Summer Special: Aamer Dal (Dal with Green Mangoes)
Indian cuisine looks upon dal, or lentils, almost the way Shakespeare described Cleopatra — a thing of “infinite variety”. Every region has loads of dal recipes and every kitchen gives its own distinctive tweak to them. The result is a staggering array of dal dishes that can range from the soothing to the seriously gourmet, from light soupy to lip-smacking preparations that are meals in themselves.
Dals are also among the most versatile of foodstuffs. Add some peas or chopped spinach to them or some meat, if you prefer. Really, you can put in anything lying around in the kitchen, and likely as not, you’ll come up with a tasty and interesting dal. Dal-roti or dal-bhaat can be basic; they can also be classy and imaginative. To me, a perfectly cooked, immaculately tempered dal often seems much more satisfying than heavy meat dishes.
Bengal too boasts a variety of dal dishes. Masur, moong, kancha moong, channa, kabuli channa, urad, arhar, matar — you name it and there are multiple ways of cooking them the Bengali way. Subtle variations in tempering, and of course, what you’re adding to the dal, lead to a number of delightful dishes.
One of my particular favourites is Aamer Dal, or tauker dal (dal cooked with raw mangoes). It’s a fantastic summer dish and it scores also because it’s super easy to make. Its tart, cooling flavour is perfect for summer afternoons (or evenings, for that matter). It’s traditionally had at the end of the meal. But you know what, I have it at the outset too. Aamer Dal is too delicious to keep till the end of the meal!
Here’s my recipe for Aamer Dal. Ideally, you should use matar dal for this recipe. But it takes ages to cook. So I often make it with masur dal, which cooks fast and, really, tastes just as good. Try it and let me know how it turns out.
150 g matar dal or masur dal
1 large green mango
2 dried red chillies
1 tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of paanch phoron (Bengali five spice mix)
Salt and sugar to taste
A few green chillies (optional)
1 tbs mustard oil
Peel and slice the green mango lengthwise. Keep them soaked in a bowl of water with a pinch of turmeric.
Wash the dal in several changes of water.
Fill 2/3rd of a wok with water and bring it to boil. Add the dal.
(I am not a great fan of the pressure cooker when it comes to making dal. It makes the dal too gruelly, and hence bland, for my taste. In this particular dish, cooking it in a wok, instead of in a pressure cooker, allows you to judge the exact moment when you need to add the raw mangoes to the dal. Of course, matar dal might take 45 min to cook in a wok. Which is why I often go for masur.)
When the dal is almost done, add the raw mango pieces. Add salt.
After five minutes check with a fork to see if the mangoes are cooked through. If the dal looks too thick at this point, or if you need to cook the mangoes some more, you can add a little boiling water to it to thin it out.
Pour the dal with the mangoes into a dish and keep aside.
Wash the wok, wipe it dry, and put it back on fire. Put in the oil.
When the oil is hot, drop the dried red chillies after removing their stems. Once the chillies darken, pop in the mustard seeds. Give them a stir for 20 seconds, and then add the paanch phoron. A stir or two, and then keeping the wok on high heat, pour the dal back in.
Check the salt and add the sugar according to taste. One teaspoon of sugar should do it, but depending on the sourness of the mango and your own taste buds, you might want to add a bit more.
Drop a couple of slit green chillies into the dal and take it off the fire.
Serve this refreshing and utterly delicious dal with rice.