Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Habit forming memories...and mango dal!

Kairi  Chey  Varan (Raw Mango Dal)

Come summer and all the provident housewives on the street would get busy with their annual ritual of making pickles, papads, sabudana papdis, wheat kurdis, sandages, haldi, chilli powder, masalas... the street would buzz like a beehive with their industrious and cooperative activities. They would take turns in going to each other’s homes to help out.

Each household would have bolstered their workforce with the relatives who had come to stay for the summer. Kids would be on holidays and in their elements in cool cotton summer clothes and hair cropped short for the summer- economies of scale in more ways than one- for example, the barber who came home to do our hair would give mother a discount for doing two heads in one housecall and mother would ask him shear us well so as not to worry until June when school started!

The scorcher days were far from lazy, especially during that period between the summer rains and the monsoon. The women probably had a timetable and workflow and someone probably event managed it with skill. Gathering in a different home each day after packing their husbands off to work, the ladies made huge amounts of pickles , preserves and papads. These were also occasions for them to catch up with the goings on in the small Marathi community in Hyderabad and of course, have lunch together.

As a gang, we kids would also know exactly in which house the mothers' group was going to meet that day and would turn up without second bidding at the pot luck lunch of generally cold foods like thalipeeth, dhapata, aamras poli, sakharamba poli, bhakari and kanda kari chutney, ambyachi dal, methamba... the list used to grow and how- as the women secretly vied with each other in their culinary one-up-womanship! 

By evening we would be full – from lunch and from grazing on summer treats like raw mangoes dusted with salt and chilli powder, ripe juicy mangoes, cool and salty munjals (palm fruit) and juicy phalsas. Noisy sentinels shooing bold and raucous crows and smart sparrows away from the stuff sun-drying on roof-top terraces, we would secretly collect our dues of the rubbery and spicy papad dough, the gooey and glutinous sour kurdai batter and the partly crunchy/partly chewy semi-dried papadis throughout the day and wash it down with gallons of sweet drinks like amba panha, spiced buttermilk called mattha or fresh lime! Although as all kids we thought we liked the sweet drinks the best, looking back, we now agree the best thirst quencher of those times was the cool and soul satisfying "khus and wet earth" scented water from the new earthenware surahis or pots! 

Among the many attractions and benefits of this communal activity was the sampling of wares when the mother came back at the end of the day carrying a share of the stuff that the neighbouring auntie had made with the help of all the ladies.  Although not very hungry, we would be excited at the prospect of trying out that little something in a small bowl or katori, and knowing this, mother would prepare a simple meal of rice and sweet and sour dal made with raw mango, to buffer up all the spicy accompaniments.

The special feature of this kairi (raw mango) dal was that it was made with the seeds or stones of raw mangoes. After the firm and crisp raw mangoes were cut (around the stone and not guillotined) for pickles and cut or grated for relishes, jams, crushes, etc. the stones were reserved  for throwing into the dal to extract the last bit of fleshy goodness and sourness!  On the days pickles were made, the large mixing bowls would be rinsed and the water rich with the methi powder, hing, chilli powder and turmeric would be used up wisely in the dal, or in a one dish khichadi or varan phal!

This was not the end of the mango seeds. They would still be cut open for the soft kernel, which would be eaten in its boiled state or sun-dried. In my grandmothers country home, the empty shells would go into an old rusty tin bath tub which stored kindle wood for the large samovar shaped wood -fire water heater!  What more, the clean and pure ash from this samovar was used to scour the huge brass and copper pots and pans!
It wasn’t parsimony, but the sensible and prudent thrift encoded into the genes of successive generations! Fortunately this gift has been handed down as an heirloom- and stands us in good stead even today!
I still throw in the mango stones into dal and rinse spice encrusted mixing bowls and blender jars into some dish or the other- old habits die hard!

Kairi chey varan (Raw Mango Dal)

1 cup well cooked tuvar dal

2 tbsp raw mango (chopped, grated or even a stone with some flesh on it will do- just check for sourness and adjust to liking!)

½ tsp roasted and powdered methi seeds

A large pinch of hing

½ tsp turmeric powder

7-8 curry leaves

2-3 green chillies (or red chillies) or more

2 tbsp oil

½ tsp mustard seeds

A teaspoon grated jaggery/Gur or more or less

Salt to taste

Chopped coriander


Heat the oil in a pot and add the mustard seeds to splutter. Add the methi powder, the hing, curry leaves and green chillies. Sauté these for a few seconds and add the raw mango. Allow the mango bits to soften and then add the cooked dal. Adjust the consistency by adding water. Allow the dal to boil for about 10 minutes until well cooked. Add the jaggery and salt to taste. Garnish with chopped coriander. 

Serve hot with rice, ghee and the pickle of the day-  and don’t forget to fry some of those freshly made crispies!


  1. as usual beautifully written. yes.... so many lovely memories

    1. Thank you Anju! Your words keep me encouraged! :)


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