Moong Dal (Lentils)
Lentils otherwise known as “dal” by much of India, is such a staple part of the Indian diet. Like I mentioned in my last post, a standard vegetarian Indian meal consists of Dal (lentils), Subzi (vegetable dish), Rice, Roti (Indian Flat bread), and Raita (Indian Yogurt with fresh vegetables). Dal is pronounced “the-all”. As much as it is a staple, unless you are comfortable with a pressure cooker, it could be difficult and/or time-consuming to make. This particular dal, Moong Dal, is one of the few dal’s you actually do not need a pressure cooker for, but it will cook much faster with one. This recipe that I have for you uses a pressure cooker. If you have never used a pressure cooker before I would definitely recommend getting one. It may be a little bit scary at first, because technically if you do not use it correctly it could, for lack of a better word, explode. At least that’s what my fear always was. But now that I have used a pressure cooker a few dozen times, the fear has passed for the most part! Don’t worry, I break it down for you step by step further down on this post so you don’t need to be scared either!
Now, genetically, I may look exactly like the younger female version of my father, but I actually have more in common with my mother between the 2 of them. And one of the things that I noticed that I have very much in common with her, as I got older, and got married, is my LOVE of dal. Growing up, my mom frequently used to eat dal, rice, and achaar (spicy pickled vegetable condiment) for lunch. I on the other hand always wanted a sandwich or pizza or something along those lines. But after getting married, my taste buds have miraculously changed, and my cravings for dal are the real deal. haha. Unfortunately for me, I happened to marry the one Indian man on this planet that for some reason HATES dal. Now I love my husband, he is amazing in so many ways, but I think if there is just one thing I would wish to change about him it is this. I cannot begin to explain to you how much i wish he liked dal. It’s not like he has not had it before, or that for some reason he just hates my dal. I think in fact, he’s never even tried my dal. This is just his thing, since he was little. His entire family knows it, and now so does mine. It makes absolutely no sense to me. The reason I wish he liked dal is that cooking dinners would be so much easier! Not that he is a difficult person to cook for at all, he’s actually pretty flexible and not very picky at all, thankfully. On lazy nights sometimes I daydream about being able to just soak and cook some rice and make enough dal to last for a few meals. Dal is so incredibly healthy for you, it’s the kind of food you do not have to feel guilty about eating, so knowing that I have something super healthy in the fridge to feed both me and my husband especially when i don’t feel like cooking is a nice fantasy for me. Unfortunately my fate had different plans for my future. Although just because my husband does not like dal, does not mean I do not make it! These days I just live that same dream minus my husband, his loss. Some weeks I’ll just make a big batch and eat it through the week for lunch, since he’s not home anyways during that time.
Now on the actual recipe, like I mentioned earlier, moong dal is one of the few dals that you can cook without a pressure cooker, but it’s a lot easier and faster if you do use one. The first pressure cooker that was given to me after I got married was from my husbands mother, a small 2 liter pressure cooker (which is just about 2 quarts) from India that cooks just enough for 2 people, which at the time was the perfect size for me. Last year when I moved to Florida and I really started getting into cooking Indian food, I realized that if I was going to have guests, I needed a bigger one. That’s where my mom came in. She bought me a bigger 4 qt pressure cooker that can handle enough for a dinner party. This the link for that pressure cooker: Presto 01341 4-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker. Before I received the second one I just used the verbal advice of both my mother and my husbands mother to use the pressure cooker, but when I received the bigger one from my mom, it came in the mail with an instruction manual. In the instruction manual the directions specifically say not to cook lentils in it. I ignored this, and did anyways since that was the reason why I wanted the pressure cooker in the first place. Unfortunately, every single time I cooked them, whenever the pressure built up, and it was time for the pressure cooker to whistle, starchy water would come out of the whistle hole, and get EVERYWHERE. My entire glass-top stove was covered in the dal water in a matter of moments, every single time, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it in that moment. Even though I figured out the problem, to this day, I still stand by the pressure cooker with triple folded paper towels in both my hands ready to react immediately as soon as it starts whistling, just incase. After I got my new pressure cooker and read through the manual, I realized that this was probably why they said not to cook lentils in it. Of course soon after I realized this was not how a pressure cooker was supposed to be, naturally, I called my mom, and asked her why this kept happening. She told me that the reason the water explodes out of the whistle hole is most likely due to the starch that is naturally present on the dal. And that the only way to avoid the situation is to properly wash all the starch off of the dal. The way my mom does it, is to wash the dal until the water is clear, and then boil it in water for 5 minutes, and then rinse it AGAIN. I tried this a few times, and it did reduce the mess, but it didn’t quite eliminate it; it’s possible I was just doing it wrong. Regardless, thanks to that insight, I did find a way that worked for me. So keep in mind, if you are going to cook any dal (lentil) in the pressure cooker, make sure you get rid of as much starch as possible before cooking it, to avoid a big mess. This is the moong dal that I use to make my dal: Swad Moong Dal Beans, Split, 4 Pound.
Once all the starch has been removed from the dal, then comes the fun and equally scary part, pressure cooking it. A few notes before you close your pressure cooker. Make sure the rubber seal on the inside of the lid is placed correctly, this is what creates the airtight seal that allows the pressure cooker to build up, so it is important that is correctly positioned. Also, before you close the lid, make sure that the pressure valve is loose and can move up and down freely. Sometimes when you use the pressure cooker, some starchy water or whatever you are cooking in the pressure cooker can get stuck inside the valve and cause it to jam. It is very, very bad if that happens. The pressure cooker I used for this particular dal is the small one that my husbands mom got for me from India. The valve on this one is located right next to the steam vent and pressure regulator on top of the lid. In the bigger pressure cooker that my mom bought for me, the pressure valve is also located on the lid, but in an area that looks like it is part of the handle for the pot. You will have to see for yourself where this is located on your own pressure cooker. When the pressure builds up properly inside of the pressure cooker, this valve will raise, you will know when the pressure cooker has released all of the pressure and it is safe to open when this valve drops back down. Another thing to keep in mind, is that depending on what brand pressure cooker you have and where you bought it from, they all work a little bit differently. For example, you determine the appropriate time for cooking whatever is inside the pressure cooker I have from India by the number of whistles. This pressure cooker releases short whistles when the pressure builds up, so all you have to do is count the whistles until you have reached the appropriate number for whatever you are making. Alternatively, the bigger pressure cooker I have that is from the US, is measured by the length of the whistle. This one only whistles once, and will continue to whistle until you remove it from the heat. So once it starts whistling you set a timer for a predetermined length of time. The only way to really know what the best time or number of whistles is appropriate for what you are making is through trial and error. Softer dal’s like moong dal require shorter times and fewer whistles, when beans like kidney beans, require many whistles and much longer times. It also depends on what your texture preference is regarding the dal. Some people like their dal to still hold its shape nicely, while some people like their dal to be a little bit more on the mushy side. The way I have cooked this dal here, is to help keep the shape better, this one only cooked for one whistle or the equivalent of 2 minutes. Ironically I actually personally prefer it a little softer, if I were to make it again, I would probably cook it for 2 whistles, I just had something come up after the first whistle and could not stand by the stove any longer, so I removed it from the heat and let the pressure release naturally.
As you can see in one of the last images in my tutorial, there was a little big of a mess that developed on the lid around the steam vent, but can you imagine what it would have been like if this had spread all across my stove-top? That is why it is important to wash the dal correctly. Luckily I just had a tiny bit of dal water come out when it whistled that stayed on the lid, so it was easy to clean up.
After the dal has been properly cooked in the pressure cooker, it is now ready to finished with seasoning and fresh flavors. The next step-by-step process can really be applied to any lentil, it is more like a solid flavor base. When I was making the tutorial below I completely forgot about the curry leaves, they are not mandatory, but if you do have access to them (you can buy fresh or dried ones from any South Asian grocery store, I grow a small tree on the patio at my house) they provide a wonderful flavor profile to the dal. I do mention at which point you can add them if you choose to.
I also wanted to take a second to introduce you to my indian spice container otherwise known as a “masala dabba”. I think you would be hard pressed to find an Indian person who does not have one of these in their homes. They don’t always have a clear top, it’s more common to have a solid steel lid. Depending on where you are from in India, it will contain different spices, but I have labeled for you what my “staples” are. I actually had my mom fill it up the first time before I started using it. This masala dabba is always placed directly to the right of my stove. This particular one, is a smaller version of what most people have in their homes, my Masi (aunt) actually got this for me from World Market when I first got married. I love its small size because it fits nicely and permanently on my countertop. I keep mason jars of my indian spices in my pantry and refill this often. I also keep other indian spices that I don’t use as often in jars in my pantry. I have an entire shelf devoted to all of my indian spices and ingredients. I also have a larger sized version of this dabba (container) that belonged to my husbands mother, but I don’t have a very large kitchen, so it will have to wait until I move into a house with a larger kitchen to be used properly. This is a link for a similar one sold on Amazon:Tabakh Stainless Steel Masala Dabba/Spice Container Box with 7 Spoons – Clear Lid. Anyways, now that you have officially been introduced =), you will be seeing a lot more of this guy whenever I post any indian dishes. =) If you have a South Indian grocery store near you, you will easily be able to find all of these spices and more available there. But if you happen to live an area where there the closest one is hours away, then you can also easily find these spices online. If you plan to cook Indian food, it is imperative that you keep these spices in your pantry, these are all really important ingredients that when missing, you can easily notice. Here are some links for the spices that I keep in my masala dubba from the top going clockwise: Swad Indian Spice Turmeric Haldi Powder, 14 Ounce, Cumin Seeds (Jeera Whole) 7oz by Spicy World, Coriander Powder Spice, Swad : Seeds, Mustard, 7 OZ, Indian Spice Swad Chili Powder Red (Regular) 7oz-, Swad Spice Garam Masala Powder, 7 Ounce, and then of course in the center, I use Iodized Sea Salt, which you can find at any local grocery store. I also used dried indian chili pepper in this recipe, and I tend to use it in almost all of my Indian cooking, here is a link for that also: Swad Whole Red Dried Chillies 3.5oz., 100 Grams/ Indian Groceries.
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do! This is a really great and healthy way to get protein in your diet. You can also cook a larger batch of this in the beginning of the week and eat it throughout for a healthy meal. Just heat it in the microwave or on the stove top as if you would any soup =). This is best served with Perfect Basmati Rice with Jeera (Cumin). =) I hope you will give this recipe a try! And if you do let me know in the comments! =)
- *1/2 cup - Dry Moong Dal(lentils)
- *1 1/4-1/2 cups - water
- *1/4 teaspoon - salt
- *1/4 teaspoon - tumeric
- *1/8 teaspoon - red chili powder
- *1 Tablespoon - Cooking Olive Oil (or any other neutral cooking oil)
- *3/4 teaspoon - Mustard Seeds
- *1/2 teaspoon - Jeera (Cumin Seeds)
- *Pinch - Hing (Asafoetida)
- *1/4 teaspoon - Haldi (Tumeric)
- *1 heaping teaspoon - Dhaniya Powder (Coriander Powder)
- *1/3 teaspoon - Salt (or to taste)
- *1/2 - Medium Tomato
- *1 tablespoon - Ginger - (One slice - see blog picture)
- *1 small clove - Garlic
- *1 - dried red chili (If you don't like spicy then you can use half of 1 dried red chili)
- *1 - Fresh Green Indian Chili Pepper (you can omit this if you do not like spicy, or substitute it with a thai chili pepper)
- *1 Stem of Curry Leaves (optional)
- *2 cups - Water
- *Pad of Butter (optional)
- Measure out the appropriate amount of lentils, and wash properly according to tutorial on the blog.
- Put properly washed lentils in the pressure cooker and add water, salt, tumeric, and chili powder.
- Double check that valve is not jammed in the pressure cooker lid. Close pressure cooker making sure that it seals properly, and turn the heat onto medium, once the pressure valve pops up, you can lower the heat to medium-low.
- Allow the pressure cooker to either whistle 1-3 times or for 2-4 minutes depending on which pressure cooker you have and depending on how soft you prefer your lentils.
- After whistling for the given amount of times or length of time, remove the pressure cooker from the heat and allow it to release pressure naturally. Once the pressure valve has dropped, you can then open the pressure cooker.
- While the pressure cooker is releasing the pressure, you can start preparing the rest of the dal
- Dice up half of a medium sized tomato into small pieces.
- Mash your garlic and ginger with a mortar and pestle (if you do not have one, you can also just chop them up really fine)
- If you like medium spicy food, slice a slit through the fresh green indian chili pepper leaving the pepper in tact while exposing the seeds. If you like very spicy food, then you can also crush the chili pepper with the ginger and garlic.
- Heat oil on medium heat on the stove in a medium sized or 2 quart pot.
- Once the oil gets glossy, add mustard seeds and place lid on pot. Allow the mustard seeds to pop.
- Once you hear the mustard seeds popping reduce the heat to medium-low and then you can add jeera (cumin), the dried red chili pepper, the crushed ginger and garlic, the fresh green chili pepper and curry leaves if you are using them. Allow this to cook for a minute until it becomes fragrant, and check to see that the dal has finished releasing the pressure.
- After the tadka (tempering) has become fragrant, add the pinch of hing (Asafoetida), dhaniya powder (coriander powder), chili powder and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Add the dal (lentils) from the pressure cooker to the spice mixture. Bring to a boil and add salt, chopped tomatoes, and additional water.
- Cook for 15-20 minutes to allow flavors to fully incorporate.
- Serve topped with some butter (optional) and Enjoy =)
- *See Blog Post for step by step instructions with pictures
- *Dal also tastes wonderful leftover, once the flavors have time to develop in the fridge, it becomes even more delicious.
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