My mother didn’t like lentils and hence we never ate any type of dal at home. With 12 years I ate my first lentil dish at a friends house – a classic lentil stew with little sausages. It was fantastic and I can remember the flavour and pleasant texture till today. A few years later my palaestinian flatmate made me a bowl of hummus, I was baffled about the incredible good taste and it felt like the most exotic dish ever. In my present life we eat dal at least once a day. Pulses are one of the staple foods in India and there are many varieties and infinite ways to prepare them. In combination with rice or roti (flat bread) they form a perfect protein source which is important for the many vegetarians of the country.
The following recipe is a typical winter recipe from my husbands family in West Bengal. It’s very easy to prepare and the ingredient list is short, but it’s still incredible aromatic. Long time I actually didn’t understand why it tastes that good until my mother-in-law showed me how the lentils are roasted before cooking. Roasting develops are more deep, slightly nutty flavor and from an Ayurvedic point of view it helps to keep the body warm. In India most ingredients and dishes are qualified by there ability to either cool or warm the body and are eaten in the corresponding season. the vegetables added are traditionally cauliflower, carrots and peas which are all winter vegetables in India. The Dal is also tasty with other vegetables but the total amount should not be increased, otherwise it will get too mushy.
You’ll need yellow mung dal for the recipe, which is the peeled and halved mung bean. Like most bengali dishes it’s also cooked with cold pressed mustard oil, which is a spicy oil with a pungent mustard flavor. After heating it becomes more mild but imparts a very aromatic flavor to the dish. I absolutely love this oil and always carry a bottle when I travel to germany. It also has antiseptic and wound-healing properties and is used as a first aid for little wounds and rashes. It’s absolutely worth buying it!
Roasted Dal with Winter Vegetables
For for 4 persons, serve with rice and maybe some other vegetable dish on the side.
- 1 cup mung dal
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 of a small cauliflower
- 1 carrot
- 2 tablespoon peas
- 1 tomato
- one 2 centimeter piece cinnamon bark (cassia)
- 2 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 4 tablespoon mustard oil (or use a neutral flavored oil)
- 2 green chillies (optional)
First roast the dal on medium heat for a few minutes under continous stiring. It will change it's colour slightly and start to smell pleasantly nutty. Once it's done take it out of the hot pan and wash it under running water (works best in a sieve).
Drain the dal and add it to a pot wogether with the turmeric, salt and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and simmer it for around 20 minutes. The dal should be soft but the individual lentils should still hold their shape.
Meanwhile you can cut the vegetables - cauliflower into 2 cm pieces, the carrot in 1cm cubes and the tomato in fine pieces. Also keep the peas ready.
Heat the oil in a pan, kadai or wok. Once it's almost smoking add the carrot and cauliflower and fry for ca. 2 minutes. Then reduce the heat and add the cinnamon bark, cardamom pods and cumin. Roast till fragrant and be careful not to burn the cumin. Switch off the stove.
Once the dal is fully boiled add it to the spices and vegetables. Now you also add the tomato and peas and switch on the heat again. Simmer it for a few minutes till the vegetables are soft. If using, add the chillies now. Taste and season with salt and a little sugar.
If the dal is too stiff you can add a little hot water. The consistency should be like a thick soup.