When the East India Company began settling across India, they first set their sites upon Calcutta, establishing it as their major trade hub and business capital. With easy access of ships and boats from all over the world, and thanks to the Hooghly and Ganges rivers, the British government found their business booming. However, there was one major hurdle (apart from the climate), and that was the local food.
Bengalis loved their curries, their rice and their spices, elements that were alien for the mild-flavoured English cuisine. Slowly, the Englishmen’s wives began interacting with their Indian cooks, introducing dishes such as Pish Pash, Kedgeree, Mulligatawny soup, Jalfrezi and a variety of mild, sweet chutneys…that still hold a special place in British-Indian cuisine.
And thus was born Anglo-Indian cuisine; each region had developed its own variety of flavours and dishes, though most iconic are the Anglo-Indian dishes of Calcutta and those from Madras and the south.
The Jalfrezi, it is believed, was first cooked in honor of Lord Marcus Sandys, the Governor General of Bengal. Lord Sandys enjoyed hot, spicy food and wanted a dish accordingly. Just at that time, the British cooks in the Indian kitchens were discovering methods of using leftovers, or reheating them into different stir-fries….giving birth to the Jalfrezi, a spicy stir-fry of leftover meats (usually chicken) with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes to make a rich and spicy curry that went well with rice or bread.
Jalfrezi is believed to have been coined after the words ‘Jhal’ meaning spicy in Bengali, and ‘Farezi’, though one cannot be sure of its true meaning. Some historians believe Frezi came from the Urdu word Parehezi, while some say it is a distortion of the words ‘Fried zee’ (where zee is used to add emphasis of the word fried).
When Anglo-Indian cuisine was taken to England, the Jalfrezi found a permanent spot in dining halls and restaurants. Even today, if you visit an Indian restaurant in or around England, you’re most likely to find Jalfrezi on the menu. Modern-day adaptations have learnt to include vegetarian versions, some even with paneer (cottage cheese), babycorn and so on. My version is authentic, though meatless, and only with simple veggies 🙂
- Tomatoes – 1, sliced into wedges
- Tomato puree – 1/4 cup
- Onions – 2 (1 sliced onion, 1 chopped)
- Mixed veggies as follows:
- Carrot – 1, sliced lengthwise into 2 inch pieces
- Capsicum – 1, also sliced lengthwise
- Beans – 1/2 cup, halved
- Cauliflower – 1/2 a cauli, florets separated
- Peas – 1 cup, fresh or frozen
- Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
- Kashmiri/Chili powder – 1 tsp
- Coriander powder – 1 tbsp
- Garam masala powder – 1 tsp
- Green chilies – a handful, slit
- Ginger-garlic paste – 1 tbsp
- Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
- Coriander leaves – a handful, chopped finely
- Salt – to taste
- In a lightly oiled non-stick frying pan, add in the cumin, and sauté until the cumin seeds turn brown and start sputtering.
- Add the sliced onion, toss until it turns transluscent and add the carrots, beans, cauliflowers and toss well. Add turmeric.
- Add a lid and cover for 2 mins; uncover and add the ginger-garlic paste, followed by tomato puree.
- Stir it in and add the peas and capsicum.
- Add the reserved sliced onions and tomatoes and toss well.
- Add salt and the dry spices/masalas (coriander & chili powder), and stir. Then cover with a lid.
- Cook covered for 7 to 8 mins, and check veggies.
- Don’t let them get mushy, the dish should have some crunch.
- Season with garam masala and chopped coriander.
- Serve hot with rice or bread.