Being true: The easy option

Mallika Basu - Being true: The easy option

Posted 24th July 2007

bhaja-moonger-dal.jpgI got home late last night to find mother quivering with rage: “She’s a fake. Utter rubbish. Calls herself an Indian?”

Turns out mother had been watching the newest Indian celebrity cook on television who is on a mission to show how easy and low fat Indian cooking can really be.

The samosas in the first episode were enough to put me off. Made with a distinctly non-Indian filling of beetroot and coconut, they were carefully rolled into triangles and deep fried.

I thought this was about real Indian food – the non-greasy and easy stuff?? Besides, as I’ve said before, I would rather eat my shoe than cook a samosa from scratch.

To mother’s horror, the Bengali cholar dal featured on yesterday’s episode had three teaspoons of sugar. It was also accompanied by the TV chef’s incorrect claim that this was a compromise compared to the heaps of sugar actually consumed by Bengalis.

Then shredded coconut was added (horror of horrors, diced is de rigeur) and finally the worst sin ever – mustard seeds. Cholar dal never, ever uses mustard seeds.

When a Hindu temple-style khichdi was cooked with onions my mother finally had enough and turned the telly off. Apparently, temple cooking doesn’t involve onions as they are seen to be un-sattvic.

Oh dear!

Mother’s temper calmed soon enough following a discussion about real cholar dal. I quickly got the recipe for bhaja moonger dal from her – traditional Bengali roasted lentils with vegetables like cauliflowers and peas. I remember eating a variation with prawns in my auntie’s house in Kolkata.

Mother and I cooked this together, with a little bit of sugar, and it was delicious, and dare I say it, authentic. All you will need with this is a bit of steaming hot basmati rice on the side. Easy Indian cooking at its finest.

This recipe serves 5-6:

200 gms moong dal, huskless

250 gm tiger prawns, cooked and shelled

Half a cup frozen peas

Half tsp chilli powder

1 large bay leaf

1 tsp whole cumin

1″ cinnamon

1 black cardamom

2 whole red finger chillies

1 tsp ginger, finely chopped

1 tbsp tomato puree (optional)

1 tbsp sunflower oil

Half tsp sugar

Salt to taste

Roast the moong dal in a large pot over a high flame for five minutes, stirring regularly, until a heady aroma fills the air.

Now take the pot off the flame and fill it with cold water to rinse the lentils. Drain the lentils and fill the pot with fresh cold water.

Add the turmeric to the lentils and bring to a boil on a high heat. When it starts bubbling, lower the flame to medium and continue cooking it.

In the meantime, take a smaller pot and heat the oil on a high flame. When the oil is hot, add the sugar and within seconds the whole spices. As the spices start sizzling, stir in the ginger and red chilli powder and fry for a minute.

Now add the prawns, peas and the tomato puree, if you are using it. It gave the dal a lovely rounded flavour.

When the prawns are well coated with the masalas, stir this entire mixture into the pot of lentils. Make sure all the masalas are used, scraping any remnants from the little pot.

Cover the pot and simmer the dal for 10 minutes, allowing it to finish cooking with the whole spices. It’s ready when the dal is soft and integrated with the water like a soup.

Add salt to taste and serve piping hot.

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