The bottle gourds have been cultivated since time immemorial and they are, probably one of the earliest vegetables cultivated by man. It appears to have originated in Africa where it occurs spontaneously as it also does in India. It is now widely cultivated throughout the tropics, especially India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, China, tropical Africa and South America. The bottle gourd is a warm season crop and grows best in a warm humid climate. It is yellowish green, having the shape of a bottle. It has white pulp, with white seeds embedded in spongy flesh. (http://www.indiangyan.com/books/healthbooks/food_that_heal/bottle_gourd.shtml)
In Assam, this is a very frequently used vegetable and so is this fish curry. In fact, deuta (father), who had a really green thumb, had a plant in his vegetable patch, and he would proudly pluck them and hand it over to ma to cook. Needless to say, there was nothing better than savouring food cooked from fresh produce grown in one’s backyard. In fact , I remember, once there were so many of them, and with their huge sizes, that they were repeatedly shared with the neighbours as well.
Typically, our fish curries have a light texture, and are not overtly spiced…the richer versions are usually less frequent. In fact I can remember literally drinking some off our bowls. They are called’patla jool’, referring to their soupy consistency, the word ‘patla’ meaning ‘light’. Fresh riverine fish are found in abundance in Assam and they go into a variety of these ‘jool’s.
The bottle gourds found back home are the larger versions than the ones I happened to pick up at one of our local Indian stores. However, they were tender enough, so I had no complaints…
Speaking of fish curries, I was surprised that I have’nt posted any fish recipes of late, considerin g the volume that we consume every week…my freezer is rarely devoid of fresh fish…as I mentioned in one of my earliest posts, we are a really fishy family…no, not that kind, of course, so don’t get any ideas!!!
4-5 pieces of fish.
1 potato, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, sliced
3 pods of garlic, chopped
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp turmeric powder and some more for the fish
a bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
1 whole red chilli
1 green chilli, split halfway through
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp panch phoron(a mix of cumin seeds, fennel seeds,fenugreek,mustard seeds and nigella seeds in equal measure)
a pinch of sugar
salt to taste
Boil the gourd and potatoes in a glass of water with salt and the pinch of sugar.
Rub a little salt and turmeric powder on the fish pieces, fry them and keep them aside.
In the same oil that the fish was fried, add the whole red chilli, bay leaf, green chilli and panch phoron. When they begin to splutter,add the onion and garlic and fry for a minute.
Add the tomatoes and cook till mushy.
Add the turmeric and cumin powders and stir for a few seconds.
Add the boiled gourd and potato along with all the juices. At this stage, add a glass of water and bring it to a boil. Mash a couple of pieces of potato, to very slightly thicken the gravy. Simmer for a couple of minutes.
Add the fish pieces along with the coriander and continue to simmer till the oil rises to the top. Adding the coriander at this stage releases more of its aroma than just sprinkling them at the end.