Bengal Red Lentils with Spices (Bengali Masar Dal)

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Of all the legumes available in India, the Bengalis favor red lentils the most, and they inevitably prepare them in one classic way. In this technique the lentils are first cooked with turmeric and green chilies until they become a puree. This smooth puree is infused with two flavorings. The first, consisting of fixed seasonings, is added near the end, while the lentils are cooking. The second, the perfumed butter with chili pods, garlic, and whole spices, is gently folded into the dal just before it is served. The resulting dal is spicy, utterly delicious, and my very favorite. I love it with plain rice and a simple vegetable preparation on the side.

Panch phoron mix recipe (
) is equal parts:
* cumin seeds
* fennel seeds
* black onion seeds
* fenugreek seeds
* mustard seeds

From page 329 of Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking.
For cooking the dal:
1.5 cups red lentils (masar dal)
6 hot green chilies
1/2 tsp turmeric
4.5 cups water
1.5 tsp coarse salt, or to taste
For flavoring the dal:
4 tbs usli ghee or light vegetable oil
1 cup minced onion
1 tbs grated or crushed fresh ginger
1 cup finely chopped tomatoes
For the spice-perfumed butter:
2 tbs usli ghee or light vegetable oil
1 tbs panch phoron mix
4 bay leaves
4 dry chili pods
2 tsp minced garlic
1. Pick lentils, clean and wash thoroughly in several changes of water.
2. Put the lentils in a deep pot along with the turmeric and 4.5 cups water; bring to boil.  Stir often to make sure they do nut lump together.  Cook over medium heat, partially covered, for 25 minutes.  Cover, reduce heat, and continue cooking for an additional 10 minutes or until soft.
3. While the lentils are cooking, heat the usli ghee in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  When it is hot, add the onion and fry, stirring constantly, until golden brown (about 10 minutes).  Add the green chilies, ginger and tomatoes and continue frying until the tomatoes are cooked and the contents reduce to a thick pulp (about 8 minutes).  Stir constantly to prevent sticking and burning.
4. Blend the fried onion-tomato paste and salt to taste into the dal; continue cooking for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until the flavors have blended in.  Keep the dal on a low simmer while you make the spice-perfumed butter.
5. Measure out the spices and place them right next to the stove in spearate piles.  Heat the usli ghee in a small frying pan over medium-high heat.  When it is hot, add the panch phoron spice blend.  When the the mustard seeds are spattering and the cumin turns a little darker (about 15 seconds), add the bay leaves and chili pods.  Continue frying until the chili turns dark (15-20 seconds), turning and tossing them.  Turn off the heat, add the garlic, and let mixture fry, sizzling for 25 seconds or until it looks light golden.  Pour the entire contents of the pan over the dal, mix well, and serve.
Serves 6-8
Meal   DinnerCuisine   Indian
Dish   Side DishCooking Method   Sauteed
Main Ingredient   Beans/LegumesPrep Time   less than 15 minutes
Cooking Time   45 minutes 
Features   Dairy-Free, Diabetic-Friendly, High-Fiber, Low-Calorie, Low-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat, Low-Sodium, Vegan, Vegetarian, Wheat/Gluten-Free

Matthew S

Member since May 2009

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