Last weekend, exactly four months to the day we left London our things finally arrived in Mumbai. The week has been busy with unpacking boxes, putting beds together, cleaning and throwing away/donating many items – four months without your belongings will make most people realise they have more than they need!
The disorganisation at home has left little time for any concentrated cooking. I’ve mainly been making dal as it requires minimal attention and can be made in large quantities that can be stored in the fridge and/or freezer to be heated up later.
Dal is a staple all over India, the rest of south Asia and also the Caribbean. It’s cheap and nutritious (high in fibre and protein), and can be made with a huge variety of pulses and lentils. The cooked pulses/lentils alone are not particularly tasty, but the addition of the vaghaar (tempered spices – also called tadka/chhounk) at the end of the cooking process ups the flavour factor significantly.
In the UK, people are most familiar with yellow dal which is made from split and skinned mung beans. Growing up though, my Mum mainly made dal with whole green mung beans (called mug in Gujarati). Although I like the more ubiquitous yellow dal, my preference is for the dal of my childhood.
The recipe I’ve given below is not by any means the only way to make dal. Every household has its own method, and I’m sure every single person of Indian origin I know would give me a different recipe. Feel free to alter the quantities of spices to please your palate, although I hope mine is perfect as it is.
Gujarati Whole Mug Dal (serves 2 as main, or 3 as a side dish)
125g dried whole green mung beans
4 large garlic cloves (or 6 smaller ones)
1 inch piece of ginger
3 green chillies (this makes it quite spicy so reduce if you prefer a milder flavour)
½ plum tomato
¼–½ tsp of salt
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1½ tbsp ghee or vegetable/groundnut/olive oil (I use olive oil)
½ tsp black mustard seeds
¾ tsp cumin seeds
Couple of pinches of asafoetida* (optional)
Handful of chopped coriander
Juice of ½ a lemon (or to taste)
* Don’t be put off by the smell of asafoetida! It mellows out to an allium like flavour when fried. I always use it. It can be found in most large supermarkets as well as Asian grocers along with all the other ingredients. It’s sometimes bulked out with wheat flour, but can be found gluten free also.
Inspect the mung beans for any debris/small stones and place in a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Wash 2-3 times until the water runs clear. Fill the pan with clean water approximately two inches above the layer of mung beans. You can soak the mung beans for a few hours or overnight, but I don’t really think it is necessary.
Place on the heat and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum on the surface. Reduce the heat to a fast simmer and allow the pulses to cook for around 40 minutes or until soft and bursting open – I leave the lid off, but you can cover the pan if you like.
Meanwhile, roughly chop the tomato, crush the garlic cloves and peel and cut the ginger lengthways into 2mm thick slices. Finely chop two of the chillies. Split the last chilli lengthways from just below the stalk to the tip. Keep aside.
When the mung beans are soft, add the turmeric, a ¼ tsp of the salt and the prepared garlic, ginger, tomato and chillies. Simmer for around 25 minutes stirring occasionally. You may need to add more water if the dal becomes too dry – I like my dal to be the consistency of a slightly watery porridge, but reduce it or add more water to your liking. Turn off the heat.
Once the time is up, make the vaghaar. Put the ghee/oil in a small frying pan and place on a medium high heat. Add the cumin and black mustard seeds. When they start to sizzle a little add the asafoetida. The black mustard seeds will start to pop and jump out of the pan so be careful! At this point, add the vaghaar to the untempered dal. It will sizzle quite loudly and might splutter – I find the best thing is to quickly pour it into the dal and keep the frying pan upside down for five seconds or so.
Stir the dal, cover and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes. Check the seasoning and add more salt if necessary – I usually add just under another ¼ tsp. Stir through the lemon juice and chopped coriander. Garnish with a little more coriander when serving. Best eaten with chapati ( if you haven’t got the equipment to make them you can buy ready made ones in big supermarkets) and a chopped salad.
Leftovers will become a thicker consistency, so add a couple of tablespoons of water when re–heating.