rice and dal

Many moons ago when I first came to U.S., my repertoire was fairly limited to few stir-fries and dals. At times when I felt lost and longed for familiar comforts of home, dal is something I used to make. And after a hearty meal of spinach dal with a smidgen of hot pickle and fresh cup of homemade yogurt, everything would start looking rosy again and I am *home* ( " v " )

Steaming hot rice topped with sweet-tangy dal effusing a slight hint of ghee(clarified butter) is so comforting any day… it doesn’t take long to prepare and is full of nutrients.

Green gram dal (Moong dal with husk), Masoor dal, Toor dal

Dal meaning lentil can be sweet or sour; wet or dry. And any number of scrumptious combinations can be rolled out using leafy greens, tomatoes and even some vegetables.

Dals naturally have a mild sweetness to them, each one with a distinct flavor of its own. Considering that most Indians are vegetarians, they provide much needed protein and are low in fat; high in fiber.

top row: mustard seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric
bottom row: urad dal, chana dal, asafetida

Seasoning (infusing) the oil with spice seeds and red chilies is the base for many of the Indian recipes. For some recipes, it is the first step in the process while for others we add the seasoned oil in the end when the dish is done to give nutty texture and a smoky undertone to the otherwise soft stews and dals.

Depending on the dish you are preparing, the ingredients for seasoning slightly vary between mustard seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal (Black gram), chana dal (Bengal gram), red chilies, turmeric, hing (asafetida) and curry leaves (rich in iron).

~Mustard seeds pop and curry leaves splutter. So please hold a spatter screen or a lid over the pan for safety. But do not cover the pan fully or else the seeds will become soft losing their crunchy texture.

Cumin rice (Jeera rice)
Serves 2.

Rice seasoned with cumin seeds & curry leaves is very fragrant and goes well with any of the accompaniments you wish to prepare.

First step is to cook rice.

Add a tsp of salt to the water while cooking the rice to season it.

Fluff the rice with fork and transfer it to a wide platter and spread it out so that the grains would air a little bit and remain loose.

for seasoning

Oil - 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds - 2 tsp
Coarsely ground pepper - 1 tsp
Green chilies - 2 (slice them lengthwise)
Red chilies - 2
Curry leaves - 5
Cilantro - 2 or 3 sprigs

Take a wide frying pan. Put it on medium heat. Add oil.

When the oil is just hot enough, add red chilies.

After a min. add cumin seeds.

Cumin seeds burn quickly, so as soon as you see the seeds turning slightly brown, add curry leaves and green chilies. And sauté’ them once.

Then add rice and sprinkle ground pepper over it. Mix it with the seasoning taking care not to mush the rice. Stir fry for 3 min. on medium-low flame. When the rice is evenly coated with the seasoning, sprinkle the cilantro twigs and remove from heat.

~ Do not leave rice open for long as it dries out quickly. Transfer it to the platter just before you are ready to season it.

~You can easily adapt this recipe with your favorite herbs and any kind of chili peppers that you happen to have at hand.

Moong dal
Serves 2.

Moong dal (green gram) is easy to digest and very cooling to the body, making it suitable for the coming summer days.

~As Moong dal cooks very quickly we don’t have to soak it before hand like we do for other dals.


Oil – 1 tbsp
(Yellow split lentils) Moong dal - ½ cup
Water - 2 cups
Small onion – 1 (thinly sliced, lengthwise)
Green chilies – 2 (slit lengthwise)
Grated ginger - 1 tsp
Turmeric - a pinch
Salt - ½ tbsp (adjust according to taste)
Chili powder – 1 tsp
Lime juice from half a lime

for seasoning

ghee or oil - 1 tsp
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Red chilies - 1 (break into pieces)
Curry leaves - 5
Asafetida (hing) - a pinch (optional)

Check for any tiny stones or twigs in the dal.

Heat a frying pan. Add Moong dal and dry roast on low flame until the lentils turn pink and begin to give out a sweet scent.

before and after

(This step is not mandatory but I find that it removes the raw smell and makes the dal more flavorful)

Take water in a pan and add roasted dal. Cover the pan with a lid but leave it slightly ajar for the steam to escape. This avoids boiling water from spilling over.

Cook it on medium heat until soft. If necessary, add more water.

Mash it for a velvety smooth consistency (if you like some texture, you can leave it as it is).
Set aside.

In a small sauce pan, heat oil. Add onions, green chilies, grated ginger, turmeric, salt.

Sauté the onions until they are tender and translucent. Add dal.
If the dal is too thick, add ½ cup of water. Stir well.

Continue to simmer for 10 mins.

Sprinkle chili powder. Add chopped cilantro and remove from heat.

Stir in lime juice.

~Dal thickens some more even after we turn off the heat. So, it’s better to leave it slightly runny.

Seasoning the dal

Take a small frying pan and heat oil.

Add red chili. When its color is slightly beginning to deepen add mustard seeds and cumin seeds. After a min. or so, the mustard seeds will begin to pop and splutter.

Then add curry leaves and hing. Remove from heat right away. Do not let the seeds burn or brown too much as they turn bitter.

Now pour the seasoning over cooked dal.
Mix well.

Serve with rice ( ' u ' )

Add ½ cup of chopped tomatoes after the onions are tender and sauté them until soft.
Then add dal and proceed as before (you can skip lime juice here).

~Since we infuse the oil with spices, a neutral flavored oil like vegetable oil works well with Indian recipes.

~Turmeric tends to leave stains on clothes. Please be careful while handling it.

~We add asafetida in dals to aid in digestion. It has a pungent smell which can be overpowering. So, don't add more than a pinch.

~Red or green chilies are added to give heat to the dish. As they are incredibly hot, don’t bite into them. Leave them on the side.

Please feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions. I'm more than happy to clarify (* u *)

Happy cooking!

p.s. My friend Thanu is from Bangalore and she shares recipes from her home town at Thanu’s kitchen along with the ones she’s been collecting over the years.
I had the pleasure of savoring mouthwatering concoctions that Thanu whips up in her ‘real’ kitchen and each time I end up completely stuffed and plonk down on her couch with droopy eyes ^ . ^


Stephanie said...

Mouth watering right at this very moment. YUM. Thank you so much for sharing. I love the special tips and hints too. I have not been able to find asafetida nor do I find fresh curry leaves. I'll be searching--might find the fresh curry leaves at Whole Foods next time I'm up in that area.

Lily Boot said...

yum! My husband is a cumin fiend so he will love the rice and I love dals, especially with spinach ... definitely on the menu for the weekend. And what a great post - I love the step by step directions - and am really interest that you prepare the flavourings separately. Can't wait to try.

Thanu said...

You have really done a wonderful job describing every detail of the process Pratima.These are indeed what I would call comfort food.Even beginners cannot fail if they follow your simple pictorial. Thank you for taking all the efforts to illustrate things so beautifully.

Martha said...

Pratima -- I cannot believe you did this! The instructions are so clear and the photos are amazing. I am just in awe and cannot wait to try these recipes. I don't think I will have any trouble finding the ingredients here in the Seattle area. Just a great job, and thank you for going to all this trouble to share your wonderful food with all of us.

Candace said...

Oh Pratima, what a wonderful post. I can almost smell the aromas! Mr. Squash is delighted to hear of someone else who loves a spicy pickle, too! His favorite is mango pickle! I think I will be making dal for sure in the next week or so! And I must say your photos are beautiful!

sewplay said...

Oh Pratima, I hadn't been checking- I'm trying these tomorrow! Your instructions are wonderful and photos fantastic. I didn't even realize that dal meant dried peas! THANKS. Kathy