“Chaar” means four in Hindi (and Bengali and other languages) and this is a dal made with a mix of four lentils or dals. While the most common way of making dal in India is with a single dal at the time, there is nothing very unusual about dals made with a mix of two, three, four or even five dals (the Rajasthani panchmel dal, for example). Who knows, some day I might even go to seven. I made this particular version on a whim two weeks ago with equal parts of split masoor, toor, chhilka moong and split kali urad dals. For all I know, I hit upon an existing traditional combination from some part of the large country but the major logic in my mix was that these dals would cook in roughly the same amount of time. As it happens it works out very well texturally and in terms of flavour as well. The result is earthy with a bit of tang and even a hint of, yes, char. The tadka is a standard one: zeera, onions, garlic, chillies and a bit of tomato—you can adjust the proportions up and down as you want but don’t overdo any of it.
- 1/2 cup split masoor dal
- 1/2 cup toor da
- 1/2 cup split chhilka moong dal
- 1/2 cup split kali urad dal
- 8 cups water
- 1 tspn haldi
- 1 tspn zeera
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
- 2-3 green chillies, chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped tomato
- 1 tblspn ghee
- Add the water to the dal, add the haldi, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook till the dal is done. Add more water along the way if necessary (it should be thick but still easily pourable; around 30-45 minutes, probably). If using an old-school whistling pressure cooker, cook over medium heat for 4 whistles and let the pressure subside on its own.
- While the dal is cooking prepare the tadka:
- Heat the ghee over medium heat in a small pan and add the zeera.
- When the zeera splits add the onions; saute until beginning to brown.
- Add the garlic and the green chillies and saute for another 1-2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and salt and cook till the tomatoes have completely cooked down.
- Add the contents of the pan to the dal, mix in, raise to a simmer and cook for another 5 minutes or so.
- Serve with rice or chapatis along with some pickle (this carrot pickle is great with it).
- You could garnish this with chopped dhania/cilantro if you like but it’s really not necessary.
- You could leave out the green chillies and instead add a few dried red chilies to the tadka along with the cumin.
- You could also double the tomato or leave it out entirely.