This recipe is a plain, simple comfort food; the kind which takes me back home right when I start heating up my skillet. The warm aroma stirs up the nostalgia, which hangs in thick clusters. Little strings of incidents line up like dew drops on a blade of grass while real and unreal blends in an obscure mist.
I already have my one foot into the suitcases and in homeland. Although, a few weeks are still to go before we actually set our feet amidst the dust and dear ones, home is all I can think of.
Having said that, it is also a time for me to be needing a little bit of comfort and calming down of a somewhat despondent heart. As excited I am to be going home after many years, it is also a bit unsettling for me to walk into the paradise where I grew up without my ma to hug and kiss me a big welcome. It has been quite a few years, and I have been home just once for about 5 days since then. Living so far away from home, is an escape where I allow myself to hide into the “unreality”. Now I am even a little scared of how I am going to be doing, in every corner of my home, when I will be still expecting to bump into her and hear her voice and there will be nothing but emptiness. Everything at home is the same, the trees she planted, the vases she put fresh flowers in everyday, but now dry and desolate, the beds and the blankets, the sink, the plates and the spoons and the old red blender, everything but her.
Every recipe from home comes with a satchel full of memories, which I have been carrying around with pleasure for many years and will always do. While growing up and having ma to cook for me, I never really paid attention to how beautiful some roasted mung might smell. It was just a part of everyday, which I never really thought to ponder upon then. Many years later, I love the smell intensely because I miss it so much. I see myself eating my meals, with ma by me patiently listening to my stories from school and friends. I could never eat sitting down by myself. Since I have no siblings, I always had ma sitting with me while I ate, and I took hours talking and savoring every bite one at a time. I can still see her looking at me, with her one elbow rested on the table and her fair face leaning against her palm, slightly tilted, with a calm steady look and the loveliest little smile which told me that she listened to and understood my heart. Like a dream…
Nutty aroma of the roasted mung is unforgettable!
So are my days with ma, and the hot steaming gobindobhog rice (a rice with tiny grains and an intoxicating perfume very typical to Bengal) with the dal she cooked with ghee on it and some fried potatoes or aubergines on the side to complement the Bhaja Muger Dal. I cannot call her and tell her to get my favorite food ready. I cannot hear her tell me, “I know, you do not have to tell me… “.
To dry roast the lentils before cooking them is a very typical Bengali thing to do. The primary flavor of the dish is from the roasted mung and the fresh green chili, ginger and ghee. Like a lot of recipes from West Bengal, this one does not have onion or garlic. The dal, is warm and earthy.
I am still making my plans, asking my dad, friends and family to treat me with the authentic food, I am used to and that is love and comfort for me. I am talking to my kids and trying to introduce them to what I grew up with and what to expect, Bhaja Muger Dal is just one of them. Even though I cook at home, I am yet to see how the food and a different environment appeal to them. Besides the other ingredients, the food at home always has the best of them – the love and care.
Notes on the recipe (Do read):
This dal can be made 2 ways; the thin soupy kind that you see in the pictures and also the slightly thick (like a puree, where you can actually see the coarse lentils), which is more like the kind I usually had at home. The recipe does not change, but the water quantity does. So if you want a dal which is dense with more texture, add less water (or don’t add the extra later - ref. Recipe below). I like it differently made at different times.
Since today I have made my dal more like a soup, I have used a blender to coarsely puree the lentils, which was never done at home. The lentils should be cooked so that they are soft and tender but not mushy, you should actually be able to see the mung in its entire form. Traditionally the soft cooked lentils are just stirred well to get a nice consistency, and yet have some great texture to it.
See the photographs of Dal Palak, for both the authentic texture and consistency. Either way the flavors of the dish remain the same.
Bhaja Muger Dal/Roasted Mung Soup
Ingredients: (serve 2, as a small portion soup)
- 1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons split yellow mung/moong
- 2-3 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2- 3/4 teaspoon sugar, or adjust to taste
- 2-3 fresh green chiles, finely chopped (remove seed if you do not want spicy)
- 1 tablespoon ghee + some more to drizzle while serving
- a good pinch of asafoetida/hing
- 1-2 red dried chili pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 bay leaves (tej patta)
- 1.5 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- crushed red pepper and fresh cilantro for garnish (Optional)
Dry-roast the yellow split mung in skillet over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to dry-roast, stirring constantly, until the lentils turns golden to medium brown, about 3 minutes. Some of the mung will be a darker shade than the others and that is okay. You will also smell the beautiful aroma of the roasted mung. Remove the skillet from the heat and keep stirring the lentils till the skillet cools down a little bit. Let the lentils cool down.
Rinse the mung in several changes of water, till the water runs clear and drain.
Bring 2-3 cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the washed mung, grated ginger, salt and turmeric and reduce heat and simmer. Cook the lentils covered, while stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft, but still whole, about 40-45 minutes.(if you have pressure cooker, use the cooker to cook it faster).
Combine the sugar to the cooked lentils. If you want to blend, use a blender or an immersion blender to pulse dal to a coarse puree, or skip this step and go ahead and temper the dal. (If you want a soupy consistency and if the lentils have too little water left and have thickened, add about 1 -1.5 cups warm water while blending).
Heat the ghee with cumin seeds and bay leaves in saucepan/or pot until seeds begin to sputter, about 20 seconds. Add chiles (green and dried ones) and hing/asafoetida and cook for half a minute. Reduce the heat and pour in the pureed cooked lentils carefully (mixture will spatter all over the place). Increase the heat and bring it to a boil, stirring well. Cook for about 2-4 minutes.
Serve hot. Drizzle with some ghee, crushed pepper and cilantro before serving.
This dish is usually served with steaming hot rice and some fritters or fries on the side.
But this it is lovely as a warming soup too. Have it the way you want.
Red Lentils with Cumin and Fried Onions
Around the Food World: