The Chhanaar Dalna (Bengali Cottage Cheese Curry) is a makeup recipe for all my vegetarian readers. I also want to remind the rest of you about the huge possibilities of vegetarian cooking in Bengali cuisine. This is an old-school recipe with paneer (Indian cottage cheese), a welcome shift from the matar and palak paneer dishes of the mainstream world.
Sad but true, in olden days, widowed Bengali women had to live on vegetarian food after their husbands passed on. They had to denounce worldly pleasures, wear whites, chop off their manes, and sometimes even live separately from the main family house.
Whoever invented a Chhanaar Dalna probably did a whole lot of good to such women. This way they got their share of calcium from the paneer, and a whole lot of flavor in the aromatic sauce of cumin-ginger-garam masala it is cooked in.
I love the old fashioned touch to this recipe, although I am not too pleased about certain stereotypes attached to vegetarian food in Bengali culture. Thankfully, a lot of it is a thing of past in urban families. There is no greater pleasure for me to see my own Thakuma (Grandmother) slurp on chicken soup. I have a feeling my Dadu (Grandfather) too is pleased as punch to watch his wife living a “normal” life from up there.
Ingredients for Chhanaar Dalna are:
500 homemade paneer, cut into cubes
2 medium size white potatoes, cut into cubes
2 medium size ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 inch knob of ginger
4-5 green chilies
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
One-fourth teaspoon garam masala powder
2 black cardamoms
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
4 tablespoons mustard oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Grind to a smooth paste two tablespoons cumin seeds, ginger, and the green chilies. Keep aside.
Heat mustard oil in a large sauté pan or wok. Toss in the cubed potatoes till they are browned on the edges, remove with a slotted spoon.
In the same oil, add the pieces of paneer, give a quick sauté and remove.
Throw in a teaspoon of cumin seeds and the black cardamoms in the leftover oil of the wok, let them crackle for a few seconds before you add the chopped tomatoes. Stir well, add two tablespoons of the cumin-ginger-chili paste. With the back of your ladle, press the tomatoes to release all their juices. Add red chili powder, turmeric, sugar, salt and garam masala powder. Keep cooking this mixture on medium heat till the raw taste of the ingredients goes away and little bubbles of oil appear around it.
The Chhanaar Dalna makes up for a great main with some steamed rice. Serve it while its piping hot with fresh flavors.