Narkel ar Kishmish diye Chholar Dal: Split Bengal Gram Cooked with Coconut and Raisins

My mother is a snob when it comes to daal. In her opinion, the best cooked ones were made by her mother, and well, what can I say, my grandmother did make amazing ones. My childhood is littered with memories of my maternal grandmother cooking dal over slow fire, and I would sit beside her, mashing my portion of rice with some of the dal she had cooked and tempered with a touch of spices. Most of the times, she would just boil it and add a couple of whole spices to it, fried in mustard oil, and immediately remove from heat. When we sat down for lunch, she would pour a generous amount of it over rice, and add a couple of slices of thinly sliced and fried aubergine, add a dollop of jharna ghee on top of it, and that was that. It was nothing fancy, but there was something about the way she made things that made me remember them well.

Split Bengal Gram cooked with Coconut

This particular dish used to be her favorite way of cooking chholar dal, or chana dal, or split Bengal gram. Personally, I am not a big fan of mixing coconut into anything sweet, but when it comes to cooking savory stuff, coconut is my friend. However, I have not used tiny pieces of chopped coconut, which is traditional, because I hate getting pieces of coconut in my mouth while savoring my share, and frankly speaking, why would I want to add random pieces of coconut to my dal which won’t even lend any flavor to it? My solution is to add freshly grated coconut, which makes the process much simpler. You can also use desiccated coconut, which means, your pantry probably has all the things you need to make this with.

Bay leaf, Whole Garam Masala, Red Chilli

 Start by cooking the split Bengal gram. I washed about a cup of it (200 gm.) and put it in a pressure cooker over high heat with 2.5 cups of water, a big pinch of turmeric and a big pinch of salt. I closed the lid once things started boiling, then after the pressure cooker built up full steam, then lowered the heat to a simmer and cooked for 8-10 minutes. Then I switched off the gas, and let the pressure cool down naturally. I generally get perfectly cooked chana dal this way.

Then, I heated a thick-bottomed vessel, and added a tablespoon of mustard oil. If you don’t have mustard oil, use ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil. I heated the mustard oil till it smoked. Then, I lowered the heat and added a single bay leaf, two whole dry red chillies, one whole cardamom, one stick of cinnamon, and two cloves, bashed slightly with the back of a spoon. I let that cook for 30-40 seconds. Then I added 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin (jeera), and let it fry for another 20 seconds.

Coconut added to the whole spices

  Next, I added a tablespoon of freshly grated coconut to the whole spices. If you don’t have it, add two teaspoons of desiccated coconut. You can also be the proper one, and add 1-2 tablespoons of coconut slivers. But I prefer mine smooth and uninterrupted, so I went with grated coconut. I stirred it in, and fried the concoction for 1 minute, or until the coconut was lightly toasted. To this, I added a pinch of hing (asafoetida). Then I added 1 tablespoon raisins, soaked in water for a few minutes to rehydrate, and fried everything together.

Ginger and Hing added to the dry mixture

Now, I added 1 teaspoon ginger paste. After adding the ginger paste, stirring is important, so keep everything moving for a few seconds, or until the ginger is cooked slightly. Then add the cooked dal and stir well.

Chana Dal

Once the dal is added, let it cook for a bit. It will tend to thicken slightly. You can let it thicken as much as you want. I prefer it slightly thick, like the picture below. Once you achieve the texture you like, add salt and sugar to taste. I like mine sweet and salty, so I generally add a couple of teaspoons of sugar, and salt to taste.

Chana Dal Texture

I generally let the dal rest for half an hour at least for the flavors to build up before discarding the bay leaf, whole cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom. I let the red chillies be, since I like mashing it into my rice while eating. But my favorite accompaniment for this has to be a few puffed up, white luchi, followed by a bowl of rasmalai which makes this meal perfect.

Chholar Dal
Written by Poorna Banerjee

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