Chhanar Dalna” is a popular Bengali vegetarian dish. Though most Bengalis are hardcore non-vegetarians, some of our vegetarian dishes are such a rage that they offer stiff competition to the more popular bong fish and meat preparations. Chhana Dalna is one such signature dish.
What is Chhana? The widespread belief is that Chhana is the bong expression for Paneer. It is to an extent, but with a distinct difference in taste and texture! Both chhana and paneer are curd cheese made by adding lemon juice to milk. Chhana is more soft and moist in nature. Chhana when hard-pressed turns into paneer. In Kolkata, chhana is available in some select stores, but can easily be prepared at home as well. I personally prefer the homemade version.
Chhanar Dalna is a pure vegetarian dish. In Bengal, even onion and garlic are considered to be non-vegetarian. So basically the gravy is prepared with tomato, ginger and spices only. But here I have gone for the onion-ginger gravy as my children are not very fond of gravy without onion. It is aptly said “aap ruchi khana”!
Cooking time: ½ hour.
Preparation time: 1 hour (approximately)
Total time: 1 ½ hour
For making chhana:
Full cream milk… 2 litres
Lemon juice of 1 lemon or vinegar… 3-4 tbsp
Ginger paste… 2 tsp
Turmeric powder… ½ tsp
Red chilli powder… ½ tsp
Kashmiri red chilli powder: ½ tsp
Roasted cumin powder…. ½ tsp
Bengali garam masala powder… ½ tsp
Potato… 1 large
Salt… according to taste
Sugar… ¼ tsp
Ghee… 1 tsp
Pour milk in a large vessel. When it comes to a boil reduce heat and add lemon juice /vinegar slowly while stirring constantly. Within a minute the milk will start curdling and water gets separated. Strain the water out and place the entire residue in a muslin cloth and tie a knot to close the cloth from all sides. Place it on a flat surface and put a heavyweight on top of it for 10-15 minutes. What you get is Chhana.
Take out the chhana from the cloth and mash it lightly. Make round balls. Take a non-stick pan and shallow fry the chhana balls till light golden brown. Chhana balls are ready for chhanar dalna.
Cut potatoes in medium cubes. Chop onion, ginger and tomatoes roughly..
Put oil in a wok. Fry onion and ginger till light brown.
Add tomatoes and cook on low flame for 1-2 minutes.
Let this mixture cool. Put it in a mixer and make a paste with 1 tbsp of water.
Take 2 tbsp of oil. Add this paste.
Add all the powdered spices other than garam masala. Mix it well.
Add sugar and salt.
Add 2 cups of water and fried potatoes and boil it on a slow flame for 10 minutes approximately with a lid to cover the wok.
Add garam masala and ghee.
Add the chhana balls and simmer for 2 minutes. Switch off the gas.
Serve hot with luchi, poori or steamed rice…. this delicacy tastes heavenly with or without anything.
Use chhana and not paneer to get the authentic taste. Use of paneer may change the taste altogether.
When making without onion… After adding oil to the wok, add whole cumin, bay leaves. Then add chopped tomatoes. Mix little water to the dry masalas before adding tomatoes. Mix well with the tomatoes. Cook on slow flame till tomatoes separate oil. Add sugar and salt. Add fried potatoes. Pour 2 cups of water. Cover with a lid and cook on a slow flame for about 10 minutes.
Bengali garam masala… I use only small cardamom and cinnamon. It gives a very soothing flavour to the gravy.
Adding sugar is optional….but this the dish tastes better when it is mildly sweet.
Add chhana balls to the gravy just few minutes before serving and boil on slow flame only for 3-4 minutes otherwise, it may crack as it is very soft from inside.
Chhanar Dalna is a signature as well as a customary dish in Bengali cuisine. The soft chhana balls made out of fresh milk melts in the mouth after absorbing the gravy. It is certainly a good vegetarian option and a substitute for paneer dish.