Monday, July 21, 2008

Sunday humour, Bengal hangover

Once in a while, we visit an Uncle and Aunt who live at one end of town. Uncle is always exhorting us to bring a spare set of clothes, stay over and go to work right from his home but we've managed that just once. Aunty whips up a feast of home-made stuff typical of the cuisine we grew up with but yesterday, they both felt five home-made dishes weren't enough, so supplemented that with four Chinese dishes that they ordered in!

In any case, this was a problem of plenty, compounded by the fact that I'd carried along one of my dishes for them to sample. I'm still on a high from my Calcutta trip and the last couple of days have seen me trying my hand again at Bengali food, which I used to experiment with earlier. Funnily enough, I found parwal in my vegetable store the day after I came back from Calcutta, and bought a few other vegetables to make the shukto and charchari that are so typical of Bengali cuisine. While most of those vegetables are waiting in the fridge, I put to use the one coconut that I retained from a bounty of about 10 that were presented to me last month. It had dried neatly inside its shell and I finally cut it up into pieces and put it in the fridge. I had planned on buying some chicken to make a Kerala-style chicken curry with coconut chips that my friend S introduced me to, but the bird proved elusive, so I made this dal instead.

I had made it for a potluck years ago, when some of us still had the schedules for one without much planning - and it had been much appreciated. Now all I needed to do was buy some raisins, brush up on the recipe and my chholar dal would be ready! I couldn't make out which of my two Bengali cookery books I'd referred to all those years ago, but one book didn't mention the coconut and raisins and neither mentioned whether the dal had to be cooked to a mash or to soft but grainy - I went for the latter as that's what I remembered.

I did away with the 2 tsp of sugar that was mentioned in the recipe and added more raisins than prescribed. I didn't powder the spices as was required. Amidst hoots of laughter over a funny anecdote narrated by Uncle, we savoured this mild and mellow dal. Aunty said it was "variety ga undi", a famous Telugu-English expression for anything unusual, the Spouse said it tasted like prasadam (food made for rituals, as offerings to the deity and worshippers) and Uncle picked out the pieces of coconut and ate the rest.

And the funny anecdote: Well, a visiting nephew of Uncle's was about to reach for a cup of coffee which was on the table when Aunty said, "Oh, God! Chee Chee! That's for your Uncle, don't take that! We'll make other coffee for ourselves!" "You do exaggerate, Mama!" I said, giggling. But Aunty piped up honestly, saying, "No, I DID say that, I think," and also giggled herself, setting us off on another round of laughter. It must have been the sugarless/diet nature of the coffee that provoked that outburst, but it was so funny listening to my Uncle who narrated this with a mixture of amusement and indignation.

On to the recipe now!

Channa dal/Bengal gram: 100 gm/1 cup
Green chillies: 2, slit
Coconut pieces: 1/2 a cup
Raisins: Half a handful
Water: 2-3 cups (and more if you need later)

Salt, to taste

Turmeric: 1/2 a tsp
Bay leaf: 1
Red chillies: 1-2, broken
Cumin seed/Jeera: 1 tsp
Whole clove, cardamom: 2 each
Cinnamon: 1/2-inch stick
Oil: 1-2 tsp

Wash the lentils thoroughly. You can soak them ahead to cut down on cooking time.

In a pan/saucepan, boil the water.

Once it comes to a boil, add the dal. Cook till half-done, then add the salt, turmeric, green chillies.

Cover and cook till done on a medium fire. Add some more water if the lentils are not done. As seen in the picture, they should maintain their shape but should crumble when prodded with a finger. Stir the dal now and then so that it doesn't stick to the pan.

In another frying pan, heat the oil to smoking. Lower the heat and add the bay leaf, cardamom and cloves. Once they sizzle, add the coconut. Let the coconut brown slightly. Add the raisins. Add the cumin and red chillies and wait just until they begin to turn colour, a couple of seconds. Switch off the fire and pour it over the dal.

Cover and simmer the dal for five minutes.

I am sending this to Mansi's Healthy Cooking event. I think it qualifies because I've done away with the sugar (though I do realise some is present in the raisins), the coconut can be omitted if necessary or left uneaten and the oil can be limited to one tsp.


  1. that looks quite a yummy dish .. have never had chholar dal before .. have heard a lot abt it though

  2. thanks for sending this to my event and for introducing me and my readers to a traditional favorite!

  3. sra..u gotta make more bengali recipes and post. And can you tell me the names of the books..i would love to pick up some bong cookbboks when i come to India....ur uncle and aunt are so sweet :)..btw..what time do you sleep at night!! you are such an owl :D

  4. Love cholar dal. It's a staple at Bengali wedding in Calcutta. I'm so glad you enjoyed the place... can't wait to go back now.

  5. i love cholar dal. that's a drool-worthy pic.

  6. Very interesting recipe, is it sweet & hot dish? Love the raisin with dhal!

  7. very interesting and delicious looking dish!

  8. I've friend here she used to make same version. I love the taste of it. Nice pic.

  9. A sweet dhal may not go over that well in our house but it's an interesting idea - I can see how it was perceived as a prasadham :) Looks good Sra!

  10. oh raisins that much ? I couldn't stop laughing on the "Prasadham" comment Sra! But if you would have reduced them it would just added a mild sweet note for sure! Looks good!

  11. Raisins+cocnut+dal=am yet to try

  12. Sra,
    Lovely Cholar dal with coconuts , we would gorge this dal with Luchi ..
    Hugs and smiles

  13. so its going to bangla cooking here for some time it seems....all the dishes mentioned along with the daal are new to me

  14. At first glance, i thought those coconut pieces were actually crunchy slices of apple.....interesting recipe....

  15. i am not crazy about lentils..but this looks really good.

  16. Heard a lot about this but never had it.
    Looks very good. What's in the next instalment of the Bengal hangover?:)

  17. I make cholar dal without adding raisins and sugar...A recipe from a pressure cooker cook book...Mee recipe nijjhamgaane variety gaa vundi Sra...:D

  18. I have never had this before, and never knew raisins to be used in curries, esply with dal. Very interesting recipe:-) Looks delicious.

  19. sra, that churningthewordmill is the mandira who won't let me post focaccia. thinking of making this sometime instead of the usual kootu.

  20. I love chollar dal along with chachaddi and shukto..
    Can smell it right now :))
    Dal looks lovely with the raisins..

  21. this looks yum,,addition of raisins and coconut is nice variation.....

  22. Loved your aunt's comments - "variety ga undhi" was nice, and the instinctive reaction to Uncle's coffee was hilarious :D

  23. I liked this dal. Have made it several times now. Nice post

  24. Veg Platter, as you can see, it's quite simple, make it!:)
    Mansi, I enjoyed doing this post.
    Rajitha, will mail you. Yeah, I AM an owl, I sleep quite late. 1 am or so if no early morning gym.
    Mallika, am waiting for a Bengali friend's wedding so that I can sample some traditional cuisine
    Bee, thanks.
    Cham, it's not hot at all. It IS a bit sweet, because of the raisins.
    A & N, yes, it's quite a revelation!
    Shriya, thank you
    Lavanya, it's sweet only in parts :)
    Ni, it's not that sweet. Really!
    Rachel, it's an interesting combination, try it.
    Jaya, with luchis? Okay, will keep that in mind.
    Bhags, no, the Bangla streak seems to have stopped now!
    Jayashree, yes, now that you mention it ... I made apple sambar, once, on a challenge!
    Mandira, welcome, thanks.
    Aparna, think the hangover's gone :)
    Satya, oh, I had several of those, actually, two or three books.
    Shreya, raisins are used in curries now and then, even with non-veg, and in sweet chutnies - I usually stay away from them :)
    Lakshmi, yeah, I visited her blog after you told me.
    Swati, oh, so that's how charchari is pronounced!
    Notyet, thanks. It's quite a traditional recipe.
    Lekhni, hi, this is a phrase I hear increasingly. "Happy ga" is another one that's entered the Telugu consciouness in the last decade or so!
    Bhawana, welcome, and thank you.

  25. I completely missed the joke! Ok, I am kida slow at it sometimes!!

  26. Great pic Sra, so finally did it taste more sweet or spicy? Anyway, I am waiting for that Chicken curry with coconut chips recipe now...

  27. B said he has had this with luchis, when he was in Assam. I will make it without adding the raisins tho, also it is a very easy recipe :)

  28. The dish looks quite yummy!

  29. Jyothsna, I probably didn't put it well enough - the joke is that Aunty regarded something made for Uncle as "untouchable"
    Sig, thanks. Are you going to mark me on the coconut chip curry? :-D I'm sure it exists on your blog, meanwhile, I'm not able to lay my hands on a chicken.
    Vidya, yes, I think the States share a lot of common ground.
    Homecooked, it is yummy!

  30. I like the sound of your aunt and uncle. Lovely recipe you've produced. Glad to read you had a fun time in Calcutta.


  31. Paz, great to see you up and about in the blogs. Hope the recovery's going smoothly. Thanks.