Every year I miss Poila Boishakh, the festival of the New Year according to the Bengali lunar calendar. Poila Boishakh is the first day of the month Boishakh (approximately in the first week of April), but the summer is already scorching hot during the day. If you were lucky, there might be a slight breeze in the evening, cooling you down just a bit so you could wear your new clothes. A charming custom was that if you were a regular customer at any local store, on this day the shopkeeper would invite you to stop by and have a small snack (more here). In this way, the relationship was elevated above the purely commercial level in a way my local Wal-Mart manager would probably not understand.
Every year during my childhood, I went to various places from a shoe store to the grocer to the jewelry store with Baba. The icing on the cake was if any of the shopkeepers gave me a Maaza (a very popular mango juice drink in India) or a glass of raw mango sherbet/Aam panna. We invariably came back home with boxes of sweetmeats and Bengali calendars given by the stores (usually with a Hindu god or goddess on them). The moment we got back home, I’ll literally jump on those boxes and sort through the sweets I wanted to eat. I didn’t give anyone any choice. I would choose mine and then Baba and Maa would have theirs. The story became slightly different when my brother started voicing his opinions though. We would keep the boxes in the refrigerator and eat one or two every day. I would unroll each and every calendar and sort through them as well (I really liked the ones with a glossy finish). If a calendar happened to be in English, I would save it for my room. The glossy ones were usually given by the bigger stores and to the chosen customers. There would be goddess Durga on one with a different weapon in each of her ten arms, while Lakshmi would be showering her blessings on another. The “modern” stores were more secular and would sometimes put the Eiffel tower or the Taj Mahal on their calendars. On Poila Boisakh, we always took down the calendars from previous years and put the new ones on the wall. One went in the bedroom, one in the living room, one in my room and one with a God or Goddess went to my Maa’s prayer room. The rest were distributed.
As Poila Boishakh was a day off for all of us, we used to have lunch at home. We ate simple things because it was hard to digest an elaborate or super spicy, greasy meal when the temperature outside was close to 40C. Among other things on the menu, tok daal (sour lentil soup) was a must. Green mangoes were abundant in the market during that time, and as Ayurveda holds that they have a cooling effect on the stomach, the tok daal with green mango slices was a regular in our house throughout summer. Making tok daal either on the Sankranti (the last day of the year) or on the New Year day is a tradition from my Dida’s (maternal grandma) time. When I called my Maa a couple of days ago and said we will have a small get together at my place and I will cook daal, Maa said “ki daal banabi, tok daal?” (What are you making, the sour lentil soup?). After that, there was no going back: I had to cook it right away.
Musur daal/Red lentils: ½ cup
Green mango (has to be very sour): ½ of a big one or one small (depending on how sour you want it and how sour the mango is), chopped into ½ inch pieces.
Water: 3 cups
Turmeric: ½ tsp.
Mustard oil(any other oil will do too but not optimum): ½ tbsp.
Sugar: one pinch
Black mustard seeds: 1 tsp.
Dry red chilies: 3-4
Salt to taste
- Start boiling the water in a deep bottom pot.
- Once the water comes to a full boil, add the daal (rinsed of course)
- Let the daal come to a boil too.
- Once it starts boiling, reduce the flame to medium.
- Remove the scum from the top periodically.
- Once there is no more scum forming, add the turmeric. Give it a mix.
- Let it boil for several more minutes until almost cooked.
- Whisk it very nicely to make a homogenous soup. Do not whisk it to so much that the daal loses all it’s texture.
- Add the chopped mangoes and let the daal boil for several more minutes or until ta mangoes are completely cooked.
- Mash one or two pieces to add the sour flavor to the daal. Add salt and sugar and mix everything well.
- In a separate small pot heat up ½ tablespoon of mustard oil (any other oil if you do not have mustard oil) on medium heat. Add the black mustard seeds.
- In a few minutes, the seeds will splutter and start dancing around. Add the dry red chilies and let them go a shade darker. You will get a nice aroma.
- Add this seasoning/tadka to the boiling daal and immediately cover the pot. Switch off the flame too.
- Let the pot covered for 5 minutes and then uncover and mix the tadka with the daal.
- Serve it with plain white rice.
Optional: Add few curry leaves once the mustard seeds start dancing followed by the dry chilies. Or, follow this seasoning.