Almost five years ago we hosted some friends for an elaborate lunch to thank them for taking care of our dogs while we were in India for a month. I made multiple courses of traditional and non-traditional dishes and printed a menu and everything. This was the origin of India’s Gandhi Tandoori Bollywood Mahal, the bi-monthly dinners for eight that I’d been hosting for a couple of years before the pandemic hit. Those dinners too featured a mix of traditional and not-so-traditional dishes (there have been 14 dinners so far featuring 5-7 courses and only a few dishes have yet been repeated). This dal/soup which was enjoyed by guests at the 7th IGTBM dinner could in fact be said to be the seed of the whole enterprise as I’d first made it for that lunch in February 2016. My intention was to play on the boundary between Bengali and Thai cooking. At base this is a fairly traditional Bengali preparation of mushoor dal. Indeed, the core recipe is one I’ve posted before. The departures are that it’s blended and then simmered again with coconut milk and infused with the flavour of lime leaf (a play on the squeeze of lime typically added to traditional mushoor dal with rice). The fish sauce adds some umami depth. It works very well both as soup and as a dal with an untraditional texture. Continue reading
“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. Continue reading
Black caviar lentils look very similar to the whole, unpeeled urad dal used in the making of the classic Punjabi kali or black dal—the kind that is used in the ever-popular dal makhani. They are, however, an entirely different kind of lentil. They’re also a bit smaller than kali urad dal and they cook much faster; at least the Rancho Gordo black caviar lentils cook much faster than whole kali urad dal, even when the latter has been soaked and the former has not. The Rancho Gordo site recommends cooking for just 20-25 minutes but for this recipe I would recommend going quite a bit longer. That’s because this recipe cooks them in much the same way as kali urad dal would be cooked and the goal there—as in most Indian dal recipes I am familiar with—is not to have the dal firm or completely holding its shape. I can say that despite not being identical to kali urad dal it produces an excellent result when cooked in more or less the same way. Which is not to say that this recipe is identical to that of the kali dal I posted a recipe for more than five years ago. Continue reading
This recipe is technically a repost. I’d hidden a quick version of it in the notes to one of the very first dal recipes I posted on the blog, way back in January 2015. That was a recipe for split, peeled mushoor dal—or red lentils, as they’re prosaically known in the US—made in a classic Bengali style. The dal there is boiled with water and turmeric and salt and then a phoron or tadka of cumin seeds/panch phoron + onion, garlic and green chillies is added to it. That’s a very nice dal and if you haven’t made it yet you should. But this version is both more nourishing and far less fussy: everything is cooked together and there is no tadka/phoron at the end. Instead there’s a lot of whole garlic and a bit of tomato. It makes for a deeply flavoured, richly textured dal that can be eaten with rice or chapatis or just slurped out of a bowl. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Here is a recipe for a dal that is very easy to make and which, despite featuring very few ingredients, has a rich, complex flavour. Is made with moog dal (moong dal in Hindi) or split, peeled mung beans. I’ve previously posted another recipe for it made with carrots and peas and tomatoes. That one is very good too—and even healthier—but this is the one my children love and ask for, and so it’s the dal I make most often. I smile wryly, by the way, at their affection for this dal. When I was their age, moog dal was my least favourite dal: mushoor dal prepared in this style and chholar dal were my favourites. I realize this is deeply uninteresting information all around. Anyway, this moog dal is made in the Bengali style by first pan-roasting the dal and then washing it before cooking it. It’s a very unglamorous dal but it is very tasty indeed. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Toor dal, or arhar dal, as it is also known, was not made very often in our home when I was growing up. Unlike mushoor/masoor, moog/moong, chholar/channa dal it’s not one of the staple dals of the Bengali kitchen. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I did eat it quite often regardless, as my family often went out for South Indian food and toor dal is the dal used in sambar. This was in the 1970s and 1980s—the only South Indian food available outside South India was of the idli-dosa-vada-sambar variety. It is a staple dal in the South and also in places like Gujarat and most of the preparations I make of it in my own kitchen come from those directions. The recipe I have today is not a traditional one—though odds are good that it resembles one closely: it is very hard to generate novelty within foodways as massive and heterogeneous as Indian ones. You might think you’ve come up with something new(ish) but then it’ll turn out you’ve only hit upon a preparation you’d just never heard of before. If that’s the case here I’ll take it as a compliment. Continue reading
In the first dal recipe I posted I listed mushoor dal, chholar dal and moog dal as the Bengali dal trinity (kali dal is a Punjabi thing). Here now is a recipe for moog dal (or mung dal in most other places). I have to admit that as a child this was my least favourite dal but I’ve grown to like it a lot as an adult.
This is the way my mother makes it most of the time, with peas and carrots Her use of tomatoes may seem to be a non-Bengali addition (my mother’s cooking, as I’ve mentioned before, is inflected heavily by the fact that after their marriage my parents have lived almost entirely outside Bengal); but my mother, who is currently visiting, tells me that the use of tomatoes in this dal was common in her mother and aunts’ Calcutta kitchens.
This is the classic Punjabi dal that doused with cream and butter appears on Indian restaurant menus as dal makhani (more or less). This is a home-style version that skips the cream and butter and actually lets you taste everything that’s in it. As you can probably tell from the picture it is a creamy dal but the creaminess comes from the lentils themselves (a portion of which you mash). It’s not just healthy on that account though: as it uses a lentil/dal that is unpeeled it is chock full of fiber.
The preparation is a simple one. You cook the dal with water, salt and turmeric till it’s done, then add a prepared “tadka” to it, and continue to simmer until you’ve reached the desired consistency, which is achieved when the dal is soft to the bite but still easily holding its shape. I cook the dal itself very quickly in my terrifying Indian pressure cooker—but it will be easy enough to cook it normally on the stove-top; if you have a new-fangled pressure cooker you’re on your own (I don’t understand how those things work). Continue reading
In my recipe for chholar dal, with which I kicked off the first edition of my Indian Home Cooking Week series, I hazarded that the triumvirate of dals in the Bengali kitchen comprises chholar, moog and mushoor dals (to use their Bengali names). And for this edition of the series I will begin with a recipe for mushoor dal.
Mushoor dal (masoor in Hindi, banal “red lentils” in American) is not a fancy dal and I don’t know of any fancy ways of preparing it (at least not in Bengali cuisine). You boil the dal, you add some tadka/phoron (or maybe you don’t) and that’s it. But subtle variations in the few ingredients can make a big difference in the final result. This recipe is for how I usually make it, following my mother and especially our cook when I was growing up, with whose name my sister and I associated this dal. For us it wasn’t mushoor dal, but Ram dal. This version of mushoor dal remains my definition of comfort food and in culinary terms it is the constant link from my childhood to now—it may not be the first thing I remember eating (bananas, I think) but it is the first thing I remember loving. But enough about me.
Here is the first of my recipes for my Indian Home Cooking Week and fittingly it’s for a dal.
It’s hard to imagine a meal in an Indian home that doesn’t feature dal of some kind, whether it is as the fulcrum of a meal—as the primary source of protein in vegetarian households, or as a cheap source of nutrition in poorer households—or as a preliminary “course” before you move on to fish or meat. It’s eaten with rice, with chapatis and parathas and other breads, and even by itself. As with all other aspects of Indian food, there’s a strong regional aspect to dal: some dals are more prominent in some regional cuisines than others, some are traditionally not eaten at all in some regions, and even the dals that cross regions in popularity are usually prepared very differently in them. And, of course, their names change with language—one region’s toor dal is another’s arhar dal etc.