The recipe for a happy Sunday lunch starring a Bengali chicken curry and a simple pulao




Sunday lunches and memories of Kolkata


Sunday lunches for me have been all about chicken curry and rice right from my school days in Kolkata. My mother would send me with a hundred rupee note, to our local market, known as the Bansdroni Market, to buy a whole chicken and other provisions on Saturday evenings. I am talking of the mid 1990s. 

The chicken seller would get a chicken out of the cage, weigh it and then cull the chicken in front of me. The routine was mechanical and one didn't think much about it. I would bring the chicken home and at night,  whoever our cook was at that point, and we had many who came and went, would make a chicken curry. Mom would get her to add boiled eggs or omelettes to the curry and potatoes too. If we didn't have a cook, mom would make the curry or murgir jhol herself. In winter they would add fresh green peas to the curry and I loved that. Mutton or goat meat was more commonly had in Kolkata back then, as it was in our house once upon a time. However, my mother had read about the alleged impact red meat had on one's heart and switched to chicken in the mid 1980s itself. 

On Saturday nights, we would have curry and egg and potatoes and 'odd parts' such as the head, neck and gizzard of the chicken with rotis. If there was no cook to make rotis, it would be with sliced bread as my mother cannot make rotis. Nor can I today. This was nose to tail eating at its best except that we did not know of the term and hence our Saturday night dinners seemed rather mundane and anything but exotic. 

Sunday is when we would get to have have the 'main chicken pieces'. The only problem was there were two thyangs (chicken drumsticks) and three of us, my younger brother, my mother and me. We tried to distribute it in a manner where one of us would miss it each week and get the drumstick the next week. Chicken was bought once a week  in our house as it was expensive, and was hence most sought after. For every day meals, there was fish, and when that was not there, eggs. Vegetables and pulses would be made of course but neither would excite my brother and me.

The Mumbai curry

It has been twenty years, this September, since I moved into Mumbai. It's also been ten years of my blog and sixteen years our marriage this October.

When I had moved into Mumbai, I stayed in a PG where the meals were vegetarian. I would go to the Lucky Restaurant in Bandra on Sunday afternoons to have chicken biryani or chicken curry and roti for lunch in memory of the world I had left behind in Kolkata.

K and I started cooking at home right at the start of our married life. At that time we did so out of necessity. After a year of having dinners out every night while we were dating, and after paying the emi on the personal loan that we had taken to pay the deposit on the house that we had rented before getting married, we couldn't afford to go out to eat. So home cooked meals was what he had to depend on.

We did indulge ourselves when we could within the framework of the spartan kitchen budget. So we would buy only chicken legs for us and not the whole chicken. This was possible then in the cold storages of Bandra though not in the wet markets of Bansdroni. Both of us got the coveted leg piece that way.

Chicken curry and rice make up up my Sunday lunch. A pulao makes
it more special

Mumbai is home for me now but some memories from Kolkata have remained. We still have Bengali chicken curries on Sundays, when we are not having the Parsi dhansak that is. That's the beauty of mixed marriage. The Mughal emperors had cracked this years back.

I have taught our cook, Banu, how to make patla murgir jhol, light Bengali chicken curry. Many other communities have their version of it too and most Bengali homes have their own recipes. We put in potatoes in the curry, as do the Parsis. My wife says that the Parsi version of the jhol would be the margi nu raaas. Unlike most curries belonging to the west coast of India, the Bengali curry doesn't have coconut in any form in it, or curry leaves.

Here's the broad recipe for my murgir jhol.

Ingredients: 4 chicken legs, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 finely chopped or sliced onion, 1 teaspoon ginger paste, 1/2 teaspoon garlic paste, 1 tomato finely chopped, 2 coffee mugs water, 2 tablespoons yogurt, 1 teaspoon each of turmeric and cumin and coriander powder, 1/2 teaspoon each of sugar, red chilli and garam masala powders, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 potatoes, 1 clove, cardamom, cinnamon 1/2 inch, 1 bay leaf, 1 green chilli.

Cook: Heat vegetable oil (we do not use mustard oil in our house) in a pressure cooker/ pan, add a green chilli, whole cinnamon, cardamom and bayleaves, add sliced onion. When the onion becomes translucent, add ginger and garlic paste (2:1) ratio and then sliced tomatoes. Not every Bengali house uses tomatoes. Add the chicken and potatoes, a bit of turmeric, cumin and coriander powder and, if you can handle heat, red chilli and garam masala powders. To pack in more flavour, marinate the chicken in yogurt and the spices for a while before cooking. Add salt and sugar (this is a Mumbai touch as my mother didn't add sugar). Stir for about 5 minutes in an open pan. This is called koshano. Add 2 coffee mugs of water for 4 drumsticks (try to buy small ones) and two potatoes, peeled and halved, close the lid of the pressure cooker. Wait for 3 to 4 whistles, reduce the flame and let it cook about 12 to 15 minutes, before turning off the gas. You can have curry the next day too, the way we do. The potatoes do not not stay well overnight though and can break the next day though.

Our cook, Banu, had made the chicken curry as per my instructions last night for our lunch today  Since I like to pamper myself, I made myself a simple pulao/ fried rice to go with the chicken curry for today. Here’s how:

I boiled the rice (local Mumbai ambe mohor in place of Bengali Gobindo Bhog) and peas first. I then heated ghee (the Bengali favourite Jharna brand of course) in a pan, and then added a slit green chilli, some whole cumin seeds, a clove, a bit of cinnamon and a green cardamom, a bayleaf and some sugar and raisins to it, then the rice and salt, stirred the rice and covered the pan, turned off the flame and let it cook in the heat. 

I made a salad to go with it. ‘The salad’, that I grew up with had onions, tomatoes, chilli and cucumber and not lettuce, quinoa and kale. I prefer to stick to that even today with a ‘dressing’ of the table salt, crushed pepper and lime juice.

And that was the story of my Sunday lunch. K had the same sans the rice and the onion.

What did you do for lunch today? Do you have your Sunday lunches at home or do you head out for it? Is there any dish that works as a traditional Sunday meal at your place?

Please write in and tell me what your Sunday lunch story is. I would love to exchange notes. 

Could also be of interest:

1. An earlier post on chicken curry which is possibly the most read post on my blog
2. The story of how we set up our first kitchen
3. How the Sunday biryani at Lucky helped me feel less lost in Mumbai
4. A post where I show you around the Bansdroni market
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