December Dal – Part 3, Split Moong Dal

The dal of this week is the mung bean, Vigna radiata, also known as green gram and golden gram. When split and peeled, it is called moong dal; when whole it is sometimes called sabat mung. The mung bean shares a long lost ancestor with last week’s dal, the urad dal (Vigna mungo). This legume is quite important in Asia, as it is the source of bean sprouts and the starch used to make bean thread noodles (clear vermicelli). For photos, botanical, and agricultural information see also the Illustrated Legume Database, Wikipedia, the AEP, and the University of Melbourne.

When split and peeled, the dal is quick cooking and easy to digest. That first characteristic was key for me because I only had a short time available for cooking. If you are motivated, this dal soup can be put together in just a few minutes more than the time it takes for the dal to cook. The result is a fairly thin soup with a rich, earthy background and a complex spice foreground. With some steamed basmati rice or a paratha (shown below), the soup makes a delicious and warming meal for a cold winter evening. For something more substantial, add cubes of precooked potatoes, peas, diced carrots or other vegetables at the end.

Moong Dal with Tomato
Adapated from Lord Krishna’s Cuisine

The dal
3/4 cup split, peeled moong dal
6 cups water
1 T. vegetable oil or ghee
3/4 t. turmeric
1 t. salt

Spice paste
2-inch piece of cinnamon stick
2 t. coriander seeds
2 t. cumin seeds
1/2 t. fennel seeds
1/2 T. sesame seeds
3 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods
5 black peppercorns

For the finish
2 green chilies, seeded and cut in quarters lengthwise
1 T. sugar or jaggery
2 medium tomatoes, chopped coarsely (these could also be from a can)
Salt to taste

Chopped cilantro to garnish

(Unit conversion page)

Most of the ingredients

Cooking the dal
Pick through the dal for stones, sticks and other unacceptable items. Rinse the dal thoroughly, drain, and put into a large pot. Add the 6 cups of water, 1 T. oil, and turmeric to the pot containing the dal. Bring to a boil (be careful that it doesn’t boil over), then reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover the pot and cook until the dal are tender (30-40 minutes). Add 1 t. salt. Reduce heat to very low.

Making the spice powder
Dry roast the spices and seeds 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 cooling and to prevent overroasting. When the spices are reasonably cool, remove the cardamom pods from the mixture, extract the black seeds, and return the seeds to the spice mixture. Discard the pod casings. Grind the spice mixture to a fine powder, then put it in a small bowl and stir in enough water to make a paste.

Finishing the dal
Heat some vegetable oil or ghee in a small skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add the spice paste and chili pieces, cook for about 30 second, then add the sugar. Cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds, or until the sugar carmelizes. Add the chopped tomatoes, lower the heat to medium-low and cook for a few more minutes until the tomatoes fall apart. Remove the chilies (unless you like a lot of heat), and pour the spice-tomato mixture over the dal. Stir, then let it rest for a few minutes for the flavors to blend.

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