In my pre-teen years, food mentions in books would send my senses into overdrive visualizing them. The less familiar the food, the more vivid the imagined details. "Hot buttered scones", said Enid Blyton, and I pictured a mildly sweet nimki-like snack twisted into conical shape, dripping with melted butter. "Lemonade" to my mind was a cross between nimbu pani and Limca. "Red radishes" were slender, graceful and blood red, more alluring than the humble white we had access to.
Reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake, I realised I am not much changed today. Ashima makes "thick channa dal with swollen brown raisins" for her party. What can that be like? Now I don’t just imagine, I cook my interpretation of it :)
After a few trials and errors, I’ve settled on this recipe of chana dal with raisins. Hope you enjoy my take on it.
- Chana dal* (Bengal gram) – 1 cup
- Turmeric powder – a pinch
- Salt – 1/2 teaspoon (adjust to taste)
- Jaggery – 1/2 teaspoon (adjust to taste)
- Raisins – 1/3 cup
- Green chili – 1
- Cumin powder – 1 teaspoon
- Dry red chili – 1
- Cardamom – 2 pods
- Cinnamon – 1-inch stick
- Cloves – 2
- Nigella seeds – 1 teaspoon
- Ghee – 1 teaspoon
- Mustard oil – 2 teaspoons
- Coriander leaves – for garnishing
Soak chana dal in 3 cups of water, for five hours or more.
Drain, wash and cook the dal in a pressure cooker with 3 cups of water and turmeric powder. Cook till one whistle on high flame, then another four whistles on low flame. Let the pressure release naturally. [If boiling chana dal without a pressure cooker, use a deep open pan with a lot more water, and cook the dal till al dente.]
In the picture above: Boiled chana dal, cumin powder, nigella seeds, cinnamon stick, cardamon and cloves, raisins, dry red chili, green chili.
When done, the chana dal pieces should be soft but retain their shape. Drain most of the water from the dal [don't throw it away, use it for making rasam or kneading chapati dough]. Add raisins to the pot of boiled dal while you prepare for the next step – adding raisins to the hot dal makes them absorb the liquid, homogenize in taste and swell up.
Chop green chili finely. Pound dry red chili into small pieces.
Heat two teaspoons of mustard oil in a kadhai/wok till smoking point. Set the heat to low and add nigella seeds, cloves, whole cardamom pods, dry red chili pieces. As soon as the red chili pieces turn color (within 10 seconds), add chopped green chilies.
Follow immediately after with cumin powder, boiled chana dal and raisins. Add salt and jaggery to taste. Stir gently to coat chana dal with all the spices. Cook covered on low flame for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Tadka variations: include a bay leaf along with the cloves and cardamom; replace nigella seeds with panch phoron.
*Many recipes online describe chana dal as split pigeon peas. They look alike but they are NOT the same! Split pigeon peas is toor dal. Chana dal is Bengal gram, closer in taste to chickpeas (garbanzo beans).