Thought I could add some spice to your life...

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Somehow, my craving for home was not lessened a bit by the spicy, oily stuff that I made everyday. I felt as if I was eating at a cheap hotel. It was the very plain daal that added a touch of home to my meals. Daal can be made in many, many ways, ranging from very bland to very spicy. Here are a few of them, going up the spice ladder.

The Homely Musur Daal

To make it my Mom’s way, you need one ingredient that is found only in West Bengal: it is called Randhuni. The spice is an element of Panch Foron (Paanch Puran), but there it is often replaced by black mustard. If you cannot get hold of Randhuni, you can use Paanch Foron, and I would give recipes for both.

With Randhuni, it is deceptively simple. Boil two fistfuls of daal in water with a pinch of salt. Ensure that it is thoroughly boiled. 30 minutes on high in the microwave in a large bowl (otherwise the froth will overflow) should be enough. (A little trick: whenever you boil something always add salt, that raises the boiling point of water and quickens the process of boiling.) Now, heat one tablespoon of oil in a pan, and add half a teaspoon of randhuni to the oil. (How do you know that the oil is heated? Simple. One indicator of the fact that the oil is hot and ready is that the bubbles that form in the oil will have died down. Another indicator is that the oil will be much more “mobile”: it will move more freely across the pan once it is hot. The first indicator works better with mustard oil, and the second one better with vegetable oils.) In about a minute, the randhuni will give out a nice aroma. Then add the boiled daal. Add half a tablespoon of salt, half a table spoon of turmeric powder. Do not add chili powder. Cut a few green chilies longitudinally (along the length) into two halves and add them to the daal. In about 8-10 minutes, you are through. If you have a “daaler kanta”, (a daal stirrer), try stirring the daal when it is hot so that the lentils mix through. You are ready. Amazing that you get so much taste with such little effort.

With Paanch foron, you can do it exactly the same way replacing randhuni with paanch foron, although IMHO, it tastes better with randhuni. However, you can embellish it better with paanch foron. Cut an onion into small pieces and fry it in oil till golden brown after you have added the paanch foron (remember to add it only after the spices are hot enough to give out an aroma). Then add the boiled lentils. Again, with onion or no oinion, you can add dhonepata (cilantro leaves) a minute before switching off the heat.

Moong Musallam

This can be a real party delicacy. The basic ingredient is unsheathed moong daal and green peas, in a ratio 2:1. First, take a frying paan or tawa, spread the daal on it, and heat it on medium high heat. Spread the daal out thinly, and keep churning it with a spatula so that the lentils do not burn. You can also keep shaking the frying pan to achieve the same end. Do it for 3-4 minutes, and the daal will change colour from yellow to orange-red. Take a pressure cooker and heat two tablespoons of oil, add jeera (cumin seeds), and three or four red dried chilies. Next, add the daal to it. Add a large cupful of water, and close the lid of the pressure cooker. Add salt, turmeric powder and if you want, a small amount of chili powder too.A touch of sugar often tastes good. After seven or eight whistles in the pressure cooker, switch off the heat. Relieve the pressure by releasing the valve or just holding it under cool running water. Open the lid, and check the consistency. If it is too thick, add some water. But do not make it too liquid, it does not taste good that way. Add the peas, and heat it for 5 more minutes. Add a tablespoonful each of ghee and garam masala powder. Mix it well and switch off the heat. If you want to do without this second round of heating, you can add the peas in the first round, but the ghee and garam masala have to be added at the end.

In case you do not have a pressure cooker, the process will take much longer: maybe an hour and a half on high heat. Remember to use a covered pan. You get the same taste though.

Try it, try it, try it. Only then you will know what I am talking about.


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