Of all the dals in all the world...Yup, Toovar/ toor/ arhar dal is my favourite. Perhaps it's my South Indian genes - after all, saaru, huli, kootu and a host of other dishes in Karnataka cooking use this unassuming dal to make their point. Madhur Jaffrey refers to this dal as Pigeon peas, which is kind of cute, I think, and I believe it is also known as the Congo pea - how nice.
This humble dal is an excellent source of protein and has a mild taste which works very well with whatever combination of spices and vegetables one chooses to throw at it. Flexible, easy-going, wholesome and up for anything - if it were a person, I'd want to get to know it! So when I heard the December theme from JFI of Toovar Dal, it was like, 'Welcome home, my friend.'
There are gazillions of ways of cooking Toovar Dal ( even though, in my early culinary career, I have been known to confuse this with chana daal. Oh the shame of it!), including a sweet and simple dal which we often have on our 'simple food' mood days - Just cook the dal, add a chopped onion and tomato and a little ginger, sauteed in a little oil with jeera seeds, fresh green chillies and a sprig of curry leaves. Add salt to taste and a spoon of sugar, and a topping of fresh, chopped coriander leaves - and a perfect little accompaniment for the roti or rice is ready in a jiffy. If you want an added variation, just squeeze the juice of half a lemon before serving.
But when I really want to make the toovar dal the centrepiece of the meal, then I have to reach for my formidable arsenal of cookbooks and leaf through them, trying to figure out which one suits my mood best. One terrific dish is the Gujarati Dal mentioned in Tarla Dalal's Gujarati cookbook, and I love the combinations of flavours and the textures this dish has - sweet, sour, chilli, soft, mushy and hard. Again, it goes equally well with rotis or rice, and as always, I have jiggled around with some of the ingredients to suit my palate better. I can almost hear Ms. Dalal's stern aunty voice in my head as I follow ( or not) the instructions. Her cookbooks are very instruction manual type, but her recipes are never fail ones, so while I may not curl up in my armchair reading them to myself, they do tend to get used a lot in the kitchen, which explains the liberal sploshes of turmeric and bits of green dhaniya decorating their pages.
I whipped this up on Sunday morning for our Sunday meals, and we had enough left to pack off with my husband for his office lunch on Monday. How efficient!
2 cups toovar dal, cooked in 4 cups of water and mashed until soft and mushy
1 cup chana dal, soaked and cooked in 2 cups water
1/2 kilo yam ( suran), skinned and cut into large pieces and boiled lightly with salt
8 pieces kokum, soaked in water
50 gms jaggery
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp jeera
4 small round dried red chillies
1 sprig curry leaves
4 green chillies, split
1 inch ginger, finely chopped
2 tsp asafoetida ( heeng)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup raw peanuts
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt to taste
1 tbsp ghee
1 tbsp oil
Heat the oil and ghee in a deep saucepan.
When hot, add the mustard seeds. When they stop popping, add the jeera, green chillies, cinnamon sticks, ginger, turmeric, red chillies, curry leaves and asafoetida and stir to saute.
Add the tomato, stir and cook until soft.
Add the kokum, the lemon juice, turmeric and the jaggery and cook for a few minutes.
Then add the dals ( including the water they were cooked in - suit yourself as to how much water depending on if you like your daals thick or thin), yam, peanuts, salt and chilli powder and stir to mix.
Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Serve hot with rice or rotis, with a cool cucumber salad, plain home made curds and a beans palya for the perfect meal.
Don't like boiled yam, and had an embarassment of drumsticks ( sojne) at home, so used that instead
Don't like Chana dal much so omitted that.
Didn't have round red chillies so used the long ones.
I have to confess, I have followed this recipe to the T the first time I made it ( with the omission of the boiled yam), and it tasted equally good with my omissions and substitutions.
PS. As always, the photo sucks, even though I did take it in daylight, this time. Guess I just don't have a good trigger hand!