- 250 g shojne data (drumstick)
- 140 g potatoes
- 110 g sweet potatoes
- 20 g bori (sun-dried lentil dumplings)
- 3 g neem leaves (margosa)
- 8 g salt
- 14 g sugar
- 350 g water
Neem jhol is a type of bitter that is served at the beginning of a Bengali lunch. This is cooked in spring and the beginning of summer with the tender brown neem (margosa) leaves, and the tender drumsticks that become available in the markets at this time.The neem jhol shown in this recipe is a very light version that is made in our family when the weather is very hot. It is light and satisfying.
This recipe only uses neem leaves, drumsticks, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and almost no ground spices apart from turmeric. However, there are more elaborate versions of neem jhol that use more ground spices, ginger, etc. and a tempering of either panch phoron or methi + mustard.
Additionally, neem jhol can include a lot of other summer vegetables such as pointed gourd (potol), jhinge (ridged gourd), green bananas, green papaya, brinjal, and if you are making this in the beginning of spring, sheem (broad beans).This is best enjoyed with a small quantity of rice in the beginning of a lunch meal.
- Prepare the shojne data i.e. drumstick. Using a paring/utility knife or bnoti peel away the outermost fibrous layer. This de-stringing process makes the drumstick more pleasurable to chew on. Cut them into uniform sections of about 4–5 centimetres. The length should be such that one can easily put piece of drumstick in one's mouth without it touching the back of your throat.
- Peel and cut the potatoes and sweet potatoes into long segments similar in size and shape to the drumsticks.
- Pluck the tender neem leaves from the stem. You will need about 4 sprigs worth of neem leaves (3 grams if you are weighing). The proportion of neem leaves to the rest of the ingredients is important in controlling the bitterness of our final dish. Ideally, a neem jhol should be moderately bitter.
- Heat the korai and dry roast the neem leaves on low flame until they are crispy but still green in colour. Add half a teaspoon of neutral oil to the korai and stir the leaves around to coat evenly with oil. After 30 seconds take the fried neem leaves out and set them aside.
- Add 20 grams of neutral oil to the korai and wait for it to heat up. Once hot add the dal'er bori. Keep stirring until they are evenly brown. Fish out the boris from the korai and set them aside.
- Add a pinch of kalo jeere i.e. nigella seeds to the same oil. The oil must not be too hot at this point.
- After a 20 seconds add the potatoes and saute on low heat. Cover and cook. Control the heat so that the vegetables don't turn brown. If the vegetables brown the colour of the final dish won't be as nicely white and the flavour is not going to be as clean.
- After three minutes add the sweet potatoes. Stir and cover with a lid.
- After a minute add a part of the salt. The total salt used in this recipe is 8 grams, but we will be adding it in stages so that everything is evenly seasoned.
- Next add the shojne data. Add a little more of the salt and ⅛ teaspoon of turmeric. Stir. Don't fry the shojne data for too long.
- Now, add enough hot water to barely cover all of the vegetables. For us, it was 350 grams of water.
- Taste for salt. Add the rest of the salt as well as the sugar.
- Crush the fried dal'er bori and add it to the wok now.
- When the shojne data is tender (but not breaking) and the potatoes are cooked add the fried neem leaves.
- In a small bowl take ¼ teaspoon of atta (or plain flour) and form a slurry with a spoon of liquid from the korai. Add it back to korai.
- The tiny bit of atta adds a nice mouthfeel to the stew. Mix and let bubble for a minute before turning off the stove.
- Paring knife or bnoti
- Korai or wok with a thick base
- Khunti or spatula