A Midnight Diner inspired story of my grandmother’s alu potoler dalna . Bengali pointed gourd and potato curry.

Alu potoler dalna with ghee bhaat

I made a potoler jhol at home in Mumbai recently. A light Bengali pointed gourd (padwal) curry. I made this in memory of a dish that my didu (maternal grandmother) would often make when I lived at her place as a kid. I did not like it much then. I did not like the texture of potol. Did not like what I made this time either. When I told my granny about it, she said she did not like it much too but that my dadu (late maternal grandpa) did. She gave me a few tips on how I could improve upon what I had made.

I forgot about this till I saw potol at the cart of the vegetable seller who parks outside our lane in the afternoon. I decided to buy some and gave it another shot with our cook Banu assisting me with the cooking. This time I got it right. I guess some of what didu told me must have stayed in my subconscious when I made it this time.

The aroma of the alu potoler jhol that greeted me when I sat to eat, reminded me of that from didu's kitchen from my childhood. I had it with fresh rotis made by Banu.

A few things which made a difference this time to the dish was partly peeling the skin of the potol first (my mother suggested this too when she saw the picture I had posted on Facebook earlier) and then frying the potol before it went into the curry. Adding alu (potatoes) made a big difference too, but then potatoes make anything better.

I looked out of the window once done with lunch and saw that the cart owner had covered his cart with a plastic sheet and had spread another on the pavement and was napping on it, as was his practise every afternoon. I then headed to the bedroom for a short nap myself. As is my practise every afternoon. 

I had packed some of the alu potol for K's office lunch too. Not that she is a padwal fan. I asked her with a sense of trepidation when she returned home about how she found it. She said that she loved it!

So we made it again a week later. K loved it this time too. As did I. This time I had it with rice and not roti. I used the ambe mohor rice of Maharashtra that is similar to the Gobindobhog rice of Bengal, which my dadu loved as he found it easy to digest, in terms of it being short grained and fragrant too. I added a touch of Jharna ghee at the end and once again I was taken back to my maternal grandparents' house in the early 1980s.

A number of people asked me for the recipe when I put up its picture on my Instagram stories. Which is why I thought I should share the recipe of our alu potoler jhol/ dalna (dalna is thicker and that is what we made the second time).

It is not a very exact recipe so I thought I will share the recipe the way they do at the end of the Japanese series, Midnight Diner, whose second season we are watching on Netflix now. The manner of sharing the recipe is anecdotal and leaves it to the viewer to bring in their own precision to it. This is the way our grannies tell us their recipes too. Based an andaj (andaz) or approximation.

If you have not watched the series and like human interest short stories then you might want to give the Midnight Diner a look. If you are a 70s or 80s kid from India then think of the O'Henry tele-series or the Munshi Premchand and you will know what I mean. It is the story of a diner in the bylanes of Shibuya in Tokyo, which is open only at night, and its customers. The owner is the narrator and each episode is named after a specific dish that features in the story. 

Alu potoler dalna

Well, here is my didu inspired alu potoler jhol recipe.

Ingredients: 250 g potol, 1 potato, 1 teaspoon of turmeric, chilli, salt, cumin and coriander powders, 1/2 a finely chopped onion and tomato and ginger, 1 bay leaf, some cumin seeds, 1 dried red chilli, water

  • Lightly peel the surface of the potol. Score the surface with a knife if you want. Smear it with salt, turmeric and chilli powder and lightly fry it in oil (mustard or vegetable oil). Set aside. 250 g is more than enough for 2. Cut the potol into thick chunky rings before frying and do not de-seed it. The crunch of the seeds add to the joy of the dish.
  • Peel, parboil and cube a potato. Smear it with salt, turmeric and chilli powder and lightly fry that too. Set aside
  • Heat a teaspoon of oil in a wok
  • Add a tej patta (bay leaf), some whole cumin seeds, a dried red chilli and a cardamom. This is where the flavour comes from. Let it splutter.
  • Add a table spoon of finely chopped onion (do not brown), then a teaspoon of finely chopped ginger and then a teaspoon of finely chopped tomato. You can skip the onions and tomatoes if you want
  • Add the potol and alu and a spice of mix of 1/2 a teaspoon each of turmeric, chilli, coriander and cumin powders. You can play around and see what works for you.
  • Add 1/2 a teacup, 50 ml, of water and salt let it come to boil. Reduce the flame and let the curry cook for 5 to 7 min till it reduces. If you keep it soupy, it is a jhol. If you thicken the sauce, it is a dalna. Or so I think!
  • Add the end, sprinkle some garam masala on top
You can have this with both roti and rice.

Alu potoler jhol (jhol is more soupy than dalna) with ruti

Here's how my didu tells me recipes:

Appendix: Here's the link to my earlier potoler dalna post. The recipe I have shared here is way better but the story there is more detailed!