- 250 g shojne data (drumstick)
- 140 g potatoes
- 110 g sweet potatoes
- 3 g neem leaves (tender margosa)
- 20 g vegetable oil
- 20 g dal’er bori (sun-dried lentil dumplings)
- 1 pinch kalo jeere (nigella seeds)
- 1 pinch turmeric powder
- 8 g salt
- 14 g sugar
- 350 g hot water
- ¼ tsp atta (flour)
Neem jhol is a tito (bitter course) that is served at the start of a Bengali lunch. This dish is prepared during spring and the beginning of summer, with the tender brown neem leaves (margosa), and tender shojne data (drumsticks) that become available in the markets at this time. This version of neem jhol is light and satisfying, perfect for when the weather turns hot.
This family recipe uses just neem leaves, drumsticks, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and almost no ground spices apart from turmeric. However, there are more elaborate versions among some families, with other summer vegetables (such as pointed gourd, ridged gourd, green bananas, green papaya, brinjal, etc.), additional spices, and ginger.
This is best enjoyed with a small quantity of rice at the beginning of a lunch meal.
- First, prepare the drumsticks. De-string them of their outermost fibrous layer using a paring knife or bnoti. Cut into uniform sections of about 4–5 cm.
- Peel and cut the potatoes and sweet potatoes into long segments, roughly similar in size and shape to the drumsticks.
- Pluck tender neem leaves from the stem. You will need about 4 sprigs worth of neem leaves. The proportion of the neem leaves to the rest of the ingredients is important in controlling the bitterness of the final dish. Ideally, neem jhol should be moderately bitter.
- In a pan, dry-roast the neem leaves on low flame until they are crisp, but still green in colour. Add ½ tsp oil over them and stir to coat. After 30 seconds, remove from the pan and set aside.
- Heat 20 g more oil. Add dal'er bori, and fry them until evenly brown (about 30 seconds). Remove from the oil and set aside.
- Temper the oil remaining in the pan with kalo jeere (nigella seeds). Add potatoes, and fry on low heat, covered, for a couple minute. Control the heat so that the vegetables don't turn brown. Add sweet potatoes, and continue frying for another 2 minutes, with lid on.
- Next add shojne data and a pinch of turmeric. Fry for just about a minute, and not too much longer than that.
- Pour hot water that barely covers all of the vegetables (~350 g). Season with salt and sugar. Cover and allow it to come to a boil.
- Add the fried dal'er bori (broken into small chards). Once the shojne data are tender and the potatoes cooked, add the fried neem leaves.
- Make a slurry of ¼ tsp flour and some of the liquid from the pan. Add it back to the stew. This lends it a nice bit of mouthfeel. Let bubble for a minute before turning off the heat.
- Paring knife or bnoti
- Korai or wok with a thick base
- Khunti or spatula