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.