Grandma loved her niramish dalna – a delicately flavored tomato curry, perfumed with the earthy cumin and the inseparable holy troika of cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, spiked with ginger and kissed with roasted cumin and coriander powder. Green chillies for heat. Finished with a generous dollop of ghee. No onions. No garlic.
On the piece de resistance for Grandmas dalnas, some were perennial, evergreen heroes – the divine chhanar dalna where the superstar was fresh homemade chhana or the sinful dhokar dalna where fried lentil dumplings pompously took centre-stage.
For most of the other dalnas though, the heroes changed with seasons.
Spring saw the return of potol to our small dusty market by the grey-green river and the unpretentious yet delectable aloo potoler dalna was back on the menu.
Early summer was marked by oppressive sultry heat, the fierce kalboisakhi, heavenly Himsagar mangoes and tender green jackfruit. So the kanthal dalna made a comeback. (And made a disappearance act just as quick, as the jackfruit ripened under the sweltering sun.)
Late autumn witnessed the first dew drops on the blades of grass, the first veil of mist over the vast expanse of paddy fields that extended to the horizons and the first bloom of cauliflower. My favorite aloo phulkopir dalna returned to the menu.
Time flew. Autumn took a bow and arrived winter. With her bountiful bouquet of fresh produce. Her harvest of aromatic new rice.
Grandma started pottering about in the ancient kitchen, spending increasingly long hours fussing about with her rice, preparing a delectable spread of pithe, puli and payesh. Rice had emerged, overnight, as the indisputable prized superstar in the kitchen.
And it was one such gorgeous winter morning, mellow sunlight flirting with the columns in the courtyard, that Grandma announced her Chaler Dalna. A winter delicacy from her growing up days in Sylhet, pride stark in her quivering voice, prepared around Makar Sankranti, yet another tribute to the new harvest.
So here’s Grandma’s Chaler Dalna, exotic and aromatic, a delicious curry of fragrant new rice and a medley of gorgeous winter vegetables. Redolent of winter, the harvest and the blessed bounty of Mother Earth.
Chaler Dalna (Curry of Fragrant New Rice and a Medley of Winter Vegetables)
- 1 small cauliflower cut into medium sized florets
- 6-7 baby potatoes peeled
- 1/2 cup fresh green peas
- 1/2 cup gobindobhog rice washed, drained and dried
- 2 tomatoes finely chopped
- 4-5 green chilies slit
- 2 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder
- 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 2 tsp coriander sedds
- 1/4 tsp hing or asafoetida
- 2 green cardamom
- 1 one inch cinnamon stick
- 2 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp garam masala powder
- 4 tbsp oil
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- Dry roast 2 tsp each of cumin and coriander seeds, grind to a fine powder. Keep aside.
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in frying pan, fry the cauliflower florets and baby potatoes till light brown. Keep aside on a kitchen absorbent towel.
- Fry the rice in the same oil till the grains turn to a light golden brown, keep aside.
- Add the remaining oil and 1/2 tbsp ghee to the pan, when smoking hot, throw in hing, crushed cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves. Allow to splutter.
- Take a small bowl, dissolve the turmeric powder, roasted cumin-coriander powder and red chili powder in a little water to form a paste. Add the masala paste to the pan, cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, sprinkle in the salt and cook till the tomatoes are cooked and the smell of raw tomatoes is no longer there.
- Add the potatoes and green peas, cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the fried rice. Add salt and sugar along with 1.5 cup of warm water, cook over a medium flame till the rice is 75% cooked.
- Add fried cauliflower florets and continue to cook till the vegetables are tender and the rice is cooked to perfection. You would not want the rice to be mushy and overcooked.
- This dalna shall have a thick consistency, if it's too thick, feel free to add some more warm water. Adjust the seasonings.
- Finish with a sprinkle of garam masala powder and a dollop of ghee.