Here is a classic Bengali dish and one of the true pleasures of summer. You are not going to find this in any Indian restaurant outside India (and within India only Bengali restaurants are likely to serve it and those are not so common). Luckily, you can make it very easily at home. It is made with mangoes. Here in Babylon we may not get mangoes that can approach even the third tier of Indian mango glory but that’s not a problem for this dish. That’s because it is made with green, unripe mangoes, of which all that is required is that they be sour without being astringent.
Now, why have I put “chutney” in quotes up top? That’s because the Bengali chatni (pronounced with a long aa) is neither chutney as it is understood in North India (a condiment, as in tamarind chutney or mint chutney) nor as it is understood in most of the West (as a sort of pickle/preserve a la Major Grey’s chutney). The Bengali chatni is closer to dessert, though it is not a dessert proper as it is not primarily sweet. It is a tart-sweet dish and in a structured Bengali meal (of the kind now seen mostly in Bengali weddings) it would come before the sweet/dessert course proper. When not eating a structured Bengali meal it works just fine as dessert, and I’ve been known to devour it by the bowlful at all times of the day and night.
This recipe is a hybrid of how my mother and one of my aunts make it. My mother’s version is sweeter; but the key difference is at the end. My mother usually adds some dry-ground panch-phoron (the classic Bengali 5-seed mix); my aunt, however, adds some dry-ground mustard seed. The mustard takes it further away still from being a dessert proper but adds a sharp, savoury tang that I think just works perfectly. Try it either way (or indeed you can leave that last step out entirely).
- Unripe mangoes, 1.5 lbs worth or so, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 tspn black mustard seeds
- A pinch of turmeric powder
- A pinch of salt
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tspn panch phoron or black mustard seeds, coarsely ground (optional)
- Vegetable oil, 1 tblspn
- Heat the oil over medium heat and add the 1/2 tspn mustard seeds.
- When the mustard seeds start popping add the mango slices, toss and saute for a couple of minutes, stirring all the while.
- Add the salt and the powdered turmeric and mix.
- Add the water, bring to a high boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes or until the mango slices are mostly translucent.
- Add the sugar, stir and continue to simmer till the mango slices are completely translucent and tender.
- Off heat sprinkle the ground mustard seeds or panch phoron over, stir and let cool to room temperature (or chill) before serving.
- You want to pick green mangoes that are not too small and that are not too hard. The mango should be young enough that the seed can be cut through easily with a sharp knife (you should remove the seed and pod).
- If you have mangoes with thin, unblemished skin you can leave them unpeeled but it’s not terribly time-consuming to peel them with a sharp knife.
- Whether you peel the mangoes or not you want to cut them into slices of even thickness so that some don’t fall apart while the rest cook (though it won’t be the end of the world if they do).
- You can certainly reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup if you like. Taste for tartness and see if you need to add more.
- The all-powdered mustard seed add-on may be an East Bengali thing (the aunt at whose house I learned to love this style is from my father’s side of the family, which is East Bengali—from erstwhile East Bengal/Pakistan which became Bangladesh). You might want to start out by leaving that step out completely, then try it with ground panch phoron (which is easily available in Indian groceries or even on Amazon), and then maybe try it with the mustard. Roasted and powdered cumin seeds would probably work very well too.