So I was walking on Oxford street the other night and it was surprisingly noisy considering the time of night it was. As I looked ahead, there were huge cranes towering with people on them making lots of drilling noises. As I got closer I could finally see that they were erecting London’s Christmas lights; the huge light studded umbrellas and Christmas presents that were going to adorn the streets for the next few months. It brought a feeling of coziness and warmth to me. Something I needed since summer never really re-appeared since I last posted. The thought of Christmas approaching has sated my being.
Speaking of when I last posted, it has been a long hiatus during which many things have happened…many dishes prepared, recipes discovered, new people, old people met, new places, old places travelled to; not forgetting to mention my garden harvest that was bursting with plums, apples and pears as well as a plethora of other delicious edibles that I was quite proud of.
I have to say though, I haven’t been in the kitchen as much as I would have liked these past few months. My spirit has been dampened slightly. Sometimes things in other parts of your life take over and you can so easily forget the simple joys that your kitchen can bring.
Anyway, I am back! And hopefully for awhile as I have a number of recipes that I wish to share, and although their seasonality is more or less over, I will endeavor to write posts soon.
Getting back to the topic of this post. Since I started my oh so clever idea of making Tuesday a day to abstain from eating meat (family tradition being my motivation) and so promising a weekly delicious, vegetarian recipe offering to make you forget your desire to be carnivorous, I realise I have not kept to my word. I am ashamed to say that I have even had some readers protest over their absence! (I am slapping my own wrists at my broken promises, I can assure you.)
Toor Dal – two ways
Today I am sharing a recipe for an extremely versatile dal recipe- Toor Dal (Split Pigeon Peas). Although a dal that is not traditionally cooked by the northern Indian people, it is one that can be found in many different forms in other parts such as in the southern and western India. Being that my family originates from the North, toor dal is not something that you’d find in any Punjabi family’s repertoire Lucky for me and my family’s movement around the globe and India for that matter; our family has adopted influences from many other cuisines, one of my favourites and most prominent in our repertoire are influences from the Gujarati cuisine. Gujarati’s tend to use a lot of sweet and sour flavours in their recipes, hence the star flavours in this dish are jaggery for the sweetness and kokum phool for the sour (a dried sour flower that is specifically used in Gujarat- widely available in UK asian supermarkets. Gujarati cuisine incorporates sweetness in the majority of it’s savoury dishes, something unheard of in northern India. There are a number of dishes that my family make that have that Gujarati sweet and sour element fused with Punjabi flavour. The fusion dishes are sometimes the tastiest.
Toor dal is specifically made from split shelled pigeon peas. You can find these in Indian stores in two formats. Coated with oil or without. My family has always used the oil coated ones. I am not quite sure why, but if I remember correctly I was once told that they stay fresher when coated with oil…maybe the dry ones tend to taste bad if kept for too long? Regardless, the oil is washed off prior to cooking so I don’t think it would make much of a difference which you use.
The recipe I am giving you today has some Punjabi influences, but the essence is Gujarati. It can be used to make two meals- one where the dal is cooked with a vegetable called drumsticks and the other uses the left over dal that you can transform into Dal Dhokali.
Toor Dal with Drumsticks
Ingredients for the dal
1 1/2 cups toor dal (oily or without oil) Wash both dals well, but if using the oily kind, rub well to remove the oil and wash until the water is more or less clear. You can also soak this dal overnight to shorten the cooking time.
1 small/medium onion chopped
2-3 inches ginger grated
1/2 a garlic (6-8 pods) grated
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chili powder or to taste
1/2 cup of dried kokum phool rinsed and then soaked in enough water to just cover them just before you start cooking. If you can’t find kokum you can substitute 1-2 limes or a few tbsp tamarind paste to taste for the sourness.
2-4 tbsp jaggery/ palm sugar to taste (If you need to substitute with brown sugar, use less)
salt to taste
Ingredients for the tarka
3-5 green chilies depending on strength- to taste
1 rounded tsp cumin
1 rounded tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1-3 pieces of cassia bark or cinnamon sticks equivalent of about 2 inches
12 or so fresh curry leaves (you can sometimes find these frozen. If you do find them fresh- they do freeze well if you don’t need them all. Use directly from the freezer. Do not defrost.)
1/4- 1/2 tsp Asafoetida/hing (optional- some people dislike the sulfurous smell. I do not like to cook without it in many Gujarati dishes. It adds a flavour you cannot replicate with anything else. It is not the end of the world if you omit it though.)
1-2 tsp ground coriander powder
3 tbsp oil
2 drumsticks prepared and cut into 3-4 inch sticks. You can also buy these frozen – I used about 1/2 pack. (If you cannot find drumsticks you can omit them or add other vegetables such as carrots)
2 flavourful tomatoes chopped into large chunks
1 large onion chopped in to large chunks
Fresh coriander finely chopped for garnishing
- Take all the ingredients for the dal apart from the jaggery, salt and kokum and put them into a large heavy based pan or a pressure cooker and top with 4-5 cups of water. If pressure cooking allow 2-3 whistles if you have soaked the dal, if not allow 5-6. You want to pulverise the dal as much as possible. If using a regular pan cook until dal is mashably soft- about 30 mins.
- Once the dal is soft, take a hand blender or a whisk and completely mash the dal to a smooth consistency. Check the thickness- you want it to be no thicker than single cream. Add water accordingly. Also add the salt to taste, the kokum or lime/tamarind and jaggery. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 mins.
- While the dal is simmering, make the tarka: Heat the oil and add the cumin, mustard seed, cloves and cassia bark and allow to flutter. Next add the curry leaves which will splutter. Add the green chilies and fry for a 20-30 seconds. Finally add the fenugreek seeds, the asafoetida and the coriander powder. Do not cook too much more as the fenugreek seeds can turn bitter (15-20 seconds). Add the entire pan of tarka to the dal that is simmering .
- Stir the dal well to distribute the tarka. Now taste to check salt, sweet and sour. There should be a good balance of all. Adjust by adding more jaggery if you need more sweetness, if there is too much sweetness add some lime or a little tamarind.
- Add the tomato chunks, onion chunks and drumsticks and allow to simmer for 15 mins.
- The dal is now ready. Garnish with coriander and serve with plain steamed basmati rice.
The recipe for the dal is as above. If you are using left over dal you will need to thin it – add 1-2 cups of water for a more brothy consistency. The quantity of ingredients given here is enough for left over dal. If you are making the dal fresh, I suggest doubling the dhokali recipe below.
Ingredient for the Dhokali
100g wholewheat chapatti flour
25g besan – chickpea flour
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 red chili powder – or to taste
1 tsp ajawan seeds lovage/carom seeds (optional – adds a new flavour and compliments it well)
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp oil
water to make into a stiff dough
- Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and make a stiff dough that will roll out with ease- about the texture of playdoh.
- Add water to left over dal and check seasoning. Adjust accordingly, bring to a boil and allow to simmer. If using fresh keep it on a simmer.
- Divide the dough into two pieces and roll out each one as thinly as possible- a couple of mm at the most. Use either flour or an oiled surface to help you roll.
- Use a pizza cutter to cut out diamond shapes as the picture below shows.
- Drop the dough pieces in to the simmering dal and allow to cook for 10-20 minutes. When the dal has thickened slightly, check the dhokali is done (they will have expanded like pasta, but they do naturally have a slightly doughy texture similar to gnocchi.)
- When ready serve and garnish with freshly chopped coriander.