Dumurer Dalna (Indian wild fig curry with potatoes)

7:13 AM

As kids we learnt a lot of things from proverbs used in daily lives. Whether we have even seen that thing or not we at least knew that such a thing exist and sometimes when inquisitive we also asked our parents to know more about it. Proverbs were a big part of our growing up days, used by parents, uncles, acquaintances and mostly by my grand mother. Who had a large repertoire of proverbs, at least one perfectly fitting one for each occasion.

After we moved from our small village town in Midnapore to a bigger town life in Santiniketan, our life suddenly become busier. Without any help from the extended family like in Midnapore, the parents in Santiniketan had to manage everything on their own. We hardly got any time to socialise so does our friends around us. So every occassions that we would meet we would invariably hear, " arre tomay to ajkal dekhai jayna, puro dumurer phool hoe gecho!' (We dont get to see you, you have become invisible like fig flowers.). following that even before we could understand the actual meaning of it or the right connototation we at least knew there is a fruit called Dumur. I much later get to see it first in my Dida's kitchen on a pure vegetarin day when she painstaikingly scooped out the crunchy seeds sitting cross legged on her warm kitchen floor and later made a lip smackingly delicious curry out of it. and much later in Delhi, on a very cold winter night, when my room mate gave me a thick leathery brown piece of dry fruit claiming eating that will make me feel warm and protect me from winter ailments. I instantly fell in love with the fruit on both the occassions...The smooth rich curry and the crunch of dried figs were way too good to ignore.
Wild Fig Tree
Wild fig tree. (PC.slrobertson.com)
But much before that, on a hot summer day, in life science class we were explained why we never get to see the fig flower  as "A fig "fruit" is derived from a specially adapted type of inflorescence (an arrangement of multiple flowers). In this case, it is an involuted, nearly closed receptacle with many small flowers arranged on the inner surface. Thus the actual flowers of the fig are unseen unless the fig is cut open (wikipedia)'. 

Now let me come back to today's recipe. If you have ever lived in Bengal then you would have seen small dumurs locally known as Joggi dumur growing in small trees almost every where. These are not the bigger figs known as Anjeer in India rather the wild variety also known as clustered figs or Guler. The growing season of these tiny fruits are during the colder months and generally the trees get laden with them. In Bengali households this is prepared in pure satvik way or sans any onion and garlic. Which makes me believe that it must be another contribution of Bengali widows, who with thier restricted availability of ingredients came up with genuine ideas of using cheap, seasonal and local ingredients.

From time immemorial Bengali widows have been subject to neglect and oppression by the society. Sometimes widowed as early as at 5 or 6 these women were not only allowed to eat any non veg items but also many plant based ingredients like red lentil, onion or garlic were ruled out of their diet. Mainly because they are believed to be impassioning in nature. So with their socially restricted life, limited access to the pantry, the neglect of the family they tried to come up with ideas to use up everything in the kitchen and also things that are easily and abundantly available around them. Hence khosha charchari or vegetable peels curries or Kolar khoshar bora or bata (Plantain peel friiters) etc were born.

Their main source of protein were milk and lentils. Often in lower and middle class families they could not afford to get milk or milk products so mainly relied on lentils following which dishes like niramish patoler dolma (stuffed pointed gourd with spicy bengal gram), dhokar dalna came into existence. Even our vast repertoire of bori or sundried lentil dumplings, Kasundi and pickles are indebted to them. Who wanted to preserve seasonal abundance to perk up their meager meals when life becomes tough.

Definitely dumurer Dalna was another invention by such vegetarian kitchen, to use up not so popular, not so used yet abundantly growing native fruit in such a beautiful manner. Here is my simple recipe.

Dumurer Dalna

Dumur or Indian fig: 2 cups
Potato: 1 large, peeled and cubed in 1/3" pieces (1/2 cup)
Ginger paste: 2 tsp
Cumin paste: 1 tsp
Coriander paste or powder: 1 tsp
Yogurt: 2 tbsp
Cumin seeds: 1/3 tsp
Oil: 2 tbsp
Chili powder: 1/3 tsp
Green chillies: 2
Garam masala powder: 1/4 tsp
Cinnamon bark: 1/2" piece
Cloves: 2
Green cardamom: 1 small
Bay leaf: 1

First you need to prepare the figs. If you are in Kolkata you can buy them cleaned and cut for you at the markets but otherwise you will have to prepare them first.
Rub the blunt side of your knife on the skin of the figs to remove the white fuzz off the skin. Cut in half and using a small scoop (melon baller) or spoon scoop out the seeds as much as possible. Cut each half again lengthwise, that is the fruit is quartered at the end. 
Keep a bowl of water with a pinch of turmeric near by and place the prepared fruits in it. Once all your fruits are prepared, wash them and boil with salt and turmeric till a fork pierce it easily.
Drain and keep aside.

Now heat 1 tsp oil and fry the cubed potatoes with a pinch of salt and turmeric till they are golden. Take out.
Mix the ginger paste, cumin, coriander, turmeric and chili powder with 2 tbsp water and keep aside.
Add the rest of the oil to the pan and heat it. Keep the flame medium. Add lightly pounded cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and cumin seeds along with the bay leaf. Wait and once they start to release the aroma add the spice paste. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and cook this till you see oil starts to appear (4-5 minutes). 

Whip the yogurt (Use set yogurt or homemade) till very very smooth. Take the pan off the heat and add the yogurt. Mix and return on fire and keep cooking. Now add the veggies and mix. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add 1 cup warm water. Break the green chilies in two if using and add. Mix, taste, adjust seasoning and let it simmer on low medium heat till the water is absorbed and the veggies are cooked. IF needed add more water.Add the sugar to balance the tase. Mix

Finish with sprinkling the garam masala powder. Serve hot with Rice or roti.

You can also add a dollop of ghee if you wish.

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