"Chana dal has a warm, sweet taste which makes it good both when cooked alone and when combined with vegetables," writes Madhur Jaffrey. "In Bengal as well as in Delhi, chana dal is often cooked with a long, green squash shaped somewhat like a long bowling pin. The squash is peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch sections and added to the dal toward the end of the cooking time. It is hard to find this squash in the New York area. I have seen it occasionally in Indian and Chinese grocery stores as well as in a few health-food stores. If you can find it, do use it. If not, cucumbers make a good substitute."
- 1 cup dry chana dal
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger
- 1 cucumber
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala1
- About 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
2 tablespoons ghee [clarified butter] or unsalted butter
Pick over the dal and wash it in several changes of water. Drain. Put in in a 2- to 3-quart pot along with 4 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Remove the scum. Add the turmeric, garlic, and ginger and turn the heat to very low. Cover the pot in such a way that the lid is just slightly ajar. (This prevents the dal from boiling over.) Cook gently for about 1 1/2 hours or until dal is quite tender. Stir every 10 minutes during the last hour of cooking. If the dal sticks to the bottom, stir more frequently.
While the dal is cooking, peel the cucumber and cut it in half lengthwise. Scoop out all the seeds with a teaspoon or a grapefruit spoon. Now cut the two cucumber halves crosswise into 1-inch-long segments.
When the dal is tender, add the cucumber, salt, garam masala, and cayenne pepper. Stir, and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook on very low heat for 5 to 10 minutes or until cucumber is tender but still a bit crisp. Turn off heat and uncover.
Heat the oil in a small skillet or other very small butter-warmer-type pot over a medium flame. When hot, put in the cumin seeds. As soon as they sizzle and turn a shade darker (this takes just a few seconds), pour the hot oil with cumin sees over the chana dal and cover the pot immediately. Reheat the dal before serving and mix in the ghee or butter.
1Garam masala is a mixture of fragrant, pulverized spices. In Bengal it consists of cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. In other parts of India it may also include black peppercorns, nutmeg, coriander, and other spices. All Indian stores sell ground garam masala.
Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983, p. 82.
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Last modified: January 11, 2001