Anna (sciamanna) wrote in vegancooking,

Perfect chana dal

I was convinced I had already posted one "staple" dal [1] recipe (probably with urid or mung dal), but i can't find it, so maybe I didn't. Anyway, this particular version of chana dal is just perfect, so it's worth making a note of it and spreading the word :-) For the same reason, I won't go much into variations or substitutions: experimenting with dal is almost always rewarding, but the point of this particular recipe is that it came out just perfect with the ingredients listed. It is also a dead simple recipe -- the only complicated things are the ingredients, and I happen to have them all in the house as staples...

This makes about 4 portions when served with rice only.

Soak about 200 grams of dry chana dal [2] [3]; rinse, drain.

Grate 1 large clove of garlic and about twice that amount of fresh ginger [4]. Chop 1 fresh green chilli into thinnish rounds [5].

In a heavy-bottomed pan that has a lid, heat on medium heat a couple-few tablespoons of olive oil [6] with the following: 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp white cumin seeds, and a small quantity of asafoetida [7]. When hot, add the ginger, garlic and fresh chilli, and a generous twist of freshly ground black pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes, stirring around, so the oil gets nicely flavoured. Don't burn the garlic. If the mustard seeds start popping, lower the heat and cover with a lid until they stop, then continue as before.

At this point add the washed, drained chana dal and stir-fry for 3-5 minutes. It shouldn't change colour. Finally add 1/2 tsp of turmeric and 1/2 tsp (or more, to taste) of amchoor [8], and water to about twice the level of the dal in the pot (hot water is better, I boil it in a kettle before adding it).

Cook on medium-low, partially covered [9], for about 1/2 hour or a bit less [10]. Check periodically, add water if needed. The end result should be soft enough to mash against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon/spatula -- in fact, that's exactly the next step in the recipe. Don't mash all the lentils, and don't use a blender: just mash some to thicken the stew, the rest can stay whole. Also adjust salt at this point. Leave to simmer for another 5-10 minutes or until needed.

In the last 5 minutes of cooking prepare the tarka. This is a vital part of the dish and should not be skipped under any circumstances, including laziness (sorry, talking to myself here...) This is how you do it:

In a small pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil [6] with the following: 1 tsp black mustard seeds, 1 tsp white cumin seeds, 1 peeled and smashed clove of garlic, 3 whole dried chillies (or to taste), a pinch of curry leaves and 1/2 tsp salt (it draws out the flavours).

When the tarka sizzles, pour it over the cooked dal in the serving dish (you can remove the chillies and garlic from the tarka before serving), and serve with plain rice. For utter perfection, sprinkle some fried shallots [11] on top.

Final note: this keeps quite well in the fridge for a couple of days, and I usually make more than I need (but then I love dal and I don't mind eating it for several meals in a row). Rice can also keep but no more than 1 day, and only if you can tell apart the smell of good and spoiled rice, because spoiled cooked rice can give rather nasty food poisoning. The dal can be reheated in a non-stick pan or in the microwave; the tarka should be made fresh for each meal (adjusting the quantities as needed).

Ye Feetnotes:

[1] Dal means pulses in hindi (possibly split pulses, not sure). There are lots of different kinds of dal, and lots of different recipes for each kind, so I'm not claiming that this is the perfect dal, or even the perfect chana dal: it is simply perfect in itself. Dal is one of my main staples at the moment, so I cook a lot of it.

[2] Chana dal is split pigeon pea (what is used for making gram flour; not the same as chickpeas/garbanzos, though similar). It is yellow-orange and possibly the tastiest, mealiest of all dals. Compared to other dals I use a lot like urid or mung, it has the disadvantage that it needs to be pre-soaked: if I remember I do it overnight in cold water, otherwise I cheat, I use half cold and half boiling water and soak it for 2-4 hours. In either case it should be picked (but you can also scan through it quickly, it's the easiest dal to pick) and washed (which I do in 3-4 changes of water after soaking). (Note that the soaking and rinsing also reduce the bloating effect caused by pulses in general). It also takes somewhat longer to cook, but not that much once pre-soaked (about 1/2 hour).

[3] I'll have to start buying it in 2-kg bags like I do mung and urid.

[4] You can chop the ginger and squeeze the garlic instead, or even chop both, but I find that grating is the easiest way to get the nicest results (I don't like chewing ginger in my dal)

[5] If you want it milder, fillet it and remove the seeds instead, then chop into thinnish slices. However, even with seeds it's not very hot, it's something to do with cooking.

[6] Indians only use olive oil for hair. They don't know what they're missing. Anyway: the authentic version would use ghee (clarified butter), but I'm Italian, I prefer the taste of olive oil, and it's much better for you to boot. I suggest you give it a try :-) (Of course, the authentic version is also not vegan, and I don't think it's worth it).

[7] Also called hing (hindi name I think) -- but there is a reason for the Latin name. I can't quantify how much to use, and it's partly a question of taste, but while it's really really important for the flavour, and while the final flavour is a lot more delicate than the initial smell, it needs caution. Hm, maybe "as much as you would pick up with the tip of a knife out of a jar"? (rather laborious translation of the italian "una puntina di coltello")

[8] Amchoor is dried green mango powder. It's used as a souring agent, and it also has a fruity taste. You could use tamarind, but it would spoil the colour somewhat. If no amchoor is available, then add lime juice at the end (i.e. don't cook the lime juice). Amchoor works best and it's a really nice and versatile ingrediente if you like sour flavours, so again, I suggest you give it a try :-)

[9] It is a bad idea to cover pulses completely. Leave enough of a crack to let the steam escape, or you'll get a mess on your cooker -- and turmeric stains.

[10] In fact, you can keep cooking pretty much as long as you like. It takes a lot of cooking to overdo chana dal. If you cook it much longer, it will just get creamier -- this dal can also be served as puree if preferred. However, 1/2 hour is sufficient (and it is conveniently about the same time as it takes to cook basmati rice the slow, foolproof way).

[11] Can be bought in Asian shops. Warning: rather addictive.

(Apologies for original post without cut. I realized it as soon as I'd hit send...)
Tags: ethnic food-indian-curries
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