Tuesday 21 July 2020

Toor daal

You can find these glossy oil-coated split pigeon peas in most supermarkets here in London.  Many recipes exist as the lentil is used both in the north and the south of India.  I've seen different spellings on recipes that reflect the language or dialect spoken - tuar, toovar, tur, and its also known as arhar dal, but the most common spelling and word is toor, so I'll stick to that here.

I have used 2 different recipes frequently.  One was told to me by my mother, and the other is one I used to use from the side of the lentil packet! I copied it down because I realised I might one day have to get a different brand, or the manufacturers might change the packaging!  I have another recipe stashed away that's a Parsi recipe which I'll add to this blog at some point in the future.

This daal is usually a medium thickness and served with rice.

My Mum's version:

1 cup of toor daal
handful of redskin peanuts (unsalted)
1 whole tomato
1/4 teaspoon of turmeric
salt to taste.

Add the above to a small pressure cooker.  Add 2 cups of water and give pressure for 7 minutes.  Allow the pressure to release naturally to avoid it spitting and frothing at you, and then open the lid.  Now you need to add some jaggery/gur to the dal, to taste.  I have used muscavado sugar in place of this, but it doesn't have the complexity of flavours and is much sweeter than jaggery.

While the lentils are cooking, make a tarka (tempering) of 1tsp mustard seeds, 2-3 sliced garlic cloves, a pinch of asafoetida, a few curry leaves, 1 whole green chilli and one whole dried red chilli.

Add the tarka to the lentils and garnish with chopped coriander leaves (if you hate me.)

Serve with simple steamed basmati rice and a smile.

Packet side recipe

228g oily toor
114g chopped yam or sweet potato
75g redskin peanuts
2 tbsp ghee
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp asafoetida
3 chopped plum tomatoes
1 tsp ginger paste
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
1 tbsp jaggery
juice of half a lemon or 1 tbsp tamarind paste

Wash and drain the lentils.  Place in a pan and add 750 ml water, the peanuts and the yam.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 mins.  

Heat ghee and fry cumin until brown.  Add asafoetida, tomatoes, ginger and chilli powder and fry gently.

Add this to the dal mixture.  Stir well and simmer until the grains and yam are soft and fully cooked.  

Add water if needed, but be sure to cook it in.  Finally add the lemon or tamarind  and jaggery and stir well.  

Serve with rice.

Monday 20 July 2020

Bengali style chana daal

I really never loved this daal when I was growing up. It's thick and sweetish, and the grains are still very slightly firm to the bite and separate, not completely liquid, like more well-known daals.  This is often eaten with luchi or puri - the small round deep-fried discs of featherlight bread often reserved for less day to day meals in Bengal.  Luchis are the plain white breads, that taste both soft and crispy, and taste like flaky, fatty, slightly chewy morsels of joy.  Puris are no less delightful, albeit made with the slightly more healthy partly wholemeal chapatti flour.  The taste is slightly less guilt-inducing, but just as delicious.  

I am not practiced at making these, so I am not making any attempts to blog recipes for the breads, but there are many recipes and videos for them out there.  So here is the chana dal recipe my mother taught me.  The main reason I used to eat this was for the sneaky nuggets of juicy fried coconut that hide in amongst the lentils, now I have learned to love the dish for itself.

Chana daal 

These are split polished chickpeas, NOT split yellow peas, but I have been told those work very well as a substitute if you can't find chana dal.  I have seen it in most supermarkets, however, so if you can get it, do try it with the correct thing.

First, boil 2 and a half cups of water in the pressure cooker.  Then add one cup of chana dal, half a teaspoon of turmeric, a teaspoon each of coriander, cumin, garam masala and salt and also a pinch of sugar.  Stir well and cover and bring to pressure.  Cook for 9 minutes.

While this is cooking, gently fry some finely chopped fresh coconut until it is lightly toasted.  Set aside.

When the dal is finished, and the pressure has released, open the lid, mix the dal well and keep it simmering.  It should be thick enough to eat with torn up flatbreads, it should not be so thin that it can mix with rice.

Now heat some ghee and fry a couple of bay leaves, a stick of cassia bark, 2 cardamom pods and a clove.  Pour this over the dal.  Finally, add the fried diced coconut.  

Serve with luchi and enjoy.  

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Moong/Mung Daal - Yellow Mung lentil

When my mother fell seriously ill last year, she was in hospital for some months.  She really hated the food, and I tried to cook for her and take it to her in the evenings so she could eat home-cooked hot food at supper time.  There were no heating up facilities, so I used to either cook it freshly and put it in a food thermos and drive there at dinner time or I'd cook it earlier/ the day before, and heat it up and put it in a food thermos and drive to the hospital at dinner time.  We would also take a metal bowl and a plastic spoon for her to eat from and with, as the hospital only had plates in the evenings and the metal spoons they had were too heavy for her to use comfortably.

Doing this was an honour and a privilege and I will always be grateful that I could do her this one small service as often as I could.  I would honestly give anything to cook one more time for her or for my dad.

One day she asked me to make this specific daal, mung daal.  It is often given to patients and the elderly, as it is supposed to be easy to digest.  As it was never one I liked as a child, I had never asked her how to make it, so I sat with her and took notes as she described how she cooks this.  I'm glad I did that then because soon after that, she lost a lot of the capacity to have told me any more recipes, although she did not die for some months after.

Since that time, I've learned to love this dish and I often cook it now for my vegan and vegetarian friends and colleagues, as well as for the family.  The quantities below will serve 1-2 people and rely on using the measurement of the ubiquitous Asian "rice cup" - a plastic cup that comes with most rice cookers - I have since found that the volume of those rice cooker cups is the same as the volume of 2 rice-portion scoops from the Love Food Hate Waste campaigns.

Mung/Moong Daal

half a rice cup of yellow mung lentils
quarter teaspoon turmeric powder
half teaspoon salt
half an onion, roughly chopped
2 green chillies, one left whole, one broken in half
2 cloves of garlic, sliced.

First, soak the lentils for half an hour.

Drain well and put into the pressure cooker.

Add slightly more than double the volume of water. (About 1 and a quarter rice cups of water.)

Add the turmeric, salt, onion and green chillies.

Give pressure whichever way you normally do for 8 minutes.

If possible, allow pressure to release naturally - otherwise, a quick release will be ok, but messy.

Mix well to smash the lentils. I've seen some Indians use a really cool piece of very simple equipment to do this - it looks like a star on a stick, and the star is put in the lentils and the stick is spun between the palms to whisk up the lentils!

Fry the sliced garlic in ghee or vegetable oil until it just starts to brown.  Add to the daal.  Check the salt and the consistency.  If you need to add more water, be sure to continue to heat the daal or the water won't mix in properly.  If it pleases you, garnish with chopped fresh coriander.  This does not please anyone in my family.

Enjoy with rice or chappati.  Think of me and my darling mother.

Daal daal daal - starting with masoor (red lentils)

It came to my attention recently that tho I mention daal often, and I certainly used to cook it often, I don't have many daal recipes actually IN my blog.  This is pretty ridiculous as I'm from a south Asian background (my mother was Bengali, my father was Sindhi, I was born in north London) and I do love daal, and apart from the fact that one of my kids isn't always mad about daal - I did used to cook it often!

Since both my parents died very close together about 4 months ago, even my reluctant kid has asked for daal and rice - perhaps it's a link to the much-missed grandparents, a comfort connection, a taste from memories linked to the older generation, I don't know, but we've started cooking daal again recently and when I realised that my recipes are handed down from my mother, sister-in-law and grandmother, then I knew I must share them with the world so their love can continue to spread around the world.

You can spell it dhal, daal, dahl or however you want, the word just means "lentil".  There are probably as many recipes as there are cooks, but every family has their preferred way of cooking each lentil and there are definitely regional trends.  I'm not going to write an essay about this now, as many people have covered it far better than I could.

These are not cookbook recipes with measurements, tho I'm sure I will revisit them in the future when I have time to measure properly for the western cook, but for now, I want to get them down quickly for people to use the way they were taught to me.

Starting with the first I learned when I was at university and craving home-cooked food:

Masoor Daal (red lentil daal) (potentially vegan)

Take one large handful of red lentils per person and put it in a pressure cooker.  This will work the same in a traditional hob top or an electric type like Instant Pot.

I have very small hands, so I tend to do 6-8 handsful for 4 - 5 people.

Add 1 tsp of coriander powder (for this amount of lentils - less for less, more for more, you will learn your tastes over time)

Add a pinch of turmeric powder and a teaspoon of salt (see above for amount variations)

Add water from the tap until the surface is about an inch to an inch and a half above the top of the lentils in the pan.

Close the cooker and bring to the boil and then turn the heat down when the pressure is up and cook for 5-7 minutes.

If using Instant Pot, close the lid and use manual, 6 minutes.

If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can also soak the lentils overnight and then simmer for half an hour instead.

While the lentils are cooking, you make the "tempering".  This is a flavouring for the lentils, basically.  
First, slice one small onion and start it frying on a low flame in your oil/butter/ghee of choice.  When the onion is nice and soft, add 2 sliced garlic cloves and a finely chopped inch of peeled ginger.

When these are browned and the onions are sticky looking, add half a tin of chopped tomatoes, or 2 chopped fresh tomatoes if you prefer, and about a tablespoon of tomato puree.  Stir into the onions etc. By the time those are fully cooked in, the lentils should be cooked and the pressure can then be released if it hasn't already.  Now add the tempering to the lentils and stir well.  You may at this point want to add water, and perhaps salt, or if it's thinner than you wanted, allow it to cook without the lid to let it thicken.

If I'm serving this to guests, I often add cream and butter at this point, but then it's DEFINITELY not vegan, but there are obviously vegan creams or "butters" you could add if you want that richness.  None of it is necessary.

All you need now is some steamed basmati rice, a bowl, and a spoon if you want it.