Gourmet files Vasundhara Chauhan

More than just dal-roti

There is so much dal in our daily lives that I was surprised the other day to read the word misused yet again. Photo: K.K. Mustafah   | Photo Credit: K_K_Mustafah

“And which dal?” “Black?” And soon enough, as sure as eggs is eggs, dal makhani made with sabut urad appears on the restaurant table. No one, not even my own children can get why I go up in smoke when this happens. I was taught that whole pulses were called by their name — urad, moong or masoor.

The addition of the word dal means “that which has been dalo’d, crushed”. As in “ chhati pe moong dalna”, which only a Hindi-speaking victim of emotional exploitation quite understands. Imagine an oppressor pounding-grinding pulses with a heavy stone pestle and mortar on one’s chest. Dal is the split pulse, broken, “washed”, as in dhuli urad, moong or masoor dal.

The commonest phrase is dal-roti, everyday bread-and-butter, but there are so many more instances of dal in our daily parlance. “ Yeh munh aur masoor ki dal”, which is a dig at someone ordinary hoping for more than they deserve. And then “ dal nahin galna”, something like a hoped-for end not being reached.

There is so much dal in our daily lives that I was surprised the other day to read the word misused yet again. A reader had cooked and posted pictures of his/her attempt to cook from a recipe published in this column. The recipe had been about moong dal cooked with oranges. But the pictures were of sabut moong. Obviously what one writes and another reads can have quite different meanings. The pictures were lovely. I wonder how the dish tasted though.

And then there are uncooked dals. Many years ago, when Delhi still had a Dasa Prakash, I tasted a relish that was on the table before we were, along with the usual chutneys. And after a recent column here about salads, Pankaja Srinivasan wrote, “I am sure you know about it. But just in case...We Madrasis make something called Kosumbari. Soak muthi bhar yellow moong for about an hour. Grate carrots. Grate coconut. Mix the two. Just before serving add the soaked moong dal. Squeeze some lemon juice and add salt before you temper. Temper with rai, green chillies and hing. Mix well. Garnish with hara dhaniya. We make the same thing with cucumber too.”

It defies intuition, but it’s true — this kosumbari made such a hit with me that now I make it as a breakfast dish, and whenever people hear that the dal is uncooked, they think I’m fibbing. It’s tender, juicy with the soaking — though I soak it overnight — and has the same crunch as fresh coconut flesh.

The combination of dal and roti or dal and rice is supposed to provide us with the most easily assimilated form of protein. Every household has its favourites, and one of ours is moong dhuli and malika masoor, in equal proportions, boiled together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan — not in a pressure cooker — with a pinch of whole saunf added for flavour, and tempered with ghee later.

Another is urad-chane ki dal, a fistful of chane ki dal in a katori of urad dhuli, cooked with lots of asafoetida and tempered with colourful red tomatoes and green onions. The trick is to cook it enough, but to not let it get mushy and slimy. There are other delicious recipes, sometimes too demanding of time and effort to be cooked as often.

The Bengali cholar or chana dal, split and husked Bengal gram, which is traditionally eaten with luchchi, a poori of refined flour, is equally good with steamed rice. It’s fragrant and golden, with, here and there, darker gold bits of fried coconut “chips”, brown raisins and long green chillies. The dal tastes gently savoury, with a hint of sweetness and the occasional plumped raisin bursting sweet-and-sour in the mouth.


Serves 4

1 cup chana dal

1 tbsp raisins, soaked

1 tsp turmeric powder


1 tsp sugar

2 tsp of ginger, grated fine

1 tbsp ghee

1/2 cup coconut, cut into small “chips”

For the seasoning

1 tbsp reserved ghee

2 to 3 dry red chillies

2 cloves

1 inch cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp cumin seed

2 green chillies, slit

Soak the chana dal in a large pan of water for an hour or so. Soak raisins separately. Drain and cook dal in pan with about three cups of water, with salt and turmeric. Cook, covered, until soft. Heat a tablespoon of ghee in a shallow pan and fry the coconut bits until they turn golden brown. Keep aside, reserving the ghee. Pour the cooked dal into a heavy-bottomed saucepan stir in sugar and ginger and simmer on low heat for 3-5 minutes, until water is absorbed and only thick chana dal remains. The grain should be tender but whole. While the lentils are simmering, reheat the tablespoon of ghee in a small pan and add all the seasoning ingredients, sautéing them for a couple of minutes, till their aroma is released. Pour this seasoning, the roasted coconut and the drained raisins into the dal in the pan and simmer everything together for another 3-4 minutes.

Email: vasundharachauhan9@gmail.com

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 9:31:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Vasundhara_Chauhan/more-than-just-dalroti/article6919492.ece

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