I have always loved train journeys especially the long ones which takes days to finish.
When I was young, we would take the train from our little, sleepy town in Punjab to a sleepy little town in Bengal, on the other side of India. The journey took two nights and two days and to me it seemed epic!
We would cross tiny little hamlets surrounded by green paddy fields, the jungles infamous for their dacoits and the large metropolis that I had read about in the history & geography books. Some were still important but others were barely clinging on to their long-gone glory.
Then there were some eagerly awaited stations because they were famous for their foods. Agra for its petha, Mathura for its ladu peda, Bihar for its mirchi pakoras, Orissa for its singharas and Bengal for its mudi, a rice snack made with raw mustard oil. As the train crossed state lines, the people, clothes, language and food changed so much that it felt as if we had arrived in a new country, every few hundred miles.
At the end of our journey, lay Calcutta, the eastern-most railway station in India. We had literally crossed the whole length of India: travelling from Punjab, the state on the western tip of India to Bengal, the state on the eastern edge of India.
A truly epic journey especially when seen from a child’s eyes.
My uncle taught in a prestigious university in Kharagpur, a small town in Bengal. And this is where I got the taste of Bengali food. While both my uncle and aunty are Punjabi, my aunt grew up in Bengal so she cooked lots of Bengali food. It’s a wonderful cuisine with lots of fresh and light vegetable and fish dishes accompanied by rice.
This Bengali recipe for aam daal or lentils cooked with mangoes is delicious with a hint of spices and taste of mangoes. It’s a lovely dish for hot summer days and is perfect served with white parboiled rice, raita and mango pickle.
Give it a try and get a little taste of Bengal!
- 1 cup red lentils masar daal
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp rayee seeds mustard seeds if you can't find rayee seeds
- 1 small raw mango deseeded, peeled and chopped in small pieces
- Handful coriander leaves chopped
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp mustard oil smoked (look for cold pressed oil also called pure mustard oil in Indian shops or they call it 'katcha' mustard oil in India; please do not use refined mustard oil)
- 2-3 green chillies finely chopped
- 2 dry red chillies optional
- Wash the lentils thoroughly.
- Add the washed lentils, turmeric powder and salt with 4-5 cups of water to the pressure cooker.
- Close the pressure cooker and set on high heat.
- After the first whistle (pressure), turn the heat to low.
- After two more whistles (pressures), turn off the heat. Open the pressure cooker as soon as the pressure is released. When I cook this daal in India, I will it only one pressure but in UK, the lentil takes longer to cook due to the size of the seeds. You will have to try between 1-3 pressures to see what works best for the kind of lentils you have.
- In parallel, set the wok on high heat. Once the wok is hot, add the oil.
- Once the oil is hot, add rayee seeds and dry red chillies. Cover the pan and after few seconds, the rayee seeds will stop sputtering. Add the green chillies and raw mangoes.
- Saute' for few seconds and then add 1/4 cup water to the wok. Turn down the heat and cover the pan. Cook the mixture until water has almost evaporated. Stir from time to time to make sure that the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Mix in the coriander leaves and add the tadka mix to the lentils.
- Serve with plain boiled basmati rice, mango pickle and mango chutney.
- If you oil is not smoked, it's really easy. Set the oil on high heat and when the smoke starts rising from the surface of the oil, turn off the heat and let it cool down. You can smoke the oil and keep it in a glass or steel jar so that you don't have to smoke it every time you cook.