Indian delights: Sweet and sour toor dal

November 3, 2013

Sweet and Sour Toor Dal

Rounding out our Indian meal, we definitely cannot forget to include a dal, or lentil dish, on our plate. Dal is a staple at the South Indian table, bringing a good dose of digestible protein to the vegetarian cuisine. While I’m sure there are millions upon millions of recipes and variations for dal – just the types of lentils alone: toor dal, urid dal, moong dal, masoor dal, and I could go on and on and on, not to mention that every cook has their own unique spice blend – I decided to share this recipe for a sweet and sour toor dal because I found it to be rather unique. When I say sweet and sour, I don’t mean like your local Chinese joint’s chicken; it’s a much more subtle flavor. While I made a special trip to the Indian grocery to pick up kokum, an acidic, dried fruit, upon opening the package it immediately reminded me of pomegranate, which makes a nice substitute in this recipe if you don’t have a local Indian grocer to frequent.

And that’s how this South Indian meal becomes complete. A couple of vegetarian dishes like poriyal, bhindi masala, green bean bhaji, or some masala potatoes, basmati rice, a bit of dal, a little Indian pickle (which you can buy, or I might post my favorite mango pickle here soon) and maybe some raita or yogurt to cool things down, and you have a veritable feast!

Sweet and sour toor dal
Serves 8

18 ounces toor dal (yellow lentils)
5 pieces of kokum or 1 1/2 teaspoons pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
10 curry leaves (if you don’t have access to curry leaves, omit – do not use curry powder which is not the same)
7 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
5 thai chiles, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
14 ounce can chopped tomatoes
1/2 ounce jaggery or 1/4 ounce molasses
1/4 to 1/2 cup cilantro leaves (to personal taste), chopped
Salt, to taste

Soak the lentils in cold water for 2 hours. Soak the kokum, if using, for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse the kokum, removing any seeds, and drain the lentils. Place both in a heavy based sauce pan with 4 cups of water (plus pomegranate juice if you are substituting for kokum). Bring to a boil, season with salt (about 1/2 tablespoon), then simmer for about 40 minutes, until the lentils feel soft when pressed between the thumb and index finger.

Heat the oil in a skillet over low heat. Add the mustard seeds and allow to pop. Add the cumin, coriander, curry leaves, cloves, cinnamon, chili, and turmeric, and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the tomato is soft and can be broken up easily. Add the jaggery, then pour the spicy mixture into the simmering lentils. Season with salt, to taste, and add half the cilantro leaves. Cook for at least 10 minutes, letting the flavors marry. Garnish with remaining cilantro leaves.

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