One of the distinctive features of Andhra cuisine, I think, is its daals with greens. Be it spinach, sorrel, amaranth and other varieties I don’t know the English names of, they can all be combined with lentils to make greeny-yellow affairs that go well with rice, pickles and appadams and even breads such as chapatti and puri. And if you soak the daal for a while and use a pressure cooker, it’s done in a jiffy! For today’s recipe, I’ve chosen what is known as chukkakoora in Telugu. Madhuli of My FoodCourt has a picture of these greens on her blog – I didn’t decide to put this in mine till I chopped up the greens and assembled everything in my spanking new stainless steel pressure pan and decided it made a pretty picture. This recipe works well for most greens and most daals, though I’ve never used channa daal, I must say. Chukkakoora (and gongura) is naturally sour, but for the other greens, you can use a little tamarind extract and one or two country tomatoes for added flavour. You can also go with just one of these or try a combination to see if the proportions work well — I confess I’ve never got the formula standardized so each daal is a discovery everyday, but rarely a tragedy! Now that I’ve made one confession, here’s another – I’ve never bothered with quantities, just rough measures so here’s what you need:
1 bunch of greens – 100-150 gm – thoroughly washed and then chopped - if the stalks are big and tough, you can discard them
A cup or so of daal, preferably red or green, usually hulled – soaked well in advance
1 small onion, chopped
A pinch of turmeric
2 or 3 green chillies
2 tsps thick tamarind extract
A tomato or two, chopped
Tempering: Some cloves of garlic, crushed
Mustard seeds, cumin, black gram daal – all approx half a tsp
Red chillies – a couple, torn into three or four bits
Some curry leaves
A tsp or two of oil
1. Put everything in the pressure pan, check that there’s enough water to just cover the daal, and once the steam builds up and comes through, put the weight on the vent. Let it hiss a couple of times, turn the heat down to the lowest, wait a couple of minutes and turn it off.
Don’t force the pressure cooker open, wait for the steam to escape on its own – if you absolutely have to, sit the cooker in a plate or dish of cold water, that will hasten the process, and gingerly flick the weight to see if it’s ready to come off – if it hisses, it isn’t, if it’s a slow sigh, you’re almost there! If you don’t use pressure cookers, you’ll just have to boil the daal in a pan – I haven’t attempted that with success, so I won’t pretend I know about it, but something tells me it’s simpler to boil it without the other stuff first.
2. Now, once you open it, mash the contents into as homogeneous a mass as you can, season with salt and red chilly powder. (I don’t usually put in the salt till the daal is cooked as it might interfere with the cooking.) I also don’t put in the tamarind until after the daal's cooked but I’ve seen others successfully throw it in with the rest of the ingredients.
3. Now heat the oil in another pan, put in the black gram, let it brown, then the mustard seeds, let them splutter, now the cumin, then the garlic and red chillies and curry leaves – let them soak in the oil as much as they can. Make sure the pan isn’t burning, though. Now turn off the heat, tip the tempering into the daal, stir. Or alternatively, you can put the daal into the tempering, add the tamarind extract and salt and chilli powder at this stage, let it boil a bit and take it off the fire. I prefer the first method as the tempering doesn’t lose its crunch, relatively speaking.