Tok er Dal/ Bengali Masoor Dal Recipe with Green Mango

Summers in India are no picnic. They are long drawn, fierce affairs. Temperatures soar, the sun is fiercely unrelenting, water bodies dry up, the landmass heats up, plants wither in the sweltering heat, humans & animals are parched and constantly seeking water. It's like living in a furnace and the common joke is you could fry eggs on the pavement it gets so hot.
As the temperatures steadily climb over 40s, Indians survive the intense heat dreaming about the  rains. The sub continent eagerly awaits the monsoon winds and the blessed rains they bring. Weather men compete with each other trying to predict the arrival of the monsoons. There are newspaper articles, news stories on television dedicated to the arrival of the monsoon winds. The anticipation for the arrival of the monsoon slowly builds up and reaches a frenzy at the height of summer.  These winds coming all the way from Australia are often fickle and fail to arrive on time. But that is another story for another day. 
As a child growing up in the 1980s India, beginning of summer in April was always fun time. Our annual school examinations were over and schools closed down for the long summer vacations. So the coming two months were glorious, independent times to be spent as we wished. Added to that, April brought the Bengali New Year, the birthday celebrations of Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore {which is a major cultural celebration in Bengal} and the mangoes. These were the pre-liberalised years and cold storage was mostly unheard. So we still ate seasonal fruits & vegetables fresh from the fields and eagerly awaited the whole year for the new fruit or the vegetable to arrive on the block. 

Green mangoes started flooding Indian markets around mid April and we had to wait till May for the ripe ones to arrive. We enjoyed the green ones in the meantime. One favourite way to eat the green ones was raw, with a sprinkling of chilli powder and rock salt. The tartness of the  unripe flesh of the green mango nicely compliments the savoury kick from the rock salt and the heat from the chilli powder. Of course it was an extreme kind of a taste, so the adults left the young kids and teenagers to enjoy this snack. And boy did we enjoy it! 
Each school in Kolkata had a peddler parked just outside it, selling sliced raw mangoes, along with mango  & berry pickles and many other interesting snacks. These guys were called tuntuni wallah because they played a small musical toy to inform the neighbourhood children of their arrival. We used to save our pocket/lunch money to purchase these delicacies. We would wait for school to finish. Everyone would rush to the peddler who came with a hand drawn wooden cart piled high with delectable goodies. We all crowded around him, demanding immediate gratification. I remember buying these raw mango slices in little paper bags and having them while walking home from school. Of course you could eat this at home as well, but it never tasted the same with the rock salt from my mother's pantry. Some poor kids with squeamish  mothers were totally forbidden to eat these treats from the road. They would look on with longing while we chomped away. I always felt sorry for them. My parents thankfully did not bother with any of those silly rules. And I have grown up hale & hearty.
At home green mangoes were used for cooking. One popular dish was the tok er dal or masoor dal made with green mangoes and the other one was making a sweet & sour chutney with green mango slices. Today I will be sharing with you the dal recipe. It's an easy one, Bengalis love having it during early summer. With the onset of summer heat, most people would loose their appetites. 
Mothers would try to tempt them with this slightly sour dal. Since this is the only sour dal in the Bengali cooks arsenal, it acts as a seasonal treat and even those with a diminished appetite would sit down for lunch with anticipation. I guess you could call this the nearest a Bengali comes to making the tangy South Indian sambar. 

Like most summer recipes, this dal is also family easy to make and does not have a lot of spices.

{Serves four with rice and a vegetable stir fry with the fish curry to follow}
1. One cup of masoor dal/pink lentil
2. Four small green mangoes
3. One tea spoon of turmeric paste
4. Two dried red chillies
5. Half a teaspoon of black mustard seeds
6. Salt to taste
7. Four tea spoons of sugar
8. One table spoon of vegetable oil

How to make this dal~

1. Wash the masoor dal till the water runs clean {approximately 3 to 4 washes}, then soak the dal in water for half an hour or so. This helps soften the dal as it soaks in the water, so it cooks quickly
2. In a pressure cooker boil the dal with two cups of water for two whistles. You could do it in a normal pan as well. In that case, put the dal in a big pan, add the water, put it on medium heat, cover the pan and let it boil for 20 minutes or so. Stir occasionally and if needed add a bit more water.
3. While the dal is cooking, slice the green mangoes, take out the seed from the middle.
4. In a frying pan, add the oil, once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and the red chillies snapped from the middle into two and let the mustard seeds splutter.
5. Add the green mango slices, add turmeric and salt and let the mango fry. Once the mango looks a little softened {about 3 to 4 minutes} add a cup of water and let it come to a boil.
6. In the meanwhile your dal should be cooked now, add this green mango with the water and spices to the dal. Mix everything together. Let the dal boil for 10 minutes or so to soak in all the flavours.
7. Check the seasoning. At the fag end add the sugar, stir well. Taste the dal, it should taste sweet & sour. If needed add a bit more sugar. I would suggest start with adding small quantities and keep adding more till you are satisfied with the balance.

The dal is ready, serve it with steamed rice and a vegetable stir fry. This makes a splendid second course in a traditional Bengali lunch.

P.S. You can make the dal thick or watery by controlling the amount of water going in. I have made both versions. Given that it's a summer special, the lighter version works best.


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