Chanar dalna is a Bengali favourite. Photo: Rekha Karmakar
In good old days, the lady of the house in a Bengali family, would cook Chanar Dalna as an alternative, if there was no fish or meat at home. Chana in Bengali means cottage cheese, and dalna is curry.
But all these changed when paneer invaded the market. Instead of taking the trouble of preparing cottage cheese at home, kitchen queens grabbed the opportunity of buying readymade paneer off the shelves and made do with it. To be very frank, even I had quite often substituted chana with paneer as it was much easier and convenient.
However, there is a lot of difference between the two, both taste-wise and health-wise. Chana is a tastier and healthier option if you have the time to make it at home as you can choose the type of milk, which is not loaded with cream. I have a recipe that can serve 3-4 people.
Recipe for Chanar Dalna
1 litre toned milk
2 fresh lemons
A tbsp of atta
2 boiled potatoes, peeled and cubed
100 gm fresh peas
1 onion finely grated
1 tbsp of fresh ginger paste
1 tsp of fresh garlic paste
3 tbsp of fresh tomato puree
1/2 tsp of whole cumin seeds
2 washed and split bay leaves
1/2 tsp each of turmeric and red chilli powder
1 tsp of cumin powder
3 whole cardamoms, 1/2 inch cinnamon stick and 2 cloves
1 tbsp garam masala powder
4 tbsp of oil
1. To make chana/cottage cheese, take one litre of milk. When it comes to boil, lower the flame and squeeze the juice of fresh lemons.
2. When the milk curdles up, switch off the gas and let it stay on the burner for five minutes or till clear water gets separated from the chana.
3. Take one deep bowl and cover it with a thin piece of cotton cloth or put a sieve over it. Pour the chana with water in it. Wait till all the water trickles down.
4. Keep the chana in a separate bowl and mix it well with a table spoon of atta and salt to taste. I prefer atta to flour as flour hardens the chana and also because atta is easily available in almost all the kitchens.
5. After kneading the chana well, place it over a plate in a square form, making it one inch high. Wet the knife so that the chana does not stick to it and cut the chana in small square pieces. You can also make it in the shape of small flat balls. I prefer it that way.
6. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok. When the oil is ready, lower the flame and fry the square shaped or the flat balls of chana in it till they are medium brown. Set them aside.
7. Lightly fry the boiled, peeled and cubed potato pieces in the same wok and keep them aside.
8. Add 2 table spoons of oil in the same wok. When the oil is ready, put 1/2 tsp of whole cumin seeds, 2 bay leaves, 3 crushed cardamoms, 1/2 inch cinnamon stick and 2 cloves in it. If you crush them a bit, it will release a fragrant smell. Keep stirring them after lowering the flame so that they do not get burnt.
9. After this, put the grated onion in the oil and keep frying it. Next add the fresh ginger and garlic paste and keep stirring till almost ready.
10. Make a paste of turmeric, cumin and red chilli powders and pour it over the onion etc. After frying the spices for some time, add 3 tablespoons of tomato puree and a bit of water if needed. Keep stirring, till the oil separates. (tomato puree enhances the taste, colour as well as the texture of the gravy).
11. Pour two and a half cup of water, a little at a time and keep stirring. If you pour the water slowly, it will help you to find out the right consistency of the gravy that you want. Some margin of water is to be kept as the fried chana pieces will soak up a lot of gravy.
12. Add salt to taste and boil the water of the gravy for a few minutes. Add fresh peas and fried potato cubes to it. Let them simmer for some time till they are cooked. You can put 1/2 tsp of sugar in it, if you like, though I never add it.
13. Next, pour the fried chaana pieces, boil them for one minute and sprinkle garam masala powder over the curry. Check salt, mix everything well and cover the wok, switching off the gas. Give it a standing time of five minutes and pour the Chanar Dalna in a bowl.
14. Serve it with rice, puris, chapatis or even Indian fried rice.
Well, most Bengalis cook Chanar Dalna this way. Learning to cook at a late age, I must confess that I was no Draupadi to whom cooking came naturally. I had to learn it the hard way through criticism, feedback, experiment, failure and success. I have narrated my journey of learning to cook in a humorous post named 'Making of a cook' on finelychopped.net as a guest blogger.
All these, however, made me notice every step minutely, logically and also the fact if the stuff is easily available in the kitchen. That is why I keep saying why atta is better than flour for binding chana, that fried chana consumes a lot of gravy or why water should be added slowly while pouring it in the curry. Hope all these will come in handy while cooking this dish.
Rekha Karmakar is a proud mother of two sons, and having retired as a college professor, spends her time writing about her varied life experiences in her blog Tabulous Mom on her computer tablet. She started blogging in 2010 as a guest blogger on Finely Chopped. She writes mostly about her stay and travel in foreign countries and her teaching experiences.