‘Bhaja muger dal’. When I first read the name of the dish I wanted to repeat the words again and again. Bengali, spokenby the people of Bengal in India is a very lyrical, melodious language, bhaja muger dal is a melodius tweet. I made muger dal today for the love of the language, and all the while I found myself unconsciously siphoning thoughts that have been relegated to a deep pensieve in my mind.
My mother reminisces a lot of the one year she spent in Kolkata. She tells me that we lived near the famous Kali temple. She speaks of eating delicious samosas served in large cups made from leaves, of puchkas (golgappas / panipuri), of rasgullas served in kulhads (small earthen pot shaped cups) and of course of mishti doi (sweetened thick yogurt). Surprisingly, my mother never mentioned ‘bhaja muger dal’, and when I read the recipe, I found it very similar to the mung dal she makes. I always knew it as comfort food for the sick. I remember having it when one of us would catch cold, or had fever. Mung beans are said to be very light as compared to other lentils and more easily digestible. Probably that’s why it largely remained comfort food.
Split mung beans are quick cooking and will easily turn into a mush. This I am guessing is one of the reasons why moong dal is always roasted to a light brown colour before cooking. Roasting makes the lentils very aromatic. A cup of moong dal takes about 8-10 minutes on low heat to turn aromatic. The flavour is nutty. Roasted moong helps the lentils retain some structure even when cooked. Hence the word ‘bhaja’ in the recipe. Bhaja means roasted. One must also be aware that a cup of mung gives a lot of cooked dal, nearly three times.
I hopped over to Sharmila’s blog, ‘Kichu Khonn‘ for the recipe. Sharmila’s site is the first Bong blogger site I visited and she has some lovely Bengali recipes on her blog. The recipe is very much like my mother’s except that mom never used mustard oil in her cooking. I think mustard oil enhances the taste of any dal. I used organic dal and cold pressed oil as always.
Recipe: Bhaja Muger Dal – Roasted mung lentil soup
Yield : Serves 4-5 soup bowlfuls depending on consistency
Split, husked mung / Moong dhuli – 1 cup.
(Roast in a wok or skillet till aromatic, and lightly browned, about 8-10 mins on low( flame and set aside)
Green chillies, chopped – 1
Ginger, finely chopped – 1 inch
Dry red chillies – 3, halved
Mustard oil (I use cold pressed) / Rai ka tel – 2 tsps.
Cumin seeds / jeera – 1 tsp.
Turmeric powder / haldi – 1/8 tsp.
Red chilli powder – 1/8 tsp. to balance the heat, optional
Rock salt to taste
Water to cook dal
Cover dal with enough water and cook till the lentils are soft. I used a pressure cooker as I cooked rice and dal at the same time. Just three whistles.
Heat oil and when hot enough, add cumin seeds to splutter. Add dry red chillies and green chillies, frying till the red chillies turn almost black.
Add cooked dal, hot water to thin it to desired consistency and stir. I do not like mushy dal, so my dals have a bit of texture always.
Balance with a bit of turmeric and salt. Taste and add red chilli powder, only if necessary. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and serve hot with rice and a dry stir-fry or ‘bhaja’. I served with brown rice and a simple okra stir-fry.
My mother made exactly the same, but she would use sunflower oil, asafoetida and curry leaves in the seasoning along with the above.