Friday, 12 April 2013

Laal shaaker daatar tauk / Amaranth stems in a tangy gravy

"Aww Suro, dey na baba koyeta laal daata tuley ... naatni ta amar aasche aaj." 

 So started the days in my Dadu's house, every time I went there.
Thamma would call out to the helps to pick some good, soft daata or the stems of the Amaranth shrub.
To make the tauk.
Spicy, tangy, sometimes so sour that we would make smacking noises after every mouthful.
And get disapproving glances from her ... of course.
She made the best daatar tauk. 
And she knew I loved it.

The huge uthon or the open area in the centre of Dadu's house had a few of Thamma's favourite plants.
The laal shaak was one of them.
Those who have not seen this plant will have no idea how 
big and sturdy a plant this turns out to be ...
if it gets enough space to grow.
And the stems or small branches are used to make a chorchori, jhaal or the tauk. 
Thamma made a wonderful jhaal out of these too ... 
hope to post that too one day.

Once Suro had picked the proper daatas, he would keep them with the rest of the vegetables
kept selected to be cooked for the day's lunch.
The maid would get instructions to remember to soak some mustard seeds too ...
along with the rest of the masalas like jeera, dry red chillies, turmeric, etc.
to be ground to pastes for the day's menu.

I don't know why I loved this tauk made by Thamma.
Ma had tried making it for me too at home ... nah ...
did not like it.
Even when it was cooked by the Kakimas, I would reject it.
Only Thamma knew how to make the perfect daatar tauk.
And she loved cooking it for me.

 After I left home, I hardly ever got to taste that tauk on my visits or vacations.
Thamma was aging.
On one of my visits I noticed the uthon lying barren.
Except the old Tulsi plant, not a single green to be seen.
The corner where stood a bright, big laal shaak plant was dark; lonely.
I had stood there for a long time ... memories haunting me.
That bright sunlit corner, a proud, red plant standing tall. And wide.
It's red leaves shining with health,
swaying in a light breeze.
And the whole kitchen area around it abuzz with the day's activities ...
Thamma's voice spreading all over like a loving blanket.
Supervising, instructing,getting things done. 

The last time I visited Thamma, she was very ill.
We knew she was going.
She couldn't recognise people. Had given up eating too.
But she recognised me.
With eyes closed, she had called my name.
And complained ... 
"Koto korey tor Maa ke bollam, ektu laal shaaker chara eney ditey ... dilo ni!
Tor jonne daatar tauk ta o korte parlam ni re. "
(She had asked my mom, in futile,  to get some laal shaak saplings ... and was unhappy
she could not make the tauk for me).
Miss you Thamma. 

After Thamma left us, I had given up eating the daatar tauk.
Ma had tried, but I just could not.
She knew each of her grandchildren's favourite dish and cooked them.
For me, it was her daatar tauk.
 I could never forget it ... along with her. 
So kept talking about it to my friends, on FB, often.
And they encouraged me to make it for myself.
Said that Thamma would be happy to see that I'm making it after her.

So I cooked it.
It definitely was not like Thamma's ... but worked like a balm on my soul.
I'm sure Thamma is proud.

Need :
Small stems of the Amaranth - peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
Mustard paste ( not too much ... around 1 tbsp for a cupful of stems )
Whole mustard seeds
Fresh green chillies
A little mustard oil
Turmeric powder
Tamarind pulp
( Thamma used to make this with dried mango pieces that we Bengalis call as Amchur.
Since I do not get it easily, I used the tamarind. )

How to :

Heat a little mustard oil in a wok / kadahi.
Add the mustard seeds. 
When they start to splutter, add the green chillies and the stems.
Stir fry for a while.
Add a little turmeric powder, salt and enough water to cover the stems.
Add the mustard paste.
Cover and cook till the stems are done.
Remove cover and add tamarind pulp and a little sugar.
Stir and let it simmer for a while.
Remove from heat. 

Serve cool.
Tauks ... or sour dishes ... are eaten had at the end of a Bengali meal ... usually lunch. 
So enjoy this after a filling lunch of rice,dal, some bhajas and fish.
I love to eat this at the end with a little plain rice,
with a lot of fresh green chilli mashed in.



  1. Food memories are like that, they never leave us. As for this dish, I am sure I will have a few Amaranth stems this summer to try it out. Greens and sour go well together.

    1. Do try Indo ... I know you'll like it. :-)

  2. Love the descriptives that came with the post. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Just the healthy and nutritious recipe that I was looking for this summer. Excellent preparation.

  4. That's such a moving post, Sharmila, had tears in my eyes...thanks for sharing such special memories.

    I don't know amaranth at all - it was never cooked at home and here I don't know whether it is available or not. I will try this when I go to my in-laws' place (Kolkata). Thank you for the recipe.

    1. Vaishnavi ... my friends say the chard resembles the laal shaak. You can try using that though am not sure of the taste and flavour. :-)

    2. Thank you, will try the chard and let you know.

  5. wow - what a post... I miss my grand ma too and have such fond memories, just cant seem to put it to paper.. So well done!

    1. Somoo ... don't worry ... they know we love them. :-)

  6. That was a great tribute to her. :)

  7. My grandad recognised me too in his last few days.

    My grandmother would make a lovely milk gravy with this, mixed with some rice/gram flour to keep it from curdling. Recently I made it with another kind of greens, the stems are regular size, nowhere near the size of the amaranth stems, but very fresh and crunchy. My six-year-old niece ate it, can you imagine! It was so light and wholesome, if you know what I mean. It wasn't tangy, though.

    1. I know what you mean Sra. Kids are often better judges of food and flavours than us.
      We add this stem to the vegetable medley called the chorchori too. I'd love to try your grand mom's version too ... that milk gravy sounds great.


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