Monday, 26 May 2014

Macher Matha diye Muger Daal ( Yellow Lentil with Fried Fish Head)


I am a person who cannot live without her daily dose of fish. For me fish is not an option but a necessity. As a person who was used to having fish during lunch and dinner during childhood, I barely manage through the office canteen food only to look forward towards the dinner when I would whip up a delicious fish curry to go with rice or roti.

I can have any fish in any form ( barring the dried ones, the smell just puts me off) - fried, curried, steamed, medley and the list goes on. I remember during our Engineering days when kids used to go back home during the vacations they would usually ask their moms to make all sort of chicken delicacies throughout the vacation. I would always give my mother a list of fish preparations that I would crave throughout my stay in the hostel. Not that the hostel didn't serve fish, it surely did and the fishes would be fresh too. But it would lack the variety and amount. We only got to have Rohu at the hostel and only one piece per person. I was crazy about Magur/Shingi (catfish) at that time and that is such a fish which is only cooked in individual homes as it does not have universal appeal. I would request my parents to get me Magur or Shingi almost every day of my stay at home. My father would insist on getting chicken but I would ask him to get lots of different fish instead. My mom is an amazing cook and she also has this experimental streak in her which proved most beneficial for me. She would look such varied fish dishes for me that I would feel at food heaven - Macher Paturi (fish wrapped and steamed in pumpkin leaves), fish croquette, fish crispy fry, macher ghonto (fish in vegetable medley), the quintessential Bengali fish curry, macher kalia (fish in rich onion sauce) and macher matha die daal (lentil cooked with fish head). There were some other recipes also which I am unable to recollect right now. Apart from Magur I also liked Katla, Koi, Hilsa, prawn and Tilapia. Among these Hilsa would be made rarely as it would cause an upset stomach if not eaten in moderation due to its rich oil content.


I still have vivid memories of every memorable fish encounter I had till date. Like the time we went to my aunt's home in Taki, a small town in Hashnabad near Kolkata. Its a border area of India and Bangladesh. The fish you would get over there was just amazing. I still remember having these huge juicy Jumbo prawns at her home, they would not fit in any serving bowl. Guys believe me I have never seen such huge prawns ever again in my life. Or the Koi macher Paturi that my grandma used to make when we visited her home during childhood. There was a time when Hilsa was fried in any home the entire neighbourhood would come to know about it due to the signature mesmerizing aroma of the fried fish. Gone are those days when you got such quality fishes. Original fishes are now exported to foreign countries and we are left with the option of Hybrid ones. Now even if you fry Hilsa in the kitchen the person in the other room wont know about it. The only hybrid fish that tastes better than the original ones are the catfish. And we get them in abundance in Pune. Magur are 'geol' fish or fishes with two respiratory organs hence they can live for longer time without water. That's why you would see me using catfish in most of my fish curries.

The love and craziness for fish continues till date. Even today when I visit home me and mom go to the market and purchase a cartload of fish to sustain us for the entire vacation. I hear my mom and granny say at times that the quality of fish has gone down over the years and you don't get good fish now but I still find the fishes from the local market in Kolkata amazingly tasty and delectable as compared to what we get in Pune. Though I love sweet water fish better than the salt water ones but on account of my job I am out of Bengal for more than a decade hence I try to get used to the salt water ones as well.
Though not a big fish fanatic as myself, my husband also shares the love for seafood equally. One of the biggest reason of choosing Kerala over Rajasthan as our Honeymoon destination, was due to the hell lot of fish we would get out there. And seriously it was an amazing experience eating fried fish paired with fine red wine in a rustic cottage 10 feet away from the sea, by the moonlight listening to the huge waves crash on the shore. Just us and the sea - simple and heavenly. The very mundane Goan fish curry we had at a small joint in the market of Munnar or the crispy fried fish from our very own Panshet Dam in Pune - each with a signature touch and comforting feel. Till date locations which would offer us seafood cuisine wins hands down over those which does not. The entire Konkan belt of Maharashtra offers a wide assortment of seafood. While in Goa last year we had one of the finest King crab preparations at Full Moon shack (Bogmallo Beach) at dirt cheap rate. Next in the list is having Trout fish in the emerald valleys of the Great Himalayas.

I can write an epic regarding my love for fish. But coming back to the main topic of discussion today - Macher maths diye Muger Daal.Daal quintessentially fits into the very staple diet of any Indian and 99% of the time its vegetarian preparation. But Bengalis are known for their love of non-vegetarian and fish of course. So its not very surprising to note that a Daal preparation with fish head would find its way into the elite list of Bengali delicacies. In fact the only other non-veg daal that I know of is Daal Ghost (Lamb in lentil soup) of the Mughlai Origin. Maybe there are other non-veg daals also present in the country but I am totally ignorant about those. Maybe any of you reader can tell me all about it.

Yellow daal or Mung daal is a very favorite daal in Bengal. Its reserved for all special occasions. Else where in the country you would get the normal Mung daal but in Bengal you would get a special variety of Mung daal known as the "Shona Muger Daal" which is a smaller grained more aromatic version of the normal one. You have to experience Shona Muger daal to know about its awesome taste. Macher matha diye muger daal is a very traditional dish only reserved for special occasions like wedding or birthday meals. Its an elaborate preparation which takes time and patience. The common way of preparing this dish is dry roasting the Muger daal lightly to make Bhaja Muger Daal. Dry roasting the daal gives off beautiful earthy flavors and imparts the dish body and richness. But I prefer to use Kacha muger daal or the non roasted version. The roasted version definately tastes better but is also difficult to digest. So if you want to relish your favorite non veg daal without the fear of an upset stomach use the un-roasted version.

Apart from Asian people I doubt whether anyone would know what its to have a fish head. Most of you would say it sounds so gross. A colleague of mine one said how can you eat a fish head with the eye staring back at you? Ah! the joys of a fish head can only be experienced and not explained. As kids we were always told to have fish heads as they would make us intelligent. We never tried to find out the truth behind the statement but since we loved fish head anyway logic or no logic we relished them wholeheartedly. My husband however doesn't like fish head at all which suits me fine because whenever I make this daal I get to eat all the fish head while he is happy with the mung daal only minus fish head. On Friday while coming home I saw this nice and big Katla fish with an equally huge head. Couldn't resist buying it and hence the menu for the weekend was going to feature the non veg daal recipe for sure. I replicated my mom's tried and tested recipe with a slight modification. As I have mentioned that hubby doesn't like fish head so to make the dall a bit more interesting for him as well I added a couple of veggies to the daal as well. Actually this particular preparation has two variants the veg one and the non veg one. Just minus the fish head and replace it with a lot of veggis to make the veg version. Mine was a medley of both worlds and it came out super delicious. Because whenever my hubby would say that this particular dish is tasting like a wedding preparation I know its well made.

Dont get intimidated  by the long list of ingredients, have patience and follow the steps carefully and you would have that super rich and creamy daal at your fingertips.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes  

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4


Cuisine: Bengali 
Ingredients:
  • Mung Daal (Yellow Lentil) -300 gm
  • Big Fish Head - 1
  • Onion - 2 big 
  • Tomato - 1 big
 For Tempering
  • 5 Spice Mix (Panch Foron) - 1 tsp
  • Clove (Laung)- 3
  • Cinnamon (Dalchini) - 2 inch piece
  • Green Cardamom (Elaichi) - 3
  • Dried Red Chilli - 2
  • Bay Leaf - 2
  • Ginger - 3 inch made into paste
  • Garlic - 4 cloves made into paste
Other Spices & Vegetables
  • Garam Masala Powdr - 1 tsp 
  • Turmeric Powder as required
  • Red Chilli Powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Jeera Powder (Cumin Powder) - 1tsp
  • Coriander Powder (Dhania Powder ) - 1tsp
  • Green Peas (Frozen or fresh) - 1/4th cup 
  • Carrot - 1 medium diced
  • Green chilli - 2 slitted
  • Salt & Sugar as per taste
  • Ghee - for seasoning
  • Mustard Oil for tempering
 
Procedure:

1.Thaw the frozen peas or blanch the raw ones. Once soft drain the water keep them aside.


2. Make julienne of the onion.  Chop the tomatoes. Dice the Carrot into big chunks.

3. Make a paste of fresh ginger and garlic.

4. Marinate the fish head with salt and sugar for about 30 minutes. Heat oil in a wok and fry the fish heads taking care not to break them. For very big fish heads make sure you fry them enough on all sides so that the raw smell of the fish disappears. No need to drain the oil from the fried heads.


5. Wash the daal. If possible soak the daal for 10 minutes in water prior to cooking. It will help in cooking the daal faster. If you are adding Carrots add it with the daal to get pressure cooked.

6. Take a pressure cooker and add enough water to cook the daal. Pressure cook for two whistles or as required.  Once the pressure dies out, whisk the daal with a hand beater into a thick uniform consistency.


Take out the boiled carrots from the daal before whisking it. We don't want the carrots to get all mashed up. Add the carrots back  into the final whisked daal.



7.  Coarsely grind the clove, cardamom and cinnamon with a mortar pestle

8. Heat the remaining oil in the wok. Add a spoonful of ghee. When steaming add the bay leaf, ground clove, cinnamon, cardamom, 5 spice mix, dried red chilli torn in-between.

9. When you get the aroma of the spices add the ginger garlic paste, onion julienne and diced tomato. Fry until mushy. Add a bit of water frequently to prevent the masala from sticking to the bottom of the wok. Note: I also added some pointed gourd pieces also at this point to get fried along with the masalas. You can also toss in some raisins if you like at this point.

10.  When oil separates from the fried masalas add turmeric powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, salt and sugar. Fold in.

11. Add the soft peas at this point. Mix well.

12. Add the fried fish heads at this point. Coat it with the masalas in the wok. Keep tossing so that it doesn't get burnt. The fish head will automatically start break by the sides. If not slightly break them up to infuse the juices better into the daal.

13. Add the boiled daal with the carrots at this point. Mix everything well taking care not to break the fish heads too much.

If you want to prevent the fish head from breaking too much. Then you can take out the heads from the masalas before the daal is added. Add the daal let it boil and mix with the masalas completely and finally add the head back and boil for a couple of minutes.


14. Break in a few slitted green chillies for that added spiciness. Add enough water to make the daal medium soupy. This is going to be a thick daal and not a runny one.

15, Let the daal simmer for about 7-10 minutes with occasional stirring.

16. Add a dash of garam masala powder and 1 tsp of ghee. Mix well and turn off the heat.

Serve it with steamed rice or basmati rice along with an assortment of vegetable fritters. I served it with niramish Potoler Dolma (Stuffed Pointed gourd).




Saturday, 24 May 2014

Motorshuti diye Chire Bhaja ( Crispy beaten rice with green peas)



Of late weather has been the hot topic of discussion in our country (no pun intended). The eastern part especially Kolkata is going through a terrible hot and humid climate and recording 41 degrees quite frequently. Whenever I call up Ma in the morning most of the days the chat would start with how hot it is currently in both ends of the country. Over here in Pune its been a mixed summer. There were hot, humid days, then there were chilly thunder shower days and currently its mix of hot during the day and  pleasant by the night. The weather forecast is predicting the Monsoon would be reaching Kerela by 3rd June which means in another week from that it would surely reach Maharashtra. Somehow I felt the Summers were short lived this time, maybe because of the occasional showers that we had throughout the past two months in Pune, the heat did not get onto our nerves. But not all states of Pune are that fortunate, parts of Solapur, Pandharpur, Latur and all such parts of the states are still reeling under the heatwave.

During the Summer months the appetite of having heavy greased food automatically comes down. We crave for lighter, easy on the tummy dishes and lot of chilled drinks to wash down the food. Unlike the past years where Summer would see us having lots of aerated drinks whenever we felt the urge of having something refreshing this year both me and hubby turned towards a healthier drink - the age old lebur sorbot or nimbu shikanji or lemonade. I make sure my fridge always has some of these juicy lemons to be squeezed and made into a drink. Even as I am write this blog post I am sipping lebur sorbot.


Me or hubby both are not much fond of tea during summers. Hence during the weekend evening a cup of tea and biscuits don't work for us. The moment he is up from his afternoon siesta, he will ask for something to eat. Now I am very poor in snack ideas. Maybe a bit lazy too in making elaborate evening snacks. Because that's the time I read or write usually. But then need to feed the hungry stomach too. So I usually think of some easy ways to get the snacks done in jiffy. A couple of weeks back I had got frozen momo which I would steam and serve and it only took me 15 minutes of work. But then unused stomach started revolting against the overdose of Maida (flour) and Momo was striked off from the list. Rainy season would see me making a lot of assorted pakodas but its still Summer and fried oily stuffs are not an option right now. So I reverted back to the safest and easiest option - Chire Bhaja.

Chire or Chiwda or beaten rice is such a versatile ingredient. It can be used to make healthy breakfast dishes or peppy fried snack preparations that are still healthy and light than any other fried snacks. Chire bhaja or crispy beaten rice is one of the many popular snacks among Bengalis. We like to have our chide bhajas with fried peanuts, shredded coconuts, chanachur, just with sugar, or with lightly fried green peas (motorshuti). Anything just goes fine with the unassuming chide bhaja. Often its taken along with a cup of tea. But as I have mentioned we dont prefer tea during hot evenings hence its Chire bhaja as is for us. My hubby who is a very choosey eater even likes this dish a lot.

I really like my chire bhaja with fried green peas. Its this mix of sweet and soft peas with the crispiness of the fresh fried beaten rice with the titillating aroma of fried ginger and crushed pepper ummm its really a winner preparation. Check out the recipe below.

Preparation Time: 5 minutes  

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Serves: 2


Cuisine: Bengali 
Ingredients:
  • Chire (Beaten rice) - 2 cup
  • Dried Red Chilli - 2
  • Ginger - 1 inch chopped into thin pieces
  • Green Peas (Frozen or fresh) - 3/4th cup 
  • Pepper powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Salt & Sugar as per taste
  • Refines Oil for frying
  •  Sev (Chickpea noodles) - 1/2 cup (optional)

Procedure:

1.Heat two tbsp oil in a skillet

2. When its hot crack the red chillies and toss it into the oil

3. Add the ginger pieces and fry

4. Add the tender green peas into the skillet. Add a pinch of salt and coarsely crushed black pepper. Fold in. Saute for a couple of minutes and then take it out on a paper napkin

You can use either frozen or fresh peas. If you are using fresh peas then boil it till they are soft and drain the water. If your are using frozen then blanch the peas till tender.


5. Add some oil in the skillet and fry the beaten rice in batches taking care to put only a single layer of beaten rice everytime so that each one is fried properly. Do not overcrowd else there are chances the beaten rice will not puff correctly. This required patience and skill but its worth the final result.

6. Drain excess oil on a paper napkin.

Take a bowl and place the crispy fried rice first. place the fried peas on the bed of the beaten rice. Add some sugar and salt to balance the taste. Add the sev. Mix everything and eat immediately. If you like you can toss a few chopped onion pieces for that extra crunch and juiciness.


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Baneshwar Temple - A quaint temple nestled inside the forest


 
The Pune city has many sightseeing places in and around it. Just drive towards any highway from the city and you will find yourself among mountains and greenery. Untouched serene hamlets, small waterfalls, beautiful patches of seasonal blossoms, ancient temples, historical forts, migratory birds in waterholes, forest trails, quaint lakes - name it and you will find these wonders tucked away in some or the other corner of areas surrounding Pune.Monsoons are no doubt the best time for travel enthusiasts, but even during summers you can plan a gateway to some of these places. Khadakwasla Dam is the all time favorite spot for Puneites.All unplanned quick excursion trips end at Khadakwasla. On weekends it is thronged by families and couples alike. The allure of enjoying the piping hot vada pav's and bhajjis with your near and dear ones in front of the pretty lake is a pleasure hardly any Puneits can give up. Sinhagad is another crowd puller but the scorching summer heat can be a bit too much for a fort trek. So you can give it a miss and proceed a bit further right and reach Panshet which is another hidden paradise nestled in the thick woods.Spend a day or two boating, fishing, doing nothing and eating a lot of the yummy fishes freshly caught from Panshet Lake. You can also take off for Veer Dam to witness one of the largest Dams of Maharashtra.

This time we had a weekend at our disposal when there was no major house chore planned hence we decided to go for an early morning ride.All the above mentioned places were like - "Been there done that" for us. We were thinking of doing something new. two temples - Baneshwar and Pateshwar had been on our agenda from long back. We zeroed in on Baneshwar as A had some office work after 12 PM so we had a short window for our day excursion.
Baneshwar Temple

The summer heat is intense now-a-days. Occasional showers do bring relief at times but majority of the time you literally feel the heat when you hit the road after 10 AM and sometimes even earlier. For the very reason we planned that we will make an early start at about 6:45 - 7AM so that we can be back by 10AM before things start getting too hot. But executing the plan was another story. We were too lazy to get up early on a weekend and hence we could only start from home by 8:15 AM. We started off from Dhayari took the Sinhagad Road and took a right to merge onto NH4 from under the highway flyover.

We stopped for refueling the tank at Ambegaon somewhere. It was a nice breezy day. The sun was up but the air was still cool. The previous night it had rained which brought down the mercury considerably. We continued our journey on the NH4. Traffic was a bit sluggish at a few places on the highway but mostly we were cruising at a comfortable speed of 60KM/hr.
Flowers in the Baneshwar temple

We stopped at a roadside dhaba sort of for breakfast. It was a decently big dhaba but less crowded (dont remember the name). The are many road side restaurants and dhabas after a while, in fact you will also find a Mac D and KFC on the way. We had Idli-Vada with Sambar and chutney. Apart from the Sambar everything was edible. After this short stopover we started off again. We were not in a hurry to reach our destination hence were going at our own pace.

Soon we came across a toll naka. The bikes have a bypass road and don't need to pay toll. The highway is in a pretty good shape hence riding is really a pleasure. Almost 11KM down the road we reached a place called Nasrapur. There was a junction in the road and we had to take a right. That was a humongous task because cutting straight through the Highway with cars and trucks speeding at 90KM/hr is no child's play. We had to wait for a good 5 minutes before we got some clearing. On the other side there is a green board with distances written in hindi - Shree Baneshwar – 3 kms. We followed the thin road through the town of Nasrapur. There was signs of urbanization everywhere in the small town. We even spotted a small Coffee Bistro on way. Good business thought - it would surely cater to the picnickers coming from the town.

The traffic would surely be in a mess on this small road if too many cars or big vehicles come together but we found no such traffic at morning time. After two three minutes of drive we saw an yellow Archway on the right hand side of the road which has the name of Baneshwar embellished on its top. That road leads into the Baneshwar Temple.

Flowers in the Temple compound

Once we entered that road we knew we were in for a treat. Even in this summer it had a lot of greenery all around. As we drove deeper the woods also became dense. At one point the road forks - the one going down indicates Baneshwar Botanical garden or something like that and another road goes into the village probably. We took the wrong road first then I somehow saw a board with the Baneshwar temple indication on the below road. So we had to take a U-turn and go back to the road entering the Bio-diversity park. The thickets were so dense that barely any sunlight was filtering through. We could hear a lot of birds and insect calls as we drove through. We were liking everything we saw.
Pathways inside the Botanical Park of the Temple

If you are looking up for directions to Baneshwar on Google Maps be sure to check the one it points to is of Nasrapur (that's your key) because it will mostly show you some other Baneshwar temple. Refer to the pictures below for a rough idea on the road we took to Baneshwar.
Terrain View of Google Maps(arrow indicates Waterfall)  & The path we took from Dhayari

Soon we reached the Temple Complex. In marathi, Ban means "forest" and "Ishwar" means God.Thus Baneshwar is God of the Forest and rightly so. What can be more beautiful and rejuvenating than a temple in the middle of a forest? This place is mainly known for three things - Lord Shiva temple, the beautiful botanical garden & Baneshwar water fall. Last one is only available during the monsoon season.
Informational boards about animals are placed all around the Botanical Garden
Now for some facts and figures: The temple was constructed in 1749 by Peshwa Nanasaheb, son of Peshwa Bajirao I.The total cost of construction was 11,46 Rupee, 8 Aane, 6 Paise.The temple and the surrounding jungle is managed by the Baneshwar Temple Trust.The temple hosts an important bell which was captured by Chimaji Appa after defeating the Portuguese in the battle of Bassien in 1739. The bell has the year 1683 and a cross on it, which depicts that the bell belonged to a church and was transported as a token of victory.

We parked our vehicle in the huge parking area in front of the temple. Many people were there in picnic mood and had brought volleyballs and basketballs. Kids were playing around. Point to note: No parking or entry fee which was quite surprising since its a well maintained area. The stunning yellow-gold painted temple was quite a contrast to the dark green surrounding it.

Numerous pathways

I was too eager to see the fabled waterfall (though I had very little hope of finding water in the mid of the summer month) hence we decided to stroll in the Botanical garden before going inside the temple. The beautiful garden around the Temple premises is the main attraction for people rather than the temple itself. Numerous pathways have been created which keeps on forking in all directions giving the adventurous soul quite an adrenalin rush. There were so many pathways that soon we lost track of which we visited and which is pending.

Bamboo Groove

Medicinal Plants
We crossed this beautiful bamboo groove and further up a nursery for medicinal plants. We kept on going in search of the waterfall. It is said that during the monsoon you can hear the waterfall from the entry point of the temple itself. Unfortunately we didn't hear anything like that. My hopes of finding a gushing waterfall was fast dwindling. But anyhow we kept on going. There were sufficient resting points on the way. However the weather was so pleasant we didn't mind walking.
Look at how the bark of one tree is intertwined with another tree
Old Well
On way we came across a couple of old wells which was not in use anymore. The entire garden is h-u-g-e. It takes much time if you want to walk around every nook and corner at a generous pace. Almost a kilometer from the temple we reached a rocky patch which in all probability seemed like the river bed which was all dried up. The dried riverbed was also very pretty which eased the disappointment of not being able to see the waterfall. There was a unmanned watchtower there. We saw a couple going down the riverbed. After some considerations we decided that this part of the river bed was not easy for a walk and decided to track back. We had seen a different trail by the side of the riverbed while coming, so we decided to explore that.

Sections of the riverbed

Even in the midst of the jungle an old villager came up to us and asked for alms. We gave him Rs. 10 and continued our exploration. The other trail was going all along the river bed. We passed bamboo groves and other trees in search of an entry point to the river bed - but there was none, the boundary was having a wire mesh. Finally we found out a broken area in the wire mesh and very precariously made our way through it ensuring not hurting ourselves or the camera. We were wondering how we would come up through that mesh since it was a uphill area.
The Riverbed
A bottle half submerged in the stagnant waters

The dried up river bed was also looking stunning...white rocks, green forest fringe and blue sky - a perfect combination. We saw water clogging in some parts of the river bed. The stagnant water had become dirty though and was a breeding area for mosquitoes. We were wondering how all the travelers would come to this place if they had to pass a broken wire mesh. Surely there was another way inside. We took snaps and kept walking down the dried riverbed. After some distance we saw village women washing clothes in some water holes. We roamed around for some more time and finally saw a gate that opened up to this riverbed. It was such a relief that we had found out the actual entry point. But this tiny adventure was quite enjoyable.

We took the pathway from the gate and reached the temple in a couple of minutes only - the river was that near. We were feeling a bit tired after trekking through the uneven terrain.
The Riverbed
Temple Entrance & The Big Trishul(Trident)

I purchased some flowers for puja from outside the temple. We kept our shoes in a rack outside and proceeded inside. There is a big trishul at the entrance. From the look of it we understood that the temple was recently painted in these bright colors. Though photography is prohibited inside the temple I dared to take some (bad me!). The main temple is made from black stone and has nagara styled shikhara  painted in pretty colors and adorned with god/goddesses idols.The main temple is divided into a ardhamandapa , a sabhamandapa and a garbhagriha. The sabhamandapa floor  has a brass tortoise image , which is a part of the iconography of Shiva temples. he gabhara or sanctum sanctorum houses a beautiful Shiva Linga. The puja was already in progress when we went into the temple. When I handed over the flower plate to the purohit inside he asked me to put the garland around the Shiva Linga by myself and take blessings. This was a new thing for me because in India I think this is the first temple where I was able to offer the garland to the idol by myself. Usually its the purohit who does it on our behalf and we are not allowed to touch the deity.It really felt nice. I prayed and then the Purohit handed me back some of the flowers.

The Temple

We came out of the main temple after offering our prayers. Just opposite to the main temple is a Nandi mandapa which house a fairly large idol of Nandi Maharaj.  We sat on the steps of the Temple for sometime, resting from the strong sun. Around the main temple are several minor temples belonging to various other deities like Lord Ganesha, Lord Hanumana etc,

The Aquatic Life in the two tanks of the temple

The temple has a couple of water tanks which are home to quite a few aquatic animals like fishes and tortoises. One of these water tanks has a Gomukhi spout which pours in water. In the first tank we saw many fishes. Some of the catfishes were humongous. Many of the small fishes came out of the tank dungeons and were resting on the steps of the tank which had a thin layer of water. The devotees who frequent this temple offer food to the aquatic animals. In the other tank there was a combination of different species of tortoise and fishes. There also we saw a huge tortoise but it quickly went inside the deep waters. Baby tortoises were swimming with their mothers. One was trying to swim vertically and not horizontally, maybe it had a problem with its flippers. It is quite enjoyable to watch these cuties swim in the water. Beside the tortoise tank there is a small opening in the ground which has a submerged Shivlinga. People throw coins into it. It's the common belief that  if the coin lands on the Shivlinga it means good luck.

There is a small souvenir shop inside the premises which sells all sort of small shivlingas, holy threads, pictures of God and Goddesses, tortoise shaped rings and many such things. Among everything the cute tortoise shaped rings really appealed to me and I purchased one at Rs. 30.


Outside the temple premise, the lady from whom I had purchased the puja flowers packed it in a plastic bag and gave it to me. It was very convenient as I had not brought anything to carry the puja offerings back.

Directions:

From Swargate : From Swargate junction take a left and continue straight towards Katraj. Go past the Katraj Snake park and once you have crossed the ghats you will merge with the NH4 coming from Mumbai. Carry on the highway. After sometime you will reach a Toll Naka. From this Toll Naka, cross the Shinde-wadi, Khed- Shivapur and till Nasrapur it is roughly around 11 KMs. Once you reach the Nasrapur Junction take a right into the Nasrapur town. Keep straight until you see a Arched gate on the right side of the road. Take right and continue along the road going down. Drive around 2-3 KMs from Nasrapur junction to reach the Baneshwar Temple.

From Dhayari : From Dhayari Phata take a right and continue on the Sinhagad road till you reach the Flyover highway. Take a Left from there and go straight. Merge into the NH4 and continue straight along the highway. After sometime you will reach a Toll Naka. From this Toll Naka, Nasrapur is roughly around 11 KMs. Once you reach the Nasrapur Junction take a right into the Nasrapur town. Keep straight until you see a Arched gate on the right side of the road. Take right and continue along the road going down.


While going we took nearly an hour an a half with all the traffic, stopping for breakfast, asking for directions etc. When we came back it took us sharp 40 minutes cruising at 90-100KM/hr constantly to reach home. We were back by 11.30 AM.

This place would surely be a heaven during and after the monsoons. We left the place with a promise to return back during the rainy season.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Kacha Aamer Tok Daal (Soupy Red Lentils with Raw Mango)

Daal is something which no Bengali household can do without. A bhaja (Vegetable dry fry) and daal (lentil soup) are a staple part of a square meal every day. Whether it’s the aristocratic Cholar daal , the royal Macher Matha die Bhaja Muger Daal, the bitter variant of Ucche die Motor Daal, the quintessential Panch foron die Kolai Daal or the very common almost untold of Musurir Daal.
Even though daal is such an essential part of our meal, I have occasionally found that in many Bengali household a soupy concoction of yellow water and par boiled lentils are dished out in the name of traditional daals. And I tend to get very cranky if the daal is bad. As a conclusion I have inferred that perfecting this unassuming part of our daily meal is also an art.  Even if I say so myself (or all those people who were fortunate enough to taste my cooking), I do make pretty good Daals.
Still you would find the number of Daal recipes being very less compared to others just because I find taking good photographs of Daals very difficult. Or rather distinguishing one daal from the other through the photographs is a bit messy work. But still I decided to post this recipe because it’s a very relevant recipe for the summer days.

As the mercury starts to sky rocket and the sun starts to beat down mercilessly, the typical Bengali meal transitions into fares which helps to beat the heat and are easy on the stomach. Tok literally means sour in Bengali. So today I am going to talk about a daal which has a sour taste. The Tok Daal as we Bengalis lovingly call it is a light soupy comfort food for the sweltering summer days. A simple daal made with raw green mangos the signature fruit of summer, red lentil and minimal amount of seasoning.

The summer months in Kharagpur used to be very treacherous. Extreme climate was a characteristic of the place I spent my childhood. Be it heavy downpour during the rainy season, or the impregnable fog which made my school vanish once, or the infamous heat wave of the summer we saw it all. We had a nice market which got all the farm fresh produce of the season. I loved to go to the morning Haat with my daddy. While he shopped I used to gawk at the riot of colorful vegetables and fruits. I had fallen in love with the vegetable markets all around the world from that time itself and the romance still continues. The meticulous way of hand weighing and smelling of the vegetables by the elders to estimate its freshness and the incessant haggling with the shopkeeper till they were satisfied was more interesting to watch than a daily soap. As the summers came the markets got flooded with a multitude of Mangoes – both raw and ripe. Mangoes was loved by all in our household hence both the forms were purchased in bulk – the ripe ones for milkshakes and having as is and the raw ones for making Toker daal and chutneys. Raw mangoes were also consumed as Aam Makha – a tangy spicy concoction of grated mangoes, green chilies, salt and a hint of sugar. Ma and Baba were both fond of sour mangoes and sour preparations. But two things I really detested during my childhood days were the sour and the bitter tasting dishes. However I would force eat both of them grudgingly.
As my dad loved to have Tok Daals during summer afternoon hence it was mandatory for ma to cook them each afternoon along with tok and ambol two other sour preparation.  Bengalis never use tamarind in the Daals. Hence the sourness would be a result of either raw tomatoes or raw mangoes. If you ever have had the chance to try some Tok Daal during summer months you will know how refreshing it is to have the daal in your meal after you have just come out of the sun. It sourness acts as an appetizer as well because otherwise the extreme heat usually slows down your metabolism and you don’t feel like eating.

My likes and dislikes in food just reversed with passing time. Now I absolutely love bitter and sour dishes. But as luck would have it, my husband is not a lover of either of them – he’s just a shadow of what I used to be as a kid in matters of food. The first time I had tried making tok daal it ended up in a disaster. I had pressure cooked the mangoes and daal together which made the daal terribly sour and my husband refused to have it after the first ladle. When I asked my mother what went wrong, she pointed out that mangoes shouldn't be boiled along with daal if I wanted to have just the feel of sourness and not an extreme sour daal. This time I followed her instructions to the T and got rewarding results. I made the perfect talk daal!

Before I hear that snigger coming from some of you stating what's there to be so proud about making tok daal, let me say well to make that perfect Tok Daal - a blend of right amount of sweet and sourness that works like a magic potion on those hot and sultry summer afternoons when the thick curtains are drawn and the fans are on full swing, is a real art. Try it once and you will know where I am coming from. And when I told one of my Bengali Colleagues who is a bachelor that I had made aam daal, she gushed and said "Oh my God you know how to make Tok Daal! My mother can't make tok daal even today!" With that I rest my case here.  Check out the recipe below:

Preparation Time: 5 minutes  

Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2

Cuisine: Bengali 
Ingredients:
  • Red Split Lentil (Masoor Daal) - 1 cup
  • Dried Red Chilli - 2
  • Mustard Seed - 1 tsp
  • Raw Mango (Medium) - 1/2 
  • Turmeric
  • Salt & Sugar as per taste
  • Mustard Oil for tempering


Procedure:

1. Peel the skin of the mango and cube them into small pieces. Cut the flesh around the seed. Make sure not to cut through the seed as it may make the daal dark and astringent.

2. Wash the daal and pressure cook it with double the amount of water. I dont put salt or turmeric while pressure cooking the daal. Cook for two whistles or as required by the quality of daal you are using.

3. Whisk the pressure cooked daal with a ladle or wire whisk so that a thick consistency is formed.


4. Heat oil in a wok. Temper the oil with mustard seeds and red chillis. Cover the lid while the mustard seeds splutter. 

5. Now toss in the raw mango cubes and fold in. Add two table spoon of water and medium the flame. Cover the lid and let the mango cook. It will take roughly 4-5 minutes for the mangoes to become tender enough. Take care not to over cook the mangoes as they will become mushy and when mixed with daal will render it more sour.

6. Now add the whisked daal into the wok and mix well. Add turmeric, salt and suger. Make sure not to overdo the sugar part. We want our daal to be a perfect balance of tanginess. Sugar will balance the salt and sour level. I added 1/2 tsp of sugar.



7. Cover the lid and cook for a couple of minutes till the daal boils. Turn off the heat and let it rest for a while to soak in the flavours of the spices and the raw mango to release its sourness.

Serve with steamed rice. I prefer to have some sweet vegetable dish with the sour daal like potoler dolma. But you can serve it with any vegetable dish.

1. Don't Pressure cook the daal and the raw mangoes together if you want to have control over the sourness of the daal. Once I had done that which resulted in an extreme sour daal as the raw mangoes had completely dissolved into the daal. Raw mangoes are easy to cook so cook them seperately for a few minutes before adding the boiled daal.
2. This recipe can also be applied for Motor Daal.


Ending today's post with a few beautiful lines I came across in a blog 

"Childhood, indeed
Reminds me of mangoes
Their sweet, warm smell
After long heavy meals with cousins.
There was always space
For just one more.
One more mango.
One more siesta.
One more, one last story.
One more childhood."


Sending this to the ongoing event of the Kolkata Food Bloggers:



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