It’s that paradoxical time of the year again when I see colors and my heart sinks. I love colors but when I see the leaves changing color and their hue shifting from vibrant green to orange-yellow-reddish, I feel sad. I know that soon it will be pitch dark before I leave head out for home from the lab. Soon, 6pm will look like midnight and the days will keep getting shorter and shorter. Another clear indicator of the season change which never fails to show up right on time is my sore throat. I get it every year twice during the ‘season change’. Do I need to say that I hate it? Probably not. I think I need to eat more protein to boost my immune system so that I can whack those pesky seasonal cold viruses from my system. To do so, I made musur daal (red lentils) to be better off for the next season change. Better late than never.
In bygone days, Bengali Hindu girls used to get married very early in their life, most often to an older person, and I mean very, very old. Every parent wanted to marry their daughter to one of the surviving Kulin Brahmins (the highest category of Brahmins). It didn’t matter even if the groom was on his death bed. Once the old husband died, their respective wives were still very young and fertile. Society back then had very strict rules for the widows. They were not allowed to eat any animal protein, no fish, meat, egg, nothing. Believe it or not, they were not even allowed to eat onion or garlic due to the ‘passion-arousing’ nature of these foods and also musur daal due to its high protein content. The purpose was to make them weak so that they don’t live very long and do not have any sexual urges. All three are still considered to be non-vegetarian to a middle class Bengali household! My mom will eat mung dal every Saturday because she eats vegetarian foods only on that day (no onion and garlic please). I’ve tried explaining it to her but she says “ek din mung daal khele ki hoy?” (What happens if you eat mung daal one day?). I was not very fond of vegetables when I was very young, so Saturdays were pathetic to me. Ironically, my husband and I eat mostly vegetarian during the week now.
Musur daal/red lentils: 1 Cup
Onion: 1/2 of a small onion, chopped
Tomato: 1 medium
Methi/Fenugreek seeds: 3/4 tbsp
Green chili: 2-3 nos.
Dried red chili: 2 nos.
Mustard oil: 1/2 tbsp
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp.
Water: 4 cups (more if you need to)
Salt to taste
Cilantro leaves: A handful chopped
- Boil water and add the daal. Let it come to a boil and take off the scum.
- Add turmeric and let it boil for several more minutes.
- Once the daal is cooked, give it a good stir with a wooden stirrer or with a spoon.
- Add chopped tomato, let them cook a little bit and then mash them with the back of the spoon.
- Add salt and two slit green chilis. Heat up the mustard oil to smoking, turn the heat to medium low and then add the methi seeds. Be very careful, if you burn the methi, they will render a very bitter taste.
- Once they give off a nice aroma, add two dried red chilis.
- After the chilis change color, add the chopped onion. Sauté for few minutes and then add the daal. Cover the pot immediately. Let the daal cook on medium heat for 5 more minutes, uncover and check for salt.
- Add chopped cilantro and turn off the heat. You musur daal is ready and you can serve it with hot steaming rice and crispy alu bhaja/(fried slivered potatoes). My husband is already drooling, so I need to stop.
Variation: My mom uses whole mustard seeds as tadka and rest is the same. My MIL doesn’t use tomatoes but the rest is the same. Isn’t it funny how every mom has their own recipes even for a simple daal?
The recipe I shared above is mainly my mother’s but I tweaked it a little bit. The idea of the phoron/tadka is from my mother-in-law (MIL) and rest is from my mother. Their individual variations are at the bottom of the recipe.