Food they say is the most primitive form of comfort. Every family has their own comfort food recipes. A quick survey throws up some names, "dhuli moong daal khichdi with achar", "rice, daal and mashed potatoes", " bread with chicken stew", "konji". etc. What is common across these seemingly varied dishes is that they are typically home-cooked, warm, filling, unpretentious and provide easy satisfaction. Most of them use very few ingredients, are quick to prepare and help you achieve an improved emotional status. Just what the Doc ordered on a day you were feeling low or stressed or home-sick or nostalgic.
Growing up in a small though cosmopolitan town my early food memories (apart from the dishes that got cooked in my home) are of those that got cooked in my neighbor's kitchens. So it was Kumar aunty's Rajma, Murty's aunty's idlis, Smith aunty's vindaloo, Padmanabhan aunty's sambhar, Nanda aunty's cakes, Mohanty aunty's malpuas.....I could go on and on. Food that reminds me of comforting childhood memories. Most of this food is far from gourmet but invokes a feeling of nostalgia and security. They also make for good food stories and help us children connect even years later. Incidentally Mom managed to learn almost all of these dishes with a little help from the lovely ladies mentioned above and soon they got cooked in our kitchen too. But always referred to by the names of their original creators/disseminators. In the pre-cookbook/pre- cookery shows days recipes traveled through word of mouth and personal demos. There was a lot more of active sharing.
Macha Jhola is one such comfort food for me. While this is a commonly cooked dish in any Eastern household, the recipe varies slightly from household to household. Like some I know would skip the ginger, others might replace tomatoes with dried mango( Ambula), some others might make it sans the vegetables. But whichever way you cook it, it sure comforts.
Fish: 1/2 kilo Rohu
Potatoes: 2/3, cubed
Cauliflower: 8/10 florets( cut the same size as the potatoes)
Ginger: 1/2 inch, grated fine
Tomatoes: 2, chopped fine
Chilli powder:1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder: 1/2 tsp
Jeera powder: 1 1/2 tsp
Dhania powder: 1/2 tsp
Whole Jeera: 1 tsp
Mustard Oil: 2/3 tbsps( includes the oil needed to fry the fish)
Garam Masala: 1 tsp( freshly prepared by pounding together 4 small elaichi and about 1/2 an inch long cinnamon)
Bay leaves: 2
Smear salt and turmeric on the fish pieces and keep for about 10/15 minutes. Heat the oil and once the oil begins to smoke add the fish and shallow fry for a few minutes. Remove and keep aside. The fish should be a little soft.
Into the same pan add some whole jeera and the bay leaves. Once the jeera begins to sputter add the cubed potato and cauliflower florets and fry for a couple of minutes. Mix the dhania powder, jeera powder, turmeric powder, chilli powder, grated ginger in about half a cup of water. Add it to the potato and cauliflower. Add the tomatoes. Saute for a few minutes, till the masala coats the vegetables. Add two more cups of water to the dish and allow the gravy to come to a boil. Add the fish pieces and let them simmer. Finally add the garam masala.
Goes best with some plain rice. The vegetables along with the fish make this a wholesome and balanced meal.
"From morning till night, sounds drift from the kitchen, most of them familiar and comforting....On days when warmth is the most important need of the human heart, the kitchen is the place you can find it; it dries the wet sock, it cools the hot little brain."
Happy Cooking, Happy Comforting and Bon Apetit!