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Chholar Dal

Festive Chana Dal with Coconut and Whole Spices

This heavenly dish is often served after a puja, a worship ceremony in honor of a particular god or goddess. Raisins gently sweeten the sauce and combine surprisingly well with the dal. A touch of coconut gives this dish an extra special flavor.


  • 1 cup chana dal, soaked overnight in 5 cups of water
  • 1/4 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 whole fresh green chili
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 Tbs. raisins
  • 1 1/2 Tbs vegetable oil (mustard oil preferred)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 whole dried red chili
  • 5 whole cardamom pods
  • 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. kalonji seeds1
  • 1 Tbs. seeded, chopped fresh green chili (or to taste)
  • 2 Tbs. dried flaked or shredded sweetened coconut (or freshly grated or shredded coconut mixed with 1 tsp. of sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp. garam masala2
  • A sprinkling of ghee (optional)

Bring chana dal and the soaking water to boil in a large pan over medium heat. Add turmeric and whole chili. Simmer, covered, 1 hour or until the dal is very tender and breaks easily when pressed between thumb and index finger. During this period, uncover and stir often, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of hot water if the dal starts to stick to the bottom. Discard whole chili. Add salt and cumin. Remove from heat.

Purée 1 cup of the dal mixture in a blender, adding a little water if necessary. Return to the pan. Add raisins. Bring to simmer, then keep warm.

Heat oil in a 6-inch pan over medium low heat. Fry bay leaf and red chili until the chili darkens. Fry cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves for 5 seconds. Add kalonji and fry another few seconds. Turn heat to low. Add chopped green chili and coconut and cook for a few seconds, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add this spice mixture to the dal. Simmer 2 to 3 more minutes. Remove dal from heat. Blend in garam masala. Garnish with lemon wedges, sprinkle with whole cilantro leaves and ghee, and serve.

Serving Suggestions:

Serves 4 to 5. Entertain your guests with this savory chana dal served over a bed of one-half rice and one-half barley. Top with chutney.


1Kalonji (Nigella arvensis) is the Hindi word; in Bengali it is Kalo jeera. This is a round black seed of a plant of the buttercup family that is often mistaken for an onion seed. It has a sharp flavor that Bengalis value for its onionlike aroma.

2Garam 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.


Adapted from a recipe in Bharti Kirchner's The Healthy Cuisine of India: Recipes from the Bengal Region (Los Angeles: Lowell House, 1994).

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Last modified: January 11, 2001

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