This is a very traditional Bengali recipe – simmered lentils with little bites of coconut, a hint of sweet and redolent of spices. And there is no other way to have a bowlful but with Luchi or Kochuri/Kachori. But that is only with us – the Bengalis. The rest of the world is allowed to treat this as any other lentil dish or a side dish or even some exotic soup.
“Cholar Dal” is not a dish that adorns the everyday table. And unlike a lot of vegetarian and dal recipes in Bengal that uses the Panch Phoron (the Indian Five Spice Mix), for tempering and flavoring, this one does not.
This dal is aromatic and cooked with the very fragrant spices like cinnamon and cardamom with some ginger and little bites of fried coconut – very different from the everyday affair.
It is served at times that are to be cherished and savored; a special guest, a home coming or when there is any reason to celebrate.
This is also a part of any festive occasion – birthdays, annaprashans (the first rice eating ceremony for a child), and wedding feasts are only to mention a few. And it belongs to the menu for the biggest religious festivals – the Durga Puja.
The most important thing about this as I have mentioned before is that this fragrant bowl of lentils is always served along with Luchi (or kochuri /stuffed Luchi). They are an inseparable pair in Bengali cuisine.
Now what is Luchi (Loo-chee)? These are puffed fried breads very much like Poori, but instead of whole wheat flour, these in Bengal are made with maida or enriched flour and fried in ghee (well most of the times), resulting in a pale, and purely divine looking bread.
They are delicate and irresistible and along with the Cholar Dal, it is a match made in heaven.
Chana Dal/Cholar Dal /Split Bengal Gram has a meaty texture and a good bite unlike a lot of lentils which tend to mush up easily when cooked. So they are easier to work with. Having said all that, I cook Bengali Cholar Dal even without a special occasion.
A meal of deep fried bread and this humble dal often makes an ordinary day, special. So why not?
Bengali Cholar Dal: Lentils with Coconut and Spices
Ingredients: (serves 6)
- 2.5 cups chana dal/cholar dal/split and husked Bengal grams
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 2 tablespoon ghee
- 3 small green cardamom
- 2″ stick cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- a generous pinch of hing/asafoetida
- 2 -4 red dry chili pepper
- 1 tejpatta/Indian Bay leaf
- 2 inch fresh ginger, grated/made into paste
- 2 tablespoon grated fresh coconut
- fresh coconut slices (about 4 tablespoons ) + 1.5 teaspoon oil
- 3-5 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
- salt to taste
- a couple of tablespoon raisins (optional)
- fresh green chili pepper tor garnish – optional
Wash the lentils until the water runs clear. Add enough water for the lentils to be completely immersed and there should be an inch and a half of water above the level of the lentils. Add salt and turmeric and boil the lentils until tender but not breaking apart or mushy. Each and every lentil should be separate and whole for this recipe. I use a pressure cooker, but it can be covered and cooked in a pan/pot.
While the lentils are cooking, heat a tiny bit of oil in a pan and shallow fry the coconut slices until golden. Drain and set aside.
Once the lentils are cooked and you are ready to temper/season the dal.
Heat ghee in a pan big enough to hold the cooked lentils. Pound the cardamom pods to release the seeds. Add the cardamom and the cinnamon. A few seconds later add the hing/asafoetida, cumin, bay leaf and the dry red chili pepper. When the spices sizzle, add the cooked lentils, sugar, ginger, grated coconut to the pan. Simmer at low heat while occasionally stirring, for about 10-12 minutes.
Adjust salt and sugar. This dal is not supposed to be very soupy, but if you want to have a runny consistency you may add water. If you want it thick, simmer to have the extra water evaporate.
When almost done, add the fried coconuts and the raisins if you are using. Garnish with pepper.
It is traditionally served with Luchi/Poori. But it can be served as a side/or soup or with rice.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6 as a side
Difficulty Level: Easy
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