I grew up in a family which was best described as middle class tending to lower middle class. In fact the only thing that qualified us as belonging to the GIMC (Great Indian Middle Class) was that my father had a government job with Indian Railways. Even so, sometimes we had a hard time making ends meet. Throughout my childhood and my growing up years, eating meat was a luxury. My father is a foodie and believes in quality than quantity. He used to buy the best fish or meat that was within his budget. I still remember that when I was a kid, every Saturday (my father’s day off) he used to buy 250 grams of chicken. We were allowed a fixed amount during lunch. When my brother was born and I grew up, the amount went up to 500 grams and that’s it. I loved a piece of kosha mangsho (meat cooked without adding water) before maa added water to the meat. I can still hear the warning “ekhon ek piece kheye niley dupure kintu ek piece kawm pabey” (if you eat one piece now, you’ll get one piece less for lunch). I agreed but everytime my maa would sacrifice her piece and give it to me.
Times have changed and I can eat meat everyday for all three meals if I want to. The irony is I lost the appetite for meat. I hardly crave for it anymore. Occasionally I would crave for a particular type of meat but that’s pretty rare.
My husband was from a comfortable middle class family (although I like to tease him and say upper middle class) and never saw any such crises. But his life of comfort too changed when his parents sent him to a Hindu missionary school when he was 10 years old. Needless to say, the food wasn’t great and the amounts were limited. So, on special days when they used to get meat, they would be jumping up and down in anticipation. On some days if they were lucky enough, they used to get the pnepe (papaya) which was left at the bottom of the serving bowl. It was more precious than the meat. It had absorbed all the flavors of the gravy. Time has changed for him too. He doesn’t crave for meat anymore as well. Once in a while he will ask for a patla mangsher jhol (a light mutton curry with watery gravy) and we both like it. I came up with a mangsher jhol recipe based entirely on experimentation. I make it with a light touch and add papaya and peppercorn to it. The papaya makes the meat meltingly tender and allows my husband to get over the trauma of the boy next to him getting the only piece in the bucket and not sharing with him (at boarding school). In this way, this recipe is a connection between my husband’s childhood and mine, so naturally it’s very special to us. Usually, we both overeat whenever I make this.
Bengalis will be celebrating Durga Puja for the next few days and it’s a celebration of the victory of Good over Evil. In the midst of your revelry, stop and spare a thought for those who will lie hungry on a hard pavement while the madding crowds around them indulge and preen.
Pnepe/papaya: 1 small (grate the papaya to make 2 tbsp. paste)
Mutton with bone: 2 lbs.
Potato: 2 medium, cut into 4 pieces
Peppercorn (whole): 1 tbsp.
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp.
Bay leaf: 2 nos.
Cardamom: 2-3 nos.
Cinnamon: 3″ (broken into smaller pieces)
Cloves: 4-5 nos.
Tomato: 1 medium, chopped
Onion: one large, cut into half ring thin slices
Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tbsp
Red chili powder: 1 tsp.
Green chili: 3-5 nos.
Oil: 3 tbsp. (use 1 tbsp. to marinate the meat)
Water: As needed
Garam masala powder: 1 tsp.
Salt to taste
How to cook:
- Wash and clean the meat. Drain as much water as possible. Add turmeric powder, ginger-garlic-red chili powder paste, mustard oil, grated papaya and mix them very well. Marinate overnight or minimum 4-6 hours. Take the meat out of the refrigerator (if marinating overnight) and let it come to almost room temperature. Mix few times while it comes to room temparature.
- Peel and cut the papaya into big cubes and then wash them.
- Cut the potatoes in half if they are medium. Cut them into four if they are big.
- Heat up the oil in a pressure cooker. Add the bay leaves, peppercorn and the whole garam masala (cardamom, cinnamon and cloves). Sauté them for a while unless they start to release a nice aroma.
- Add the sliced onion and let them sweat a little bit. You don’t have to cook them for long.
- Follows the chopped tomato. Cook it until the tomatoes look mushy.
- Add the meat and cook it for several minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.
- Add the potato and cubed papaya and cook it for few more minutes.
- Add lukewarm water and salt and mix them well.
- Close the lid of the pressure cooker and put the weight on.
- Put it on medium flame and wait for one whistle.
- Let the pressure release by itself. The meat should be cooked by now. If not, you can cook it a little more (probably you don’t have to).
- Add 3-4 green chilis and garam masala paste (make a paste of the powder with a little bit of water). Mix gently and cover the cooker for few minutes so that the flavor can marry together.
- Serve it hot with steaming hot rice.
- I like it sometimes with a wedge of lime but it’s your choice.
The color of the meat in the picture is a little deceptive. The oil and the chili powder are floating on the top and it looks red. The moment you stir it, it looks much lighter. It is not half as rich as regular Bengali mutton curry. Go easy on oil, the masalas and specially the red chili powder. The heat should come from the green chilis.
The mutton should be melt in the mouth. The papain (the digestive enzyme found in papaya) is a natural meat tenderizer and digests/breaks down the meat protein even before you start cooking it.
If you do not have a pressure cooker, don’t worry, you can do the whole cooking in a regular deep bottom pot or kadai. Keep the pot/kadai covered while the meat is cooking. Only it will take longer.
Trivia: Papaya was not a native Indian vegetable; it was introduced by the Portuguese.