What's the one kitchen fragrance that every Indian remembers growing up with? The scent of bubbling dal wafting from the kitchen, giving off bursts of the pungent hing, aromatic kadhi patta and spicy mirchi. Most kids would have wrinkled their noses at a bowl of dal at mealtimes. But the grudging spoonfuls that kids gulped under their parents' watchful eyes eventually turned into delightful memories as they got older and grew to appreciate the versatility, variety and nutritious value of dals.
The history of dal
Stories about the history of dal in India are as interesting as its myriad flavours.
The Better India credits the creation of dal makhani, one of the most decadent and delicious dals, to Kundan Lal Gujaral, founder of the restaurant Moti Mahal. He added tomatoes and cream to the traditional black gram dal preparation, birthing a new classic.
The Moradabadi dal is the fabled brainchild of an innovative cook who accidentally invented this slow-cooked moong dal delicacy when asked to prepare a light and flavourful dal for Prince Murad Baksh in 1625.
Sambar, NDTV Food reports, is a modified form of amti — a tangy toor dal preparation from Maharashtra — that Sambhaji's maratha soldiers brought to the south. The southern influence is clear in the use of coconut.
Panchmel dal — a mix of moong, chana, toor, masoor and urad dal — attained a shahi status in the Mughal royal kitchens after being introduced by the Hindu queen Jodhabai. Another legend is that the Pandava prince Bhima created this dal when cooking for King Virat by slow-cooking the five dals in an earthen pot and topping it with loads of ghee.
A dal for every occasion
The typical modern Indian meal is incomplete without a dal. Dal preparations vary in thickness, creaminess and flavour (based on the choice of spices, condiments and tempering) around India, whether it's the thick Punjabi maa-ki-daal, the watery and slightly sweet Gujarati dal, or the tangy South Indian sambar. While the most ostentatious feasts boast slow-cooked and creamy dal makhani, a simpler choice is the humble toor dal.
The classic combination of dal and rice (dal makhani-jeera rice or khichdi) is popular because it's nutritious and tasty. Pulses are deficient in the amino acid methionine, while cereals lack lysine, so this mix is a powerhouse of quality protein.
Torka dal recipe
Our food influencer Kalyan discovered torka dal (Punjabi dal tadka) at a modest roti shop on the pavement outside his childhood home in Kolkata. Whenever his mother was home late from work and too tired to cook, she would send him to fetch a parcel of torka dal for the evening meal. The dal became a family favourite because it was richer and more flavourful than the relatively bland home-cooked Bengali dal; Kalyan's wife also fell in love with dal when he cooked it for her.
Here's how to make it:
- 100 g of green moong dal, pre-soaked
- 1/2 teaspoon kasuri methi leaves, dried
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 an onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 a tomato
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/2 teaspoon red chilli
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- Pressure-cook pre-soaked green moong dal with water and little salt
- Add the ghee or vegetable oil in a pan
- Add the cumin seeds and dried kasuri methi leaves
- Add the ginger, garlic and onion; cook until the onion is translucent
- Add the tomato and a few slit green chillies
- Stir and push everything in the pan to a side and break an egg in the pan; beat the egg until it forms a tight scramble
- Add the boiled moong dal
- Blend the cumin powder, red chilli, garam masala, coriander powder and sugar with 1 teaspoon of water; salt to taste, then add the this paste to the pan
- Let the dal come to a boil, then let it simmer over a low flame
- Cover the pan for about 10 minutes
When your dal is ready, it will have a nice, thick texture. Add a half teaspoon of ghee for an authentic dhaba feel, and serve with rice or fresh rotis and onion bulbs, like they serve at the Kolkata dhabas. Kalyan suggests adding chicken, liver, scrambled eggs or minced meat to his recipe for what he calls some "strong protein-on-protein action."
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