Memories in May ..
A squirrel quenching it’s thirst
(Photo courtesy : Bhashkar Dasgupta)
Summer reminds me of this song by Rabindranath Tagore.It perfectly describes the ruthlessness of summer heat and the agony of sun fatigued days,while eagerly waiting for the thundershowers to sooth tired souls.
Darun agni-ban e re hriday trishay han-e re .
Rajani nidrahin,dirgho dogdho din..
Aram nahi je jaan-e re.
Shushko kanon shakhey klanto kapot daake..
Karun kator gaan-e re..
Bhoy nahi,bhoy nahi,gagone rohechey chahi.
Jani jhanjhar beshe dibe dekha tumi eshe..
Ekoda tapito praan-e re.
In this scorching heat of summer
My heart is so thirsty
The nights are sleepless..the days are burnt too long
Doesn’t get little respite
The tired pigeon moans sadly on a dry brunch of a tree
But,fear not..worry not
Our eyes are roving in the sky
We know,you would show up in the guise of tempest
And bless our restless souls with the downpour of your kindness..
(Translation courtesy: Abhijit Mazumdar)
While I write this post summer has clearly touched base,and temperature is rising to a soaring high in most parts of India and many parts of the world ,with mercury touching 40 degree Celsius with a humidity of 45% in Kolkata,my home city.There you will not consider it to be a very cool idea to stay outdoor during the summer day unless your work forces you to be,or you decide to get drenched in your own sweat. With no rain to bail you out of the discomforting temperature,the only respite could be sort after in the ice creams,kulfis,daab-er jol(coconut water)shorbot ( Bengali cold drink concoction) etc.A few summers back, on my way to my work place,a college where I used to teach in Baghbazar(in North Kolkata) a common sight in the summer days that I vividly remember : the hand drawn rickshaws plying hurriedly through the city lanes and by-lanes.While the melting pitch of the streets took better of the poor rickshawallas,the passengers remain seated somewhat comfortably under the narrow perch of the rickshaw,and when that’s not comforting enough they would open up their umbrellas to shield the raging sun.
Rickshaw ride in the summer afternoon
Another visual that would make me secretly jealous,thinking how fortunate some people are, was on the days when I would have my classes in the second half of the day. I would notice the shutters of some of the small shops in the locality half down or a makeshift curtain arranged to cut down the entry of heat to the shop,while the shopkeeper doze off to afternoon siesta after his daily quota of maach-bhaat morsel.Not a good business proposition to do in the middle of the day,but I don’t blame them,specially when you have minimum customer traffic during the times of sweltering heat.Summer afternoon,however,did not always spell bad business for all .The ones who sold ice lollies called pepsi(the name that was given by the sellers themselves..remember the pipe shaped flavored and colored ice lollies?that probably you as a kid would buy with a 50
(Photo courtesy: Jishnu Nandy)
paisa ,tear the edge of the plastic pack with your canines and gulp at a go)dunked in their ice thermocol boxes,as they hop on and off the mini bus and private buses stopped in the middle of a traffic jam being caught up at a traffic signal.While watching the street children kind of jumping,dancing and racing against each other under the public tap,which probably they would consider their private fountain showers, I would be immediately transmitted to my childhood days.Summer in spite of all it’s ghastliness would bring the unadulterated joy of summer vacations.The summer vacations were largely spent in my grandparent’s house in central Kolkata, with all my cousins united to spend the holidays together.
Bird’s eye view of a busy road in Central Kolkata
A boy having ice candy to beat the heat
The joy of watching the para cricket(oh!if you have not known we have a Sourav Ganguly in every locality,if not a Sachin Tendulkar)round the corner of the street and wait impatiently towards the end of the afternoon for the ice cream-wallah(ice cream seller)to come in the locality with their ice-cream carts.Our (me and my cousins’s)balcony would be the parapet of the roof terrace,We would cautiously stand on the tip of our toes with the upper half of the body leaning little dangerously towards the roof parapet,as we were not tall enough to see the lane below just by standing on our feet.While the ice cream vendors would make sounds of sort to signal their grand arrival , I along with my cousins would rush hurriedly to our grandparents to ask for khuchro(small currency change) to buy ourselves our favorite vanilla,choco-bar,orange flavored ice cream cups and sticks.Every season comes with a reason-true! whoever said so .
Summer have it’s fair share of contribution to the Bengali appetite.Few vegetables which are only available during summer like mocha(banana blossom),potol(pointed gourd),enchor(jackfruit) etc are catapulted to a position of great respect and delicacies would be made out of them.While in summer there are few vegetarian option available as such,the humble brinjal aka aubergine aka eggplant would come to the rescue of the households as it is one of the most precious summer vegetables( though it ‘s widely grown even in warm tropical winter as well)we get.The patla maach er jhol shobji diye(light fish curry with vegetables)will inevitably have large chunks of brinjals or eggplants immersed in the flavorful broth to sooth the summer heat fatigued souls and if you give it a thought you can carve out a star dish out of the eggplant in the form of Doi Begun or eggplant in yogurt based gravy.Doi begun is one of the easiest mouth watering ‘make ahead dish’ that you can make with the fried eggplants tipped in a lightly spiced yogurt based gravy,generally served mildly chilled or at room temperature with steaming hot rice to have a cooling effect.
Doi begun to me does not look like something very authentic to Bengali tradition.I believe,this dish mostly grew in popularity in Bengal by being influenced by various Muslim invasion and influences from milk and cream based cuisine of Afghanistan.The dish which has huge similarity to our own doi begun is quite popular in Afganistan and is known as Baigan ki Boorani.Similar dishes can be traced to Tripoli in Lebabnon with a meat topping of choice(optional) as Batenjane be-laban or Fattet-al-Makdoos as eggplant in yogurt based sauce in Beirut.Brinjal or eggplant with yogurt is also a delicacy representative of the Turkish meze.Thick yogurt is a common ingredient in the Turkish cuisine ,and is often served flavored with herbs and spices with grilled vegetables like eggplant.
How I make Doi Begun..
- Aubergine/Eggplant/Brinjal : 1 cut into thick round slices
- Hung curd /Greek yogurt/thick yogurt : 500 gm
- Red chilli powder :1 tsp
- Turmeric: 1tsp
- Dry roasted cumin powder: 1 tsp
- Salt to taste
- Sugar to taste
- Ginger: 1 tbsp(finely chopped)
- Curry leaves: a handful
- Dry red chilli :1-2
- Asfoetida/Hing : a pinch
- Mustard seeds : 1 tsp
- White oil to fry
- Cut the eggplant into thick slices,and dry marinate them with salt,turmeric ,red chilli powder and cumin powder.
- Let the eggplant sit in the dry marination for half and hour
- Fry the eggplant slices in batches,making sure they are not over fried . Place them in the serving bowl.
- Beat the chilled yogurt with sugar and salt.The yogurt mix should ideally have a sweet-salty-tangy taste to it.
- Spread the yogurt mix on top of the eggplant making sure the eggplant slices soak well into the yogurt sauce.
- In the wok heat 2 tablespoon white oil.When the oil is smoking hot ,lower the gas and add the dry red chillies (broken into halves) and the mustard seeds.Let them splutter.At this point add the chopped ginger pieces and fry them till they change their color to golden brown but not burnt.Add the curry leaves and give the mix a good stir.As soon as the curry leaves change their color add a pinch of asfoetida and take the wok off the flame.
- Pour the oil-spice mix on the yogurt dressing .
- Serve it chilled or at room temperature,but do not reheat the dish as the yogurt might curdle.
- You can prepare the dish 4-5 hours before serving,but don’t keep it overnight in the fridge.
Note: Cut the eggplant slices little thick to avoid them getting soggy in the yogurt mixture.
P.S. Can you think of any other Bengali vegetarian dish which is influenced by Muslim invasions in India?