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.
Bengali cuisine Bengal gram Raisins Coconut Channa dal Humour