Legumes or dried beans and peas have been a part of the ancient Indian culinary tradition and the generic name for all members of the dried pea and bean family is dal. Containing enzymes, fiber, minerals, and vitamins, dal is easily digested and highly nutritious, and is an accompaniment of almost every Indian lunch. The repertoire of dal dishes is indeed extensive, from liquid soups and thick purees, stews, fried appetizers, crispy pancakes and crepes, sauces, and chutneys to sprouted salads and delicious sweetmeats.
Dal is always prepared in combination with pungent herbs and spices, such as garlic, ginger, onion, black pepper, chilies, mustard seeds, asafoetida, cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek seeds, onion seeds, salt, and oil or clarified butter.
The seasoning technique (baghar or tarka) is always the same: In a small pan, heat some oil or ghee and add the required amount of cumin and mustard seeds. When the seeds start popping, add the chopped onion, ginger, garlic, crushed red dried chilies, and a pinch of asafoetida. Stir and cook for a minute, removing the pan from the heat. This blend of seasoning is used to garnish cooked lentils served with rice or chapatis.
To tenderize and save cooking time, it is a good idea to soak kidney beans, black-eyed peas / cow-pea, garbanzo/chickpeas overnight in cold water with ¼ teaspoon baking soda. Other legumes and beans can be soaked in cold water for 20 minutes before preparing.
Spicy Legumes (Masalawale Dal)
½ cup pigeon peas
½ cup pink lentils
½ cup split green peas
½ cup split yellow peas
½ cup split black beans
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup corn oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced fine
1 tablespoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
8 cups water
Salt to taste
1 fresh green chili, chopped
½ teaspoon roasted ground cumin
½ roasted basic garam masala
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped fine
Soak the beans and lentils together overnight in a pot of cold water. Rinse and drain the beans.
In a food processor, puree the chopped onion, garlic, ginger, and 2 tablespoons water.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and sauté for 5–6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown.
Add the onion paste, coriander, chili powder, and turmeric, stirring constantly for 4–5 minutes, until the mixture turns brown and the oil separates.
Add 8 cups water. Stir and boil.
Add the beans and salt, and mix. Cover and simmer for 30–40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the liquid is of a thick consistency.
Add the green chili and cumin, and mix. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes.
Add roasted garam masala, lemon juice, and fresh cilantro leaves. Cover for 5 minutes.
Serve hot with basmati rice, vegetables, chicken curry, and yogurt salad.