This recipe has its origins in one of my favourite recipes posted to the Another Subcontinent cooking forum, back in its heyday more than a decade ago. Most of my readers will not know what I am talking about. Another Subcontinent was a collection of forums on South Asian culture that a few friends and I started back in 2004 (a bit later we also added a features site). Well, technically both the features site and the forums still exist but both have been in suspended animation for a long time now. The cooking forum was the beating heart of Another Subcontinent and in my (not unbiased) view it was in its heyday the best resource on Indian cooking there has yet been on the internet. Populated by avid home cooks, both in India and the diaspora, the cooking forum brought together people who knew their own regional cuisines but not necessarily each others’ and we all learned a great deal from each other. And then the rise of first food blogs and then Facebook and, let’s face it, cliques and feuds among the membership killed it off. Nonetheless I still cook recipes I learnt on that forum pretty much every week.
One of those recipes used to be Veena’s “lazy Sunday dal“: toor dal pressure cooked with cauliflower and a puree of tomato, ginger, garlic and spices + a simple tadka of hing, mustard seeds and jeera at the end. I say “used to” because in the years since I first started making it it’s mutated a bit; though it’s still very recognizably a member of the family. Whether you make the original or my iteration of it, it also works well with broccoli and daikon. For the last couple of years, however, I’ve been making it with the lovely white salad turnips we get in the summers from our CSA. And the recipe is now distinct enough from Veena’s that I can claim a vague authorship while still tipping my hat to the original.
- 1 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas)
- 4 cups water
- 1 lb or 3-4 large salad turnips, peeled and quartered
- 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
- 1/2 tspn mustard seeds
- 1/2 tspn cumin seeds
- 1 pinch hing
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- 3-4 Thai chillies or similar, slit lengthwise
- 1 cup red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tblspn freshly grated ginger
- 1 tspn haldi
- 1 cup tomato puree
- 1 tspn jaggery or brown sugar
- 2 tblspns ghee
- Rinse the dal in a few changes of water, add the 4 cups of water, the whole cloves of garlic and the turnips and cook, covered till the dal has become mushy and the turnips are cooked through but not falling apart. Or if using an old school whistling pressure cooker, as is only right, cook for 4 whistles over medium heat and let the pressure release while you prepare the rest.
- While the dal is cooking, heat the ghee over medium heat in a large saucepan or karhai and add the hing and the mustard and cumin seeds.
- Once the mustard seeds start popping, add the curry leaves and the slit green chillies.
- Once the curry leaves are glossy, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or so till beginning to brown.
- Add the ginger and cook for another minute.
- Add the pureed tomatoes and salt and cook down till the fat begins to separate.
- Add the jaggery/brown sugar, mix in and then add the cooked dal+turnips to the saucepan and mix in thoroughly.
- Cook uncovered over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes till the dal is thickened but still easily pourable.
- Serve with rice or chapatis with some pickle and a spicy vegetable dish on the side.
- I can’t give you a precise time for cooking the dal on the stovetop because I always make it in an old-school whistling pressure cooker. But I trust you to figure it out.
- I really like the combination of the sourness of toor dal, the earthiness of turnips and the slight sweetness of the jaggery to round them both off. Indeed, sometimes I leave the tomato out completely.
- Don’t be alarmed by how little mustard and cumin seeds I use in the tadka. I know these days it seems to be the done thing to pour half a cup of seeds into a cup of ghee but you really don’t need to: tadka is meant to accentuate and set off the thing it’s added to, not dominate it.