I grew up in a sylvan sleepy hamlet in the far-flung Barak Valley of Assam. Amidst pristine verdant greens. On the banks of the lazy grey Kushiara river.
Just across the river was Sylhet, the land of my grandparents, the land they had to desert in the throes of partition and its subsequent inhuman carnage and the land they dreamt, till the last day of their lives, they would be blessed enough to return to.
My husbands family is a stark contrast. Early settlers in the city of Kolkata, their culture and lifestyle influenced heavily by the fervent cosmopolitanism that defined mid twentieth century Kolkata.
And the two Bengals, the east and the west, till even about fifty years back, were indeed different. A study of contrasts. Fifty years back, our marriage, we frequently joke, would possibly have raised a fair share of consternation. An East Bengal family, almost by unsaid rule, did not marry into a West Bengal family. And vice versa.
Since then the cultures have clashed and collided, bickered and brawled, but the accomplishment of these decades of divide has been an astonishing coming together of two very disparate ways of life.
Much on the two Bengals in later posts, it would be naive though to ignore the subtle differences that still exist.
In a lot of mundane facets of everyday life. Customs. Rituals. And of course culinary habits.
The often talked about ilish-chingri divide in my head is clichéd – I relish golda chingri as much as my husband adores his ilish. However when it comes down to the humble unpretentious kalaier dal, we choose to remain divided.
For my husband, kalai dal and posto epitomise comfort food, the cold runny fennel seed flavoured dal (its almost a sin to serve it hot) accompanied by aloo posto inevitably the first meal at home after weeks of travel, almost a de-facto rule.
For me, it’s begun diye kalai dal, my Sylheti version, slightly thicker urad dal, yes, still fennel seed perfumed, with loads of fried eggplant. And yes, a decadent dollop of ghee.
Begun Diye Kalai Dal (Urad Dal with Eggplant)
- 1 cup urad dal husked and split
- 1 medium sized eggplant cut into small cubes
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp panchforon
- 2 - 3 dry red chillies coarsely torn
- 1 - 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp fennel powder freshly ground
- 1 tbsp ginger paste
- 1 tbsp mustard oil
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- Dry roast the urad dal till golden brown. Wash and drain the dal, keep aside.
- Cook the urad dal with 2 cups of water until just cooked. Care needs to be taken that the dal does not become too mushy.
- Heat 1/2 tbsp oil, fry the eggplant cubes, keep aside on a kitchen absorbent towel.
- Add the remaining oil to the pan, when smoking hot, add the paanchforon, fennel seeds, bay leaves and red chillies. Allow them to splutter.
- Now dissolve the turmeric powder in a little water and add to the pan.
- Add the ginger paste and saute for 2-3 minutes over a medium flame. Pour in the boiled dal and bring to a simmer.
- Add fennel powder and salt, check the consistency of the dal, it should not be too runny, neither too thick, if needed, add some warm water to get the consistency right.
- Add the fried eggplant cubes. Bring to a boil.
- Adjust seasonings, add a dash of fennel powder if needed.
- Finish with a dollop of ghee and serve hot with rice.