A new Indian food market just opened near me. I’ve been wanting to try some traditional Indian dals but I didn’t have a good source for the ingredients. So excited! Here’s my first purchase:
I don’t know much about Indian cooking. I don’t even know how to pronounce Moong Dal. But since I cook some type of bean every day I didn’t think it would be that different. My friend Anrosh gave me these instructions:
Step 1. Soak the dal.
Soak the moong dal for at least 4 to 5 hrs. Wash and rinse the dal well before it is put on the stove to boil.
Step 2. Cook the dal.
In a pot add 1 cup of dal to approximately 2.5 cups of water. Bring it to a boil before it is put on a medium flame partly covered. (We can always add more water if the water dries out and the dal is not yet cooked.)
Asafoetida – this is time you add them to the pot. Skip the step if it is not in the pantry. Asafoetida aids in digestion. It also adds a flavor which is distinct. This will help the dal to get the flavor of the asafoetida. If you have the compounded asafoetida, it needs to be powdered by keeping it between a kitchen towel and pounded with a masher. Use half an inch. One gets asafoetida powder as well. It doesn’t bring out the flavor as much as it should.
Cook till the dal is soft.
Step 3. Spice the dal.
This is where the spices meets the cooked dal. In another pot, heat a teaspoon of oil/butter. I use coconut oil. When the oil becomes hot, add mustard seeds, 1/4 of a teaspoon. It will splutter and pop. Now reduce the flame to the lowest point because this is the time you are going to add the rest of the spices. (No mustard seeds? Skip the step.)
If we are adding many spices keep it to a minimum – lesser than 1/4 of a teaspoon. Add finely minced garlic, ginger, cumin, green chilies/paprika (optional), fennel, and here is the time to be creative: asafoetida, fenugreek, turmeric powder. You can always mix and match the spices for dal.
What do you have in your pantry? We can work with that. But if one has only garlic and cumin and turmeric that is good as well. Increase the quantity of the cumin to half a teaspoon. Let it cook for a minute; let the cumin get toasted in the oil to bring out the flavor. Cook the garlic, but it will become dark if the heat is very high.
Add tomatoes (diced, because it helps to cook faster). This is the time to add them and let it cook till it is soft. We can add as much as we like or as little. Tomato adds the acidity that a dal requires.
Reduce the flame. Pour the cooked dal into the pot slowly so that it doesn’t create a hot splatter. Let everything mingle well for another 5-7 minutes on a medium flame. The pan cake consistency of the dal is what I prefer. If we add more water now, let it come to another boil.
Switch off the flame and let the dal rest for some time (at least 15 minutes) and the pot covered.
Do you like cilantro? Add them finely diced, stem and all of it. Cilantro completely changes the flavor of the dal.
Have it with rice or drink it for soup.
There are times when I have added Basil pesto to boiled dal.
Also have added dal to tomato soup to give it some weight.
Added pasta sauce to dal, and had it with pasta.
There are 100 other ways of making dal and everyone of them is correct.
Don’t you love that last phrase? So … I soaked it overnight and boiled it in the morning. It took about 2.5 hours to get a thick, creamy consistency. I’m used to that from cooking so many other beans.
Since I don’t cook with added oil or fat, I proceeded to use the dal as a base for a thick stew, similar to my white bean paste.) The stew was made from the following vegetables, all fresh and finely diced: cabbage, green/string beans, red bell pepper, garlic, onion, tomatoes. I boiled the vegetables for about 5-7 minutes, added the cooked dal, added most of Anrosh’s spices, and about 2 teaspoons of tamari. That was simmered an additional 10 minutes.
Here it is ready to be heated for dinner with some rice: