying oil for the preparing the curry as well).
  5. Heat up oil in a pan. I use olive oil when I am trying to eat extra healthy and for the days when I want a more authentic flavor I use my beloved mustard oil. 
  6. Once the oil is well heated, add dry red chilies, bay leaves, pas furon (careful with the splattering!) and chopped onions. 
  7. Add potatoes at this time, I don’t know why, but potatoes here take much longer time to cook. So it needs to go into the pan before the jikaa.
  8. Add the jikaa when the onion turns golden in color. Keep stirring and after few minutes add the ginger-garlic paste with green chili and salt.
  9. Continue stirring from time to time. You will see the pieces losing shape and melting to a gravy-like consistency. 
  10. When the potato is cooked, add water and bring the gravy to boil. Although potato is optional, I like how it helps making the consistency better, every time.
  11. Add the fish pieces; boil for some more minutes so that the flavor from fish blends in with the gravy. You can add coriander at this point. 
  12. Your curry is ready.

This is one of my extremely favorite foods and I love it with rice. It's actually best served with rice. But have it with roti, with rice or simply the curry; however you may like it :-)

Hope you it was helpful! 

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