Saturday, 8 February 2014
Cholar dal- Bengali-style lentils
Coming back from a trip to India always results in an immediate upsurge in the amount of Indian and Bengali food that I cook, so that's going to be reflected in the next few blog posts.
As I child I pretty much detested all forms of dal, and especially the patla, thin dals my mother made with giant pieces of ginger in them. Luckily for me I discovered cholar dal at some point. Cholar dal is somehow quite 'meaty' in taste, and rich with ghee and coconut. It's often a 'celebration dal' served at wedding meals, but is also great with plain rice and a papar/poppadom. Anyway, here's the sort of loose recipe that I use, but as ever with Indian food do feel to adjust the flavours (within reason) if you want.
Recipe (easily enough for 4-6 depending on what else you're eating):
Around 250g cholar dal lentils (Natco are a good brand for this)
Around 500ml water
1.5 tblsp ghee
1-2 small bay leaves
3-4 cardamom pods, split
2-3 small pieces Indian cinnamon/cassia bark
2 tblsp fresh coconut, chopped into small pieces
1-2 large, whole, dried Indian red chillis
0.5 tsp turmeric
0.5 tsp salt (or to taste)
Firstly, cook the dal with plenty of water until it is completely tender and cooked through. I do this on a very low simmer on the hob, and it takes around 30-40 minutes, starting with around double the volume of water to lentils. This should all be absorbed by the time the dal is cooked through, but keep an eye on it and make sure you top up the water if needed and give it the occasional stir to stop it sticking on the bottom of your pan. If you're proficient with pressure cookers, you'll probably be able to reduce this step to 10-15 minutes. Whichever way you do things, you should end up with quite a thick (but still liquid) mixture, which you can leave to the side to cool.
To season the boiled lentils, warm the ghee in a small pan and add all the whole spices and pieces of coconut. Cook gently until the coconut is slightly browned. Once everything is lightly toasted, add in the turmeric and cook for another minute to coat everything in the yellow powder, and then tip it all into the pan of lentils. Add the salt, and stir the lentils and the flavourings together. If the dal is getting a bit too thick then add a bit of extra water, and check the seasoning, while you you warm it over a gentle heat. Serve with rice, saag, and something fried, or whatever else you fancy really.