Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The forgotten spring-summer hero

Summers in India is pretty much synonymous to mangoes - eating them just like that, pulping them, shaking them with milk, moussing them, et al. In fact, it is quite rare to find an individual who does not love mangoes. No wonder it enjoys the royalty status, in the country. While, the maximum production of mangoes in the country come from its southern states, Bengal has its own snooty taste for the produce within the state. And for us Bongs, it does not matter much if the Alphonso is considered king of the clan. We will always, and forever, hold the Langra, at a higher pedestal. Because it is ! (you might want to differ with me but then everyone has a right to have an opinion)

But this post is not about the mango. At least not the ripe yellow ones. It is rather about the one that comes before the yellow one. The green mango. The younger one. 

While ripe mangoes is more of a summer symbolism, the green ones represent the advent of spring. The onset of spring is marked by the yellowish-white mango blossoms adorning the dark green trees. And just when you start noticing them, they mature into tender green mangoes. 

And with their advent, also arrive a plethora of dishes, where the hero of the dish is the humble kaancha aam. Well thanks to cold storages, they are now available all the year round in some parts of the country. But the piquant sharp taste, and the delicious sour aroma of the ones which we find in the ones during the season, is something else totally. 

As far as my knowledge goes, Bengalis make the most use of kaancha aam, than any other Indian community does. While in most parts of the country, it is used mainly for pickles (sweet or sour or sweet-sour-spicy), bengali cuisine makes use of this ingredient in various other ways for various delicacies (of which I know well, only a few). 

Kaancha Aamer Chatni
Chatni (or chutney) is one such variant. We have many chatni recipes, but we insist on having kaancha aamer chatni throughout the summers. While rest of India enjoys chutney as condiments or as a relish, it holds a pre-dessert slot in a full course Bengali menu. Bengalis love to have it after the meal and before popping in few rosogollas. It is almost always prepared fresh and is eaten to accent the meal. Normally simmered in jaggery and tempered with paanch phoron, it is one of the topmost things that come to the head when talking about tender mangoes.

Next in line would definitely be the Aamer Tok Daal (red lentils cooked with green mango). This tok daal defies the golden rule of having lentils the Indian style, which is, having it garam-garam. We rather insist on having it at room temperature, owing to the soaring temperature conditions. And would normally accompany it with some rice and bhaja. In certain households, this daal is actually eaten right at the end of the meal, to ensure that the sweet-n-sour taste lingers on after the fish or meat part of the meal is done with.

Maacher dimer ombol (fish roe/fish eggs in a sweet n sour gravy) is yet another dish where the commonplace fish roe cutlets are taken to a oh-so heavenly level, because of the sweet sourness of the kaancha aam. This ombol is also made using some small fish varieties like chuno puti or mourola

Sliced unripe mangoes sprinkled with red chilli powder
Kaancha aam makha (the closest translation would be a mango salad) comes next in the line. in this dish the mango is not cooked at all. Instead, it is grated and marinated in salt, sugar, red chilli powder, and is punched with some mustard oil, just till the juices of the mango are married to the sweet, salty, spicy and pungency of the other ingredients. And is served along with the meals and sometimes eaten out of small bowls while the family chats up after the meals. 

Aam porar shorbot (drink made of roasted green mangoes) is another gem which, one can never have enough of. Known to be a saviour during the hot summer months, it is quite close to the popularly known aam panna, but is still very different and distinct in taste. The roasted green mangoes in the aam porar shorbot, give it a unique smoky taste, which when mixed with the tastes of sugar, black salt and cumin, yields a concoction that, like i mentioned before, one can never have enough of. 
Aam Porar Shorbot

The goodness of the green mango is quite a known thing (if not, it is just a google search away). But while we, the urban-ers of today, have known its goodness and its taste alike, are starting to look away. The reason - will be best answered by yourself. This sour-yet-sweet taste can comfortably be called something that has been a part of our growing up. Something that we should not give up so casually. 

So here’s a toast to this humble ingredient, which has given us some of our most memorable spring-summer memories.

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