This Bengali mutton stew is one of those healthy and hearty mutton stew or a broth that we usually prepares during monsoon season. In other words, this stew is almost a rendition of old school traditional Bengali recipe – kochi pathar jhol pepe diye or light and thin mutton curry with green papaya.
This hearty mutton stew is full of goodness of good quality animal protein and other nutritional value it provides, lean meat with vegetables and spices that can boost up our immunity against all the seasonal maladies.
Growing up in the dense forest regions of Chattisgarh in 80-90’s, life was completely at the mercy of nature. We never had access to quality fish, vegetables and fruits. But we did have access to some of the rare and wild varieties of millet, rice, maize, dates, bamboo reeds, peas, dried beans, leafy vegetables, specially the khatti bhaji and some berries and fruits (tendu) that grows specially in that region and are endemic in nature. So as the kind of eggs, country fowl, duck and completely grass fed free range goats we gets there. Poultry was always considered a valued meat and reserved for special occasions only.
During monsoon, the lush full and verdant green valleys and hills comes to life again, in its full glory. The roaring waterfalls that dotted the topography here and there, with streams welling up and meandering through the laterite soils, the three months of incessant rains, always accompanied with high velocity wind lashes out vehemently over the hills and valleys, life becomes little too harder for us. Nor that we had never complained for once, because waking up everyday to the beautiful scenic mist covered blue hills and green valleys was the real blessing for us.
The supply chain of fruits and vegetables takes a hit in monsoon and so as the other essential commodities. Monsoon was precisely the testing time for us as well. Homegrown veggies, stocks of eggs, varieties of catfish stocked alive in big handi full of water and homemade pickles, specially of tamarind and wild amla that grows abundantly there, were the only thing that we can rely upon. However, the small monsoon streams that criss crossed the red landscape were surprisingly become full of small fishes. The tribals sometimes caught those fishes and sells in the local market.
My dad was a strong proponent of this fact- that all kinds of real food (not processed foods) has some inherent potentiality to boost up our immune system and can protect and cure us from some, if not all kind of maladies, big or small. This hearty mutton stew in monsoon exactly does that and had become a part of our regular monsoon lunch rituals throughout my growing up years in the hills.
The traditional recipe
My dad’s original recipe calls for a good quality lean meat (from young goat) without any fat trimmings. Cut was also important, it should be always from either shoulder or legs. I had seen him often giving precise instructions to those tribal butchers in sketchy Chattisgarhi or sometimes in Gondi with a translator nearby who never skipped these kind of opportunities and a meager commission he will earn at the end of the deal.
My dad always insisted that unlike our most celebrated dish ,Bengali kosha mangsho, this light mutton curry should always be prepared in a handi, without braising the meat. Thats the reason a high and good quality meat is required for this recipe. The meat will be first smeared and rubbed efficiently with turmeric paste, salt and raw mustard oil. Potatoes were also a prized commodity as we had to wait for the potato trucks that usually comes all the way from Nagpur. So the wild potatoes and other tubers grown by the tribals comes to our rescue and sometimes from our neighbors vegetable patch too. But papayas and green chillies were always home grown. Chillies we had two varieties, one the small red one, extremely spicy and the other green one, fat and short.
Monsoon was also the season when we need to reserve our prized gas supply too as we will have to wait for another three months for a change of cylinder. An iron sigri with sacks of charcoal will be reserved specially for this season. Some of the houses also had old fashioned clay hearth. The marinated meat will be added along with enough chopped red onions, ladle full raw mustard oil, chunks of green papayas and potatoes, green chillies, black peppers (usually comes as a gift by our south Indian neighbours) , sometimes a bay leaf, ginger and garlic pods. No other spices were ever used. No red chilies strictly . Did I forgot to mention water? No actually no water is added in this recipe.
The lid of the handi will be tightly shut, with few live coal pieces atop. And then the slow cooking over low charcoal heat does its magic. It is like “set it and forget it” kind of recipe. Because in monsoon, we had other things to tend and mend, one was to collect water efficiently from the leaking roofs.
The beautiful flavours of meat and spices, that blends pleasingly with the smoky aroma of charcoal slowly filled up the house and courtyard amidst the pitter patter of rain drops, the misty surroundings and the musky smell that pervades everything.
The ripe flavour was hint enough to open the handi and usually by noon it will be all done with tender meats nicely fallen off the bones.
Freshly steamed rice with this light mutton stew is what beautiful memories are made of and those childhood years of mine.
Bengali Mutton Stew With Green Papaya - A Monsoon Special
- 1 kg Mutton (young goat meat, preferably shoulder or legs)
- 1 Potato, big cut into medium chunks
- 1 Green Papaya, small cut into big chunks
- 2 Carrots cut into rounds or batons (optional)
- 1 Onion, big chopped
- 8-10 Garlic Pods
- 2 tbsp Ginger paste
- 4-5 Green Chillies
- 2 tsp Turmeric powder
- 8-10 Black Pepper
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1 tbsp Red chilli powder (optional)
- 1 tbsp Cumin powder (optional)
- Salt to taste
- 5-6 tbsp Mustard Oil
Wash and clean the mutton pieces thoroughly. Rub salt, turmeric and mustard oil over the mutton pieces. Keep aside for 20 minute minimum.
In a deep bottom vessel (handi or pressure cooker or big dekchi) add mustard oil as requires and heat it till its smoking point.
Fry the onions, garlic pods till onions becomes soft and translucent. Do not brown them. Tip in the ginger paste and fry for couple of minute more.
Add the mutton pieces, fry very lightly and add further all the vegetables, green chillies, bay leaves, black pepper corns, salt. If using other spices, add them too. Mix everything nicely, fry for few more minutes.
Close the lid tightly, lower the heat to minimum. And let the stew get cooked for around 30- 40 minutes or more till done.
Open the lid and if you need to add more water, add only hot water and adjust the sesaonings.
Serve this mutton stew with steamed rice.
If you are using pressure cooker to cook this stew, then you have to add water as requires and pressure cook up to one whistle only. Make sure the heat was minimum so that pressure can build up slowly.
You can lightly fry the onions or you can dump all the ingredients together. Close the lid very tightly in case of dum style (so use a heavy lid) and slow cook till done. If water needs to be added, add only hot water and adjust the sesaonings.
This method will work only if you can get very good quality lean meat that needs no braising. If meat is not tender and lean please by all means braise it first.
What different I did here ?
I do not make this dish anymore, as we had stopped visiting the butcher shops. Also getting a lean meat is very difficult here. So whatever the online vendors delivered us we accepts it. This picture is quite an old one, some three years back. Good quality green papaya is also rare in Bangalore. So I have added some carrots, and red chilli powder along with cumin .
Not exactly a continental mutton stew (please check this amazing chicken stew) that you will find in Kolkata but a little bit of goodness from both the worlds.
If you have access to good quality lean meat and green papaya, by all means try the original recipe. Else you can always tweak it the way I did it. Results will surely entice you.
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