Bongs or Bengalis are most recognised through their fish dishes and sweets, and the famous “lal doi” or sweet curd it seems. Although any Bong would happily agree to that, there is a lot more to Bengali cuisine. Name it and we have it!
With temperatures soaring and humidity running almost parallel, the very thought of a frosted glass with the cold running down it in droplets, fills us with joy. And what if the drink in the glass is equally delightful? Well, we will not let you down.
In fact, the ingredients used are natural coolers or stomach soothers, hence the question of artificial additives just don't appear.
So here are a few chillers with love from Bengal.
Beler Pana or Bel Pana
Bel in English is called Bel Fruit (Aegle Marmelos)
In this preparation, the fruit is completely scooped out from the hard shell and it is mashed up by hand to squeeze out as much of the pulp as possible. Then the remaining fibre and seeds are put into a strainer and water is poured over it to further drain out any remaining pulp. This thick pulp is then mixed with yoghurt and sugar. After this, water is again added to the mixture, according to the preference of the person drinking it. Some like it thin so they add a little more water and some prefer it to be thick. In this case the addition of water is negligible.
1 cup of bel fruit mash
½ cup of yoghurt
3 tbsp sugar
½ half cup of water (optional – based on thickness of drink desired)
This drink not only quenches the thirst but also cools the stomach from external heat and prepares it for further intake of food. What a delightfully appetising idea!
200 gms yoghurt
25 gms sugar
A pinch of Beet Noon or black salt
50 ml of water
½ a Gondhoraj Lebu or lemon
A few ice cubes
Mix all the ingredients in a blender until smooth.
In a glass add some ice cubes and pour out the Bengali Ghol into the glass and enjoy.
This again though very similar to lassi, chaas or buttermilk, has a unique taste as the lemon and black salt impart a taste that has a character of its own. This drink similarly helps cool down the body and aids in digestion as well.
The next two quenchers are family recipes. Incredibly simple to make and one would be surprised at how lovely they taste. There is, of course, the question of an acquired taste.
The first of these is a simple ‘Lebu Jol’ or lemon water.
Just mix half a lime or lemon to a glass of water taken from a kolshi (an earthern pot), used in abundance when refrigerators were yet to be born. Nowadays they still abound, although they have taken a back seat. But there is a distinct difference between the coldness of the water from a kolshi and that of a refrigerator. The earthy flavour the clay pot imparts to the water, is distinctly unique and satisfying.
So, when you taste this ‘Lebu Jol’ for the first time, your eyes will screw shut, your mouth will be pursed, but when it goes down the throat it is bliss! Once one gets addicted to this, you would not add sugar anymore to their two-ingredient lemonade.
The next one is called ‘Tetul jol’ or tamarind water. This unlike the earlier one takes a little more time to prepare.
1/8 cup raw seedless tamarind
¼ tsp black mustard seeds
A pinch of salt
¼ cup of sugar
2 drops of lemon Juice
1 and a ½ cups water
½ tbsp mustard oil
Soak the tamarind in water and let it stay for at least an hour.
Next squeeze out the pulp from the tamarind.
Strain the pulp along with the water in a fine sieve.
In a frying pan pour the mustard oil. Let it become hot, then add the black mustard seeds. Once the seeds splutter, add in the pulp and water mixture.
Next add in the salt and sugar. Stir very well so that the sugar dissolves completely.
Bring to a boil.
Now switch off the flame and add in the lemon juice.
This tamarind water is generally quite thin in nature. It can be enjoyed an accompaniment to dal and rice or drunk simply - all by itself.
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