This traditional South Indian dal is from the cookbook From Curries to Kabobs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail by Madhur Jaffrey.
- 1/2 cup hulled and split mung dal
- 1/2 cup hulled and split toovar dal
- a generous pinch of ground asafetida (I omitted this)
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
- 2 tsp. peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed to a pulp
- 1 medium shallot, cut into fine slivers
- 3 fresh hot green chiles, finely chopped
- 1 to 1 1/4 tsp. salt
- 2 to 3 Tbs. olive oil or ghee
- 1/2 tsp. whole brown mustard seeds
- 2 dried hot red chilies
- 8 to 10 fresh curry leaves (okay if not available)
- 3 Tbs. coarsely chopped cilantro
- Wash the two dals in several changes of water and drain.
- Combine the dals with 4 cups of water in a lidded pan and bring to a boil. Do not let them boil over, turning the heat down as necessary. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface with a slotted spoon.
- Add the asafetida, cayenne, turmeric, ginger, garlic, shallot, green chilies, and salt. Stir. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover with the lid, and simmer gently for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the dals are tender.
- Pour the oil into a small frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, put in the mustard seeds and red chilies. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, a matter of seconds, crush the curry leaves lightly in your hand and throw them in. Quickly empty the contents of the frying pan, oil and spices, into the pan containing the dals. Cover immediately with the lid to trap the aromas. Stir gently before serving. Scatter the cilantro over the top when you do so.
I used only 1.5 Tbs. of olive oil and 1 tsp. of kosher salt. I was scared of that much cayenne and so only used 1/4 tsp., plus I seeded one of the green chilies. It turned out not particularly spicy, so I think next time I’ll follow the amounts given. I missed the instructions to only partially cover with the lid, and left the lid on tightly. I cooked the dal for 30 minutes, then had to go so just offed the heat and left for 2 hours. When I returned the dal was very soft and starting to fall apart, so I didn’t cook it anymore. However, the dal was too liquid-y, and needed to be reduced. I got 5 cups of dal, and I think I should have reduced it to 4 cups only (to make 4 servings). As Jaffrey says, this is a simple dal, but it tastes reasonably authentic. It’s pleasant, and even reasonably light. I don’t love it, but I’ll keep the recipe around until I find one I like better.
There’s a great picture of the different types of lentils at www.foodsubs.com. The image of the mung dal is quite accurate.
On a second try I left the lid cracked, and it was still quite watery, so for the last 15 minute or so I left the lid off entirely. Even so, we needed soup bowls to eat it. The next day, though, the dal was extremely thick and almost gelatinous, and I had to add water to it! I multiplied the recipe by 1.5, and used 1.5 times the amount of fresh and dried chilies, but didn’t multiply the cayenne. It was a good spiciness. Derek loved this dish with liberal amounts of chaat masala. I had cilantro this time, and it really helps the balance of flavors to add it at the end. I increased the amount of mustard seeds slightly, but still used the same proportion of olive oil as last time. I’m sure it would taste richer with more oil, but what I added was plenty in my opinion.
Third try: I used only 3.25 cups water. I should have stirred it midway though because it stuck to the bottom a bit. It seemed plenty watery at first, but as it cooled it thickened up quite a bit. I think 3.5 cups water would be perfect. I used all the green chilies called for, 1.5 Tbs. oil, 2 tsp. mustard seeds, 4 dried red chilies, and 1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt. I thought it was plenty rich but a tad too salty.
Fourth try: I ran out of toovar dal and so substituted chana dal instead. The dal was still good, but the chana dal wasn’t quite cooked enough I think–a bit al dente. Also, the flavor was better with the toor dal.
March 2012: I doubled the lentil amounts and soaked them in very hot water for a few hours, then drained them and returned them to the pot with about 6 cups of water. A lot of foam came to the top. I skimmed it off. I used 2 tsp. of fine salt, and that was plenty. The dal ended up restaurant-salty. It tasted good but it was definitely salty. I had to stir the dal occasionally to keep it from burning on the bottom. For the fat, I used 60g of ghee (I think a little over 4 Tbs.) I doubled the black mustard seeds to 2 tsp. My store was out of cilantro, so I skipped that step. The dal came out amazing! I could have eaten the whole pot. The texture was perfect, and it was very rich and very salty. The next day, however, the dal had thickened up quite a bit, and when reheated in the microwave the dal wasn’t anything special. It tasted fine, but I was perfectly happy to stop at one serving. I don’t know why I had found it so addictive the day before. Maybe the intoxicating aroma of the curry leaves dissipated over night?
Update July 2, 2016
Buttery pigeon peas: Derek chose this simple toovar recipe from our cookbook 660 curries. It says that this recipe is the first solid food fed to babies in south Indian homes. It is also the first course at weddings. You basically rinse the dal, boil it, then puree it, add turmeric, salt, and ghee. I halved the ghee and salt, but still it tasted quite salty and reasonably rich. Neither Derke nor I loved it, and Alma wouldn’t eat it. Maybe we would have liked it more with the full amount of ghee? Even if we did, I think I probably wouldn’t make it again. I can think of much better uses for ghee. There’s something about the textureless pureed dal that I just don’t love. Maybe we would have liked it more on top of rice. I served it on top of potatoes.