Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tales of Hot Indian Summers along with Kolai er Dal/Bengali Urad Dal

Summer in India is a season of extremes. As a kid I used to think that during the summer season, the Sun God Ra (got this idea from history lessons on ancient Egypt) looses his temper and becomes really angry with us. That is why he shines down on us so ferociously and relentlessly. The angry sun scorches the earth, wilts the plants, dries up the rivers and the ponds, evaporates every trace of water from the land, bakes humans and animals alive and makes them  feel thirsty, always. To the young me, the sun seemed a rather cruel God.  Sometimes I used to think that he should be sent for anger management classes, other times I used to ponder on how his God-ship could be cancelled. Musings of an over imaginative child! Even to this day this childhood image has stuck to my mind.Whenever I think of summer in India, the image of an extremely angry sun flashes in my mind.

Summer starts from early March, by April temperature shoots up to 40s and sometimes beyond (Celsius), then peaks in July before the monsoons hit the Indian subcontinent. While it rains its lovely, but the moment it stops raining, the heat comes back. Even though the rains bring down the temperatures slightly, humidity is added to the heat. This goes on till September/October when an autumn struggles to put a stop to the rains and bring down the temperatures.

This year the summer has been dreadful back home.Well it is every year, but Indians like to think that each summer they experience is the worst so far! Newspapers add fuel to the fire by touting every summer to be the worst one in last 30 years or so. Every time I call my folks they complain about the soaring temperatures, the heat and the humidity. Sometimes it rains for a brief respite and then back the temperature climbs into the 40s (degree Celsius). You must be wondering why sitting in London, am I talking about summer in India? It is because this Indian's heart is firmly lodged back home. Not that I am not thankful for missing the stifling heat which drains away all your energy and makes you want to sleep and have chilled drinks all the time. But I have too many fond memories of summer. So I just cannot hate summer time back home. And like we all know the heart grows fonder with distance. Mine certainly does. 

Summers meant long school holidays and playing to our hearts' content!
Also summer in India has some redeeming points as well. Apart from the oppressive heat and relentless sun, summer also means fruits-- all sorts. Ah the lovely juicy mangoes, first unripe and then ripe, one variety after another hitting the markets as the season progresses or if you are lucky growing in your orchard. Then there are the lychees for a brief couple of weeks (the best ones I have had came from my father's colleague's tea garden in Assam and they are nothing like the tinned ones we get here in the UK), the huge jack fruits, the strong smell and love it or hate it camps, the glorious yellow flesh....there are so many fruits and I do not even know the English names for most of them, nor do I have the patience to search them out. I guess it is nature's way of compensating  for the horrible weather. 

The summer flowers, sadly the only English name I know is jasmine. Mostly these flowers are white in colour and have heavenly smell. There are loads of varieties. Each house has/had some potted flower plants in their terrace (in India most roof tops are flat with access to it by stairs and used for various purposes by families, including terrace gardens). Once the sun goes down by early evening (6.30 at the most in Kolkata which is in the East) a light breeze used to blow in from the Hoogly riven a few kilometres away, carrying in the smell of these sweet flowers. Families would gather in their roof tops, laughter and cheer could be heard in the early evening, the people thankful for the soothing balm of the darkness. Of course I am painting a picture of Kolkata of some decades back. The Kolkata of my childhood memories.

Windows shuttered and curtains drawn for post lunch siesta
during the hot summer months!
Then the holidays, summers meant long school holidays. There used to be holiday homework like sixty pages of handwriting practice (a page a day I guess for the two month holidays, but no one, maybe except my conscientious brother did it that way, the rest of us all sat down to it the evening before the schools re-opened and somehow filled the pages with scribbles, some handwriting practice I tell you). Cousins would gather and since it was too hot too chase kids, we would be mostly left to our own devices. The fun we had, the terrace was our main play ground and since elders mostly did not venture up there in the heat, we played to our hearts' content. We never got heat stroke, but when I look back I think we must have been mad to be out in that scorching sun. But one time we were not permitted up on the terrace was post lunch when the sun rays were/are the strongest. Post lunch was siesta time. No amount of arguments, pleadings, reasoning worked with any of the adults. Post lunch windows would be shuttered and heavy curtains would be drawn to keep out the sun and everyone would be ready for a nap. This nap lasted for a couple of hours and  I remember as kids we hated going to sleep in the middle of day. We felt it was wasting good playing hours. So we pretended to go to sleep and would wait for the elders to fall asleep, so that we could tiptoe to freedom. Sadly such escapes were rare and far between. 

As we grew older, my mother could be cajoled to defer the siesta time. Instead of straight going to bed, post lunch, we would put on our favourite music and play a game or two or four of this board game called Chinese Checkers. Now I was/am a good player and my mother was and always will be a fierce competitor, we used to have roaring fights and some great laughs too during these games. My glee when I defeated my mother yet again, while her need to win the game at least once before she gave up!

Of course on such hot days Indians cook/eat ingredients which help keep the body cool. Bengalis have several summer special dishes which we cook and eat regularly during the hot season. One such combination is kolai er dal/urad dal/split black gram lentil and aloo ar jhinge ba aloo ar potol posto/ potatoes along vegetables cooked with poppy seeds which is served with plain steamed rice for lunch. Today let me share the recipe of kolai er dal or Urad/Split Black Gram cooked the Bengali way. This dal/lentil is never served hot, this is always cooked at least a couple of hours before eating and cooled down before serving, it easily takes you to dal heaven with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.This dal is always white in colour, haldi/turmeric not being added to it. I am told that this dal is an acquired taste, but having grown up on it, all I can say is that to the Bengalis nothing is more appetising than this meal on a hot summer afternoon. 
Kolai er dal/urad dal/split black gram lentil and aloo ar jhinge ba aloo ar potol posto/ potatoes along vegetables cooked with poppy seeds which is served with plain steamed rice for lunch on a hot summer day.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup kolai er dal/urad dal/split black gram
  • 2 tea spoons of fennel seeds, 1 tea spoon soaked in a little water and made into a coarse paste
  • 2 table spoons of sunflower/vegetable oil
  • One pinch of baking soda
  • 2 dried red chillies
  • One pinch of hing/asafoetida
  • 1 table spoon of ginger paste
  • Salt to taste

Method:

  • Soak the dal/lentil with one pinch of baking soda for a couple of hours
  • Boil the dal/lentil in water till soft, if using Indian pressure cooker, boil till 7/8 whistles
  • In a heavy bottomed pan add the oil, once it starts smoking, add the red chillies, the dry fennel seeds, the ginger paste and the boiled dal and mix well
  • Add 2 to 3 cups of water and let it come to a boil, if need add a bit more water
  • Add the hing/asafoetida in a little warm water and add that and the fennel seed paste at the very end along with the salt, mix well and switch off the gas
  • Let the dal cool down for at least a couple of hours before serving it....

This dal tastes best when served with aloo posto/potato cooked with poppy seeds or aloo bhaat ee/mashed potato tempered with dried red chillies....recipes, which I promise to share soon-ish. 

82 comments:

  1. Your write up made me fall in love with the summer again. right now its raining and the weather is wonderful and am sure once the sun god shines again I will go back to my 'ar pari na' mode.
    kolai dal chara summer bhabai jayna. sange ota ki zuchini posto?

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    1. Ha go posto te zuchini diyechi zinge er bodole :-)

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  2. Your post made me nostalgic about all the wonderful summer vacations I spent at my granparents' house in Kolkata with all my cousins. This dal is a very different recipe for me since it does not involve tempering . Is it eaten at room temperature rather than hot as you have mentioned to let it cool down or is it reheated before eating ?

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    1. No Sadaf it is eaten at room temperature, not reheated :-)

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  3. What nice and lovely post we are. In winter here but you make remember well summer! xx

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  4. I also remember the summers back home every now and then not to mention the mangoes, lychees etc... :)Love your dal and its new to me, since I've never made urad dal!Will have to try it soon :)

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  5. Summer today seems hotter compare when I was young ! Especially here in HK where we are surrounded by skyscapers :P Back home , my mom used to say in the morning , go out and catch some rays :D Now , try walking esp between buildings at 9am :P :D ...... Ahhhh Those were the days ! Always love reading your post ! Makes me think of those long ago summer when we were young ;D That food looks so appetizing !

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  6. wonderful post... dal looks delicious...

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  7. Looks yum
    http://www.followfoodiee.com/

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  8. sounds like really hot times are coming:)
    the food looks perfect!

    Blog about life and travelling
    Blog about cooking

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  9. Hi Suchi my mouth is watering after seeing the typical bengali thali loved the dal will try it.

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  10. Anger management for Sun :-D..really he needs it especially shinning out so fiercely in Indian sub-continent..and i will love to have that platter with Kolai'er dal, posto and then hit to bed for summer siesta...lovely post,invokes many memories..hugs

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  11. What a lovely write-up. Would love to make the dal, but not too sure if the hubby would like it. I have had a north indian urad preparation long ago. It is slightly slimy because of the urad properties that we utilise otherwise for our dosa and idli.

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    1. Yes Radha the daal is slightly slimy, so if your husband does not like slimy texture, it is best not to make it for him :-)

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  12. hi suchi, many thanks for your visit, am glad to know you.. you have a great blog here.. enjoyable summer stories.. above 40C temp is very hot indeed.
    your talk about about weather management and temperature control (temperamental)is very hilarious indeed.
    never tried this dish before- manageable to test my culinary skill. have a nice day

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  13. never made dal with Urad dal... have to try this one out..

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  14. Well done on this amazing post. I enjoyed reading about the heat in India, just now that the summer in England seems to never happen. I know what you mean when you say that you can never forget your childhood memories. They are impressed in us and we treasure them forever X

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    Replies
    1. That is so true Alida, childhood memories stay with us forever :-) Thanks for your lovely comment :-)

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  15. This meal looks delicious!
    That heat sounds unbearable! It only just stopped raining where I live

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  16. Suchi you write so beautifully, and I should try out this dal..

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  17. love this post and what a fab blog u have thanks for visiting mine, I am from the UK and my hubby from India he would love this meal :-) Rebecca

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  18. Thanks Suchi for being my 1000follower, thanks again for ur kind words..Dunno how i missed ur space..You have written beautifully our hot Indian summer days, am missing it here.. Btw uraddal looks yummy and comforting.

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  19. looks like a delicious meal! loved the post :)

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  20. Love the post Suchi.. very well written and described,and loved your pic as well!
    Looking forward to trying some dishes and Happy following you!

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  21. I so enjoyed you recollections of your childhood summers in India. It really lightened my spirits. I also loved your recipe for dal. It sounds wonderful. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

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  22. lovely post suchi... dishes are too good and delicious:)
    http://indiantastyfoodrecipes.blogspot.com

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  23. looks delicious....thanks for dropping ur comment in my space....Do visit my space again :)
    Glad following your space...

    http://eezy-kitchen.blogspot.com/

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Kavita, will surely do that :-)

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  24. Thanks for dropping by my blog & your kind comment. Daal is always a hit in our home and this looks great!

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  25. I think we're having an Indian summer here in the states this year! Love your photos and memories in this post! And you always share such great recipes :)

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  26. Suchi-I loved reading your post about your childhood memories, and photos to accompany them. Also love both Dal recipes, love all the flavors, and spices. Indian cuisine is such an awesome favorite of mine...need to learn how to make more dishes!

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  27. Beautiful post and fun filled moments of childhood memories and lovely pic to go with it :)

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  28. Wonderful post. I have tasted the Kolai Dal at a Bengali friends house.

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  29. Truly appreciate the way you made this dal from my motherland (Kolkata). This is such a cooling dal and my mom often used to cook this for us during the summers. Loved your childhood picture!

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  30. Thank you for stopping by, Suchi! I love your blog -- great ideas to help pass the time during the summer months! xo

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  31. wat an interesting write up ...enjoy visiting your space..;)
    absolutely irresistable version ..:)
    Tasty Appetite

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  32. Bello post e irresistible receta,abrazos hugs,hugs.

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  33. You always have the most wonderful stories followed with an amazing recipe! Have a fabulous week my friend!

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  34. like ur way of presentation.. glad to follow u.. do stop by mine sometime..

    http://jopreet.blogspot.com/

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  35. What a beautiful post, nothing like recipes and memories! x

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    1. Thanks Lins....yes true, isn't it? ;-)

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  36. Nostalgic post Suchi !! We too used to play chinese checker in the afternoon with Ma. My initial year were in North India and you know how hot it becomes during April, May. Before going to office BAba used to give s us Rs 5 each to buy orange ice-sticks :-)
    Kolaier dal ar aloo posto ta emon combination jano a match made in heaven

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Au revoir friend!

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