Pardon the alliteration, but the cerebrum ceases to be creative (there you go, another alliteration) when the heat and dust of an Indian summer is upon us. Summer means dead or shriveled vegetables at sky-high prices.
India's retail inflation likely sped up to a 16-month high of 6.35 per cent in March, partly due to a sustained rise in food prices. Summer also means minimum time spent slaving in the kitchen and using produce that is seasonal which means, light on the pocket. For instance, mangoes.
Tok (pronounced 'talk') means sour. Tok Dal is home-style red lentils cooked with raw green mangoes. Masoor dal is believed to have the highest protein content among all lentils.
In pre-Bengal renaissance times, widows who were forced to observe a strictly vegetarian diet, were not allowed to eat it. Less protein, early death.
The masoor dal that you get in West Bengal is whole masoor; everywhere else we get split masoor dal. But be that as it may, masoor dal is the go-to dal for Bengalis. Not moong, not toor, not chana, nor urad.
Across India, dal-chawal or rajma-chawal or sambar-rice are staples of comfort food.
Ditto with Bengal, which is where this recipe is from, except that Bengalis never ever eat only dal and rice. The concept of dal-chawal in isolation does not exist. It is always, irrespective of economic or social strata, eaten with an accompaniment.
It can be alu bhaja (crispy fried potatoes) or alu sheddo (boiled potatoes, mashing is implied) or deem sheddo (boiled eggs) or maybe fried fish or even bhindi bhaja (fried bhindi). The accompaniment in this recipe is alu sheddo or mashed potatoes.
Mashed potatoes is an accompaniment with beef (dare we use the word) roast or stuffed turkey and stars in the British favourite, Bangers and Mash. But they add milk and tonnes of butter to the potatoes.
We add mustard oil, not butter, and never milk. The dal-bhat-alu sheddo combination is a humble, easy to cook, quick meal but pure gold for the palate.
- 2 cups masoor dal, the regular red variety without the skin
- 1 medium-sized green mango, de-seeded, peeled, cut into approximately 1" cubes (it's absolutely okay if the cubes are irregular in size)
- 1 tsp ginger paste or minced ginger
- 2-3 green chillies, split down the middle; use the dark green ones for more zing
- 2 whole dry red chillies
- ½ tsp rai or mustard seeds
- ½ tsp haldi or turmeric powder
- Salt to taste
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp of any neutral white oil for cooking (do not use mustard oil, olive oil or coconut oil or any oil that is not neutral in smell because it will overpower the light fragrance of mangoes)
- Sprinkling fresh green dhania or coriander or cilantro for garnish.
- Wash the dal thoroughly and put it in a small saucepan with a little water and salt.
Put the saucepan inside a pressure cooker or pressure pan, add the water and put the potatoes for the sheddo in the pan/cooker (but not in the saucepan containing the dal).
Pressure cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or 3-4 whistles.
If you soak the dal overnight it will cook faster.
Keep the potaotes aside for the sheddo recipe below.
- In a kadhai heat the oil.
Once hot, add the mustard seeds, dried red chillies.
Once they splutter and brown respectively, add the mangoes.
Stir till the mangoes get a tinge of brown.
Add the ginger paste, turmeric powder.
Stir for a few seconds.
Add the split green chillies and stir for a few more seconds till they lose colour and threaten to pop.
Then add the cooked dal.
Add water, cover and lower heat.
Cook till the mango pieces soften.
It should retain shape but be soft.
Add the sugar to balance the sourness of the dal and boil till you get the consistency you want--neither runny nor very thick.
Take off heat and sprinkle chopped coriander leaves.
Serve hot with steamed rice and alu sheddo.
How to eat: Mix the dal with the rice and with each mouthful take some alu sheddo.
Don't mix the dal, rice and alu sheddo together on the plate.
Alu Sheddo or Mashed Potatoes
- 2 large potatoes
- 1 small onion, finely chopped or a tbsp of chopped onion, chop it length and breadthwise
- 2 green chillies, finely chopped or 3 dried red chillies (please see the note below)
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp mustard oil
- Once the pressure releases naturally from the cooker, take out the boiled potatoes (cooked earlier in the pressure cooker separately but simultaneously with the dal) and when cool enough to handle, peel.
- In a large bowl, place the boiled potatoes, add around a tsp of salt or adjust according to your taste.
Add the mustard oil and using a masher, mash into smithereens.
This should take at least a whole minute.
It's important to mash the potatoes when they are hot or the mash will be lumpy.
Add the onions and the green chillies and mix -- add only when the potatoes are fully mashed.
Form into small or large balls depending upon how many people are at the table and eat while still warm.
- For the version with dried red chillies, mash the potatoes with salt.
In a kadhai add 2-3 tbsp mustard oil and once it lightens, but just before it begins smoking, break the dried red chillies into a few pieces and add them to the oil.
They will quickly brown.
Add the sliced onions and fry till they become golden brown, but not dark brown.
Add the mashed potatoes and saute everything together for at least 2 minutes or till the mash comes together.
This version is for those who are wary of trying the raw onion and mustard oil sheddo.
Note: You can replace the green chillies with 3 dried red chillies, but then chop the onions finely lengthwise. All the other ingredients will remain the same.
Those on a diabetic, Jain or low-carb diet may opt to eat Tok Dal with fried bhindi or deem sheddo (boiled eggs mashed and seasoned with chopped green chillies) as an accompaniment.