A meal comprising Aloo Posto is sure to induce sleep on summer afternoons
In the culinary world, Bengal’s claim to fame has undoubtedly been through the maacher jhol and kosha mangsho. However, the lesser known yet equally delectable vegetarian fare from Bengal is a treasure trove worth exploring, both for its richness and variety.
With the long harsh summer tightening its grip on the land, ripping off energy and suppressing appetite, there is many a vegetarian dish that is known to produce pleasures of the stomach and soul in about equal proportion. One such course is the delightful combination of kolai er dal and aloo posto.
The fondest memories of this dish date back to summer holidays in school. Holidays would mean following Ma around the house and curiously inspecting every small thing in the kitchen, lifting up a lid here or rummaging through a loose packet there.
During those long summer months when it seemed as if the hot days would never cease, one of her regulars for lunch was the aloo posto, a simple and delicately flavoured dish of potato cubes cooked in mashed poppy seeds. The posto, she said, cooled the stomach during the hot days. Consumed in generous quantities, it is also known to calm the nerves resulting in good sleep.
Ma was fussy about the texture of the poppy seed paste and gave it several rounds of pounding and grinding on the crude grinding slab stone used at home. The resultant paste could be best described as a finely ground coarse mixture!
The aloo posto was almost always cooked with its beau, the kolai er dal, kolai being split white urad dal. Ma was always too happy to make this dal because of its numerous health benefits, her favourite one being the resultant improvement in memory and brainpower.
This dal seemed unique to the child’s senses in more ways than one. It was almost always cooked without turmeric, earning for itself the sobriquet shada dal, shada standing for white in Bengali. It came in a slimy texture, since Ma always avoided dry roasting it unlike some of the other dals. And it had a distinctive aroma of crushed fennel seeds that always left a refreshing taste in the mouth.
A succulent lunch of steamed white rice with these two dishes and the afternoon siesta that ensued was the perfect recipe for a long languorous sense of happiness.
This dish is bound to retain its evergreen colour as long as the Bengali continues to live to eat (in short, always). Its popularity can be easily gauged from the fact that packets of poppy seeds are being sold not only in the supermarkets of Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore but also in those of London, New York, Dubai and Singapore.
So on a lazy Sunday afternoon, put on the chef’s apron and try this out. Do enjoy the Sunday afternoon siesta after that!
Recipe for Kolai er daal
1/2 cup kolai er dal or split white urad dal
1 or 2 green chillies depending on tolerance
1/2 tsp for crackling in oil and 1 tbsp for grinding to a paste - Mouri / saunf / fennel seeds
1. Pressure cook the dal with enough water till two whistles. Optionally, the dal can first be dry roasted till it turns light brown and then pressure cooked. This is for those who want to avoid the slimy texture of the dal.
2. Grind 1 tbsp fennel seeds and ginger to a smooth paste using a little water and keep aside.
3. Heat oil in a pan. Add ½ tsp fennel seeds and the green chillies.
4. Add ground paste and sauté for a few minutes till it gives a nice aroma.
5. Add the cooked dal, salt and some water. Cook well for 5 minutes and bring it to a boil.
6. Serve with steamed rice and alu posto.
Recipe for Alu Posto
4 medium-sized potatoes
1/2 cup poppy seeds
1/4 tsp paanch phoron
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 or 2 green chillies depending on tolerance
Salt to taste
2 tbsp oil
1. Soak the poppy seeds in water for a few hours and grind to a paste with as little water as possible, salt and green chilli. Then add turmeric, mix well and keep aside.
2. Wash and peel the potatoes and cut them into cubes.
3. Heat oil in a pan. Add paanch phoron and let them crackle.
4. Add the cubed potatoes and fry on medium heat for around 5 minutes. This is to give the dish a certain degree of crunchiness.
5. Add the ground poppy seeds and cook on medium heat for another 5 minutes.
6. Add around ½ cup water and salt. Cover and cook on low heat for around 8-10 minutes or till the potatoes are cooked.
7. If there is excess water, turn on the heat and let the water evaporate.
8. Serve with steamed rice and kolai dal.
Optionally, this can be cooked with onions as well. In that case, sauté finely chopped onions in between steps 3 and 4.
Ipshita hails from Kolkata, has lived and worked in Delhi NCR and Mumbai and currently resides in New Jersey. Though the world of numbers enables her to earn a living, it is the world of words that intrigues her. She loves writing about the places she travels to, the people she meets and the things she sees. A self proclaimed food fanatic, she’s grown up on her mother’s and grandmother’s cooking. She now wishes to unravel that fascinating world of indigenous cooking, weaving a story or two around it as she goes along.
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