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.
Always wash legumes four or five times under cold running water prior to cooking. Some varieties of legumes should be soaked overnight to tenderize and save cooking time, as indicated in the recipes of my cookbooks.
Yellow split peas, also known as split chick-peas or garbanzos (chana dal) are the most widely used dal. The gram flour, or besan, is used to make pakoras (hors d’oeuvres) and is versatile as a sauce thickener.
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 (roti).
Eggplant with Legumes (Baigan ka Dal)
1 pound yellow split peas, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
1½ quarts water
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt to taste
¼ cup corn oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1½-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and chopped fine
1 fresh green chili, chopped fine
1 tablespoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon asafoetida
1 large tomato, chopped
1 medium American eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
Wash the yellow split peas and soak in cold water for 30 minutes.
In a large pot, add water and boil the peas with the turmeric, ground chili, and salt over medium heat for 30 minutes until soft.
Heat the oil in a wok. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and fry over medium heat until the mustard seeds start popping. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and chili and sauté until the onions are soft and golden brown. Add the coriander and asafoetida, stirring constantly 2 minutes. Add the cooked peas and tomato and mix thoroughly. Add the eggplant, cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes, until the eggplant is tender. Serve hot with plain rice or chapatis, and yogurt.
- All the spices and herbs utilized in Indian cuisine are healthy because they are major sources of vitamins and minerals needed to preserve human life
- Magic of curry is in the blending and sautéing of spices (masala)
- Legume and bean dishes are always seasoned with asafoetida, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, onion, and turmeric to reduce gas and make food light to digest
- Vegetables always need coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, onion, and turmeric
- Certain spices such as bay leaf, black pepper, cardamom, chili pepper, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, onion, and turmeric work well together for meat and vegetable curries.
- Simple tools and utensils are used
- Many of these spices are available at your local grocery store
- Being on friendlier terms with your stomach serves you well
Check out my cookbooks Feast of India: A Legacy of Recipes and Fables (1991, 2015) and India’s Unsurpassed Cuisine: The Art of Indian Curry Cooking (Editor’s Choice, 2016) at www.feastofindia.net.