I have a bitter-sweet relationship with this recipe. “Bitter” already appears in the post title, but why sweet? It has to do more with my emotions than the taste. This is one of those recipes which are cloistered in typically Bengali homes. Almost protected. It rarely makes it way on the table on gorgeous occasions, festivals or in restaurants. But it coddles and soothes the yearning souls of my kind on an everyday basis.
A typical Bengali meal is long and elaborate. The symphony opens with something bitter, cleansing and preparing the palate for more to come. I grew up in a home where bitter gourds or Neem leaves were naturally a part of the meal. These vegetables were never treated to reduce the bitterness. Instead we were taught to appreciate and accept them as they were. I loved them when I was little and that spark has not diminished. So when the karela/bitter melons in my backyard took over the entire boundary of my vegetable garden this year, I was overjoyed.
The fresh green Karela with rounded and smooth spikes made music in my heart.
There were more sweet notes to add. My cousin was visiting and it was time to indulge into the long traditional spread of meals which I have not had for years. We cooked and we ate, bringing back memories of home: uninterrupted relish!
Yellow mung with bitter melons is a very traditional Bengali recipe. This recipe belongs to the first course of a Bengali lunch. The presence of the bitter melons enhances the flavors and the addition of the bottle gourd to this dish helps neutralizes the bitterness to a more subtle taste with beautiful complexity of flavor and texture.
The subtle and unique flavors of Bengali cuisine, like any other archetypal regional Indian cuisine, makes it a bit of an acquired taste for food aficionados. Probably that is one of the reasons that certain conventional recipes like this one remain insulated between walls. Nor many efforts have been made to disseminate them. However with the steady wave of the blogging community, these recipes now are coming to light.
I am not sure if I can ever inculcate the love of these treasured recipes in my children. They are the children of different time and place and I am at fault for not cooking these often enough. But I want to document these recipes and the feelings before they disappear at the turn of another generation.
- The tempering or the seasoning usually varies from one home to another. The yellow mung could be dry roasted until golden for enhanced flavor and a richer hue. But it is also good cooked just as it is.
- Any other lentils may be used too. This is just the way it has been made at home.
- No onion or garlic is used for this recipe.
Tetor Dal: Lentils with Bitter Melon
Ingredients: (serves 4)
- 3/4 cup yellow mung/moong dal/lentils
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup bitter gourd, sliced in circles (adjust amount to taste: the more you use the bitter it will be)
- 1/2 of a small lauki/bottle gourd, peeled and chopped
- 2 tablespoon oil (mustard oil or you may use ghee) – divided
- a small pinch of asafoetida/hing
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- a small pinch of fenugreek/methi seeds (about 6-8)
- 1/4 teaspoon radhuni (use celery seeds if you do not have radhuni)
- 1 small tejpatta/bay leaf
- 1 dry red chilli pepper (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon+ 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 – 1.5 teaspoon ginger paste
- 1/2 teaspoon ghee
- salt to taste
If you want some extra flavors, dry roast the lentils in a skillet until they are fragrant and light golden. This is an optional step. Now wash the lentils until water runs clear.
Cook lentils/ dal and lau/ lauki (Bottle gourd) with salt, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and three times the water as the lentils. The lentils should be cooked through but not completely mushed. If using a pressure cooker, switch off the heat after one whistle. After the lentils are cooked, add the ginger paste to the lentils and stir it in. Set the cooked lentils aside.
Slice the karela/bittemelon into thin, round slices, season them with salt and a sprinkle (1/4 teaspoon) turmeric .
Heat about one fourth the amount of oil/ghee and fry the bitter gourd until golden brown, remove and keep aside.
To same oil, add the rest of the oil and to it add the hing/asafoetida, fennel, fenugreek seeds, radhuni and dry chilli pepper if you are using. When the seeds sizzle, add the bay leaf.
Now add the cooked lentils and the fried bitter melons to the pan and simmer the lentils with the spices for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.The consistency of the finished dish should not be too thick and mushy, neither too runny. It should be like a regular soup. If you have not used ghee to temper the spices, you may use 1/2 teaspoon of ghee to finish off the dal. It adds a nice warm flavor.
Serve with hot steamed rice.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes (if cooking lentils in pressure cooker and more if not)
Serves: 4 as a side
Difficulty Level: Easy
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