Chhilka Moong Dal


While moog/moong dal in its split and peeled form is a staple Bengali dal—some would even say it’s the staple Bengali dal—the split but unpeeled version (chhilka=peel in Hindi) is one that was never cooked in our home when I was growing up and it’s not one I’ve encountered in the homes of relatives or Bengali friends either. I only started cooking with it a few years ago after a spur of the moment decision to purchase a large packet of it at the local desi store. I liked it right away: it makes for a dal that is far earthier and far less nutty than the split and peeled version and it’s one of my staples when I want to make a robust dal that goes with pretty much any vegetable side dish and which can be enjoyed with rice or rotis or just straight out of the bowl. It’s particularly nourishing in the winter and, as it turns out, during a pandemic. While I don’t have a set recipe that I always go to—unlike moog dal or chholar dal, where I slavishly follow the recipes my mother sent me years ago—of late I’ve been making it with a lot of caramelized onions, ginger and garlic. Plus tomato and some ground spices. Sometimes I make it mushier than at other times. It’s always good.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup split, unpeeled moong dal, rinshed
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • 1 tspn cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tblspn fresh ginger, coarsely pounded or grated
  • 1 tspn garlic, coarsely pounded or grated
  • The following ground to a coarse powder: 1 tspn coriander seeds, 1 tspn black peppercorns, 1 small piece of cinnamon
  • 1 cup diced tomato
  • 3 Thai chillies, minced
  • Salt
  • 2 tblspns oil of choice
  • 1 tspn ghee
  • 1 pinch garam masala

Preparation

  1. Cook the dal with 5 cups of water and the haldi. Bring it to a boil and then simmer, covered till you have it at the texture of your choice. Sometimes I stop when the dal is still mostly holding its shape, sometimes I go till it’s fairly mushy. Add water as necessary as you go so that the final consistency is thick but easily pourable.
  2. While the dal is cooking prepare the rest as folows:
  3. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large karhai or wok or chef’s pan that will be able to hold all of the dal and add the cumin seeds.
  4. When the cumin seeds split add the sliced onion and stir-fry for 10 minutes or so till the onion is nicely browned but not scorched.
  5. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute or two.
  6. Add the ground spices and saute for another minute.
  7. Add the tomato, minced chillies and salt and cook down till the tomatoes give up the ghost and the oil separates.
  8. Add the cooked dal to the pan, mix in thoroughly and simmer for another 5 minutes to meld.
  9. Swirl a tspn of ghee over the top and sprinkle the garam masala. Stir both in before serving.

Notes

  1. I’m again vague with the cook time for the dal because I make it in an old school Indian pressure cooker. If you’re using one of those then 4 whistles over 10 minutes or so at medium heat will make it mushy.
  2. Please use the recipe above only as a rough guidelines. This is home cooking: ingredients and ratios can vary widely. Try using more or less onion, sliced or chopped, fried more or less. You could use more or less tomato too.
  3. I would suggest, however, that you not over-spice this dal. Its earthiness is its best quality in my view and you don’t want to overcome it with too much assertive flavour.  This is not sexy food but it is sensual in its own way; don’t dress it up too much.
  4. Relatedly, please excuse how little ghee and garnish there is on this. I get confused these days when I see what passes for tadka in the recipes and pictures of not just random Instagrammers but also prominent food writers. There’s no reason for there to be a puddle of ghee or oil on top of anything or massive amounts of zeera etc. floating in it. Let your main ingredient be the main story. What looks dramatic on Instagram is not necessarily what tastes good.
  5. Though you could sprinkle a bit of chopped dhania/cilantro over the top, I suppose.

One thought on “Chhilka Moong Dal

  1. Looks great! Lately I have started to add handfuls of chopped greens to green moong for added nutrition and depth of flavor. It goes in after the tomatoes and needs only a couple of minutes to wilt down before the dal goes in. It also works as a lazy route to avoid making another veggie side.

    Like

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