This week’s dal is whole urad dal (Vigna mungo). According to Achaya’s A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, urad dal are indigenous to India, and remnants have been found in archeological sites dating to about 1500 BC. They are small (roughly 5x4x3 mm), black in color, with a somewhat dull luster and a prominent white spot along the major axis (photos and information at NIAS Genebank). When split and peeled, the dal is a standard part of the tempering spices in South Indian cooking along with mustard seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves and split channa dal.
My inspiration for preparing this dal came from Mexico, specifically, black bean soup with garnishes (Epicurious has over 100 examples). To stay connected to the origin of the urad dal, though, I used spices associated with Indian cooking: cumin, coriander and black pepper.
I also went a little wild with this Mexico theme, and will post about that in a day or two.
Urad Dal Soup, Inspired by Mexico
1 cup whole urad dal
Water for soaking the dal
4 cups water for cooking the dal
1/2 t. turmeric powder
1-2 whole green chilies
For the fresh chutney
1 cup chopped tomato
1-2 green chilies, chopped
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
To finish the dal
1 onion, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. coriander seeds
5-10 black peppercorns
1 t. cumin seeds
1 t. salt
Vegetable oil or ghee
Cooking the dal
Pick through the dal for stones, sticks and other unacceptable items. Rinse the dal thoroughly, drain, and put into a large bowl. Cover with a few inches of water, and place in the refrigerator for several hours. Drain and pour the dal into a pot.
Add the 4 cups of water, turmeric, chilies (I used serrano) to the pot containing the dal. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover the pot and cook until the dal are tender (1-2 hours).
Making the chutney
Combine the tomato, chilies, and cilantro in a bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Finishing the dal
Dry roast the coriander, cumin and peppercorns in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant and slightly darker. Remove from the pan into another container (heavy stainless steel would be ideal) to allow for quick cooking and to prevent overroasting. When the spices are reasonably cool, grind them to a powder.
Saute the onion in oil over medium heat until soft. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so, then add the spice powder and salt. Cook for 30 seconds, then add to the dal.
Scoop some of the dal into a bowl and top with a dollop of the chutney, a dollop of yogurt, and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.
Cubes of roasted butternut squash as a garnish for a textural contrast and element of sweetness (I have a squash in my pantry, but I forgot about it).
Other garnishes: chopped raw onion, lime juice, mango powder, green pepper.