A plate with dal, roti, egg curry and pan fried sweet potatoes

Even Fuller Indian Dinner with Dal-Roti

I wasn’t plannin’ on bloggin’ today. But things happen. Like lentils. And my Indian dinner got even “fuller”. And I thought it would be a shame to deprive you. The husband came home last evening still stuffed from his lunchtime pizza. And they say Indian food is heavy. Did I say this already? OK, sorry but sometimes I just have to repeat myself, because the propaganda machine against Indian food is that insidious…and I have recently found my voice.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes rotis. So since the husband underwhelmed with his dinner appetite, I had a few rotis left over. I also had one egg but hardly any sauce because someone who shall remain unnamed called it “marmalade” and finished it all. So I needed something to wet the rotis with. Dal, as North-Indians call lentils, and roti is a classic combination. In North Indian speak, if you have had your “dal-roti” then everything is all right in your world. Dal-roti is the measure of a person’s well-being. Like in English it is bread and butter. So you get a job to get your dal-roti. Unless of courseĀ  you are an aspirant to the upper-class, in which case you get a job that will buy you that new iPhone and the fancy gizmo-filledĀ  BMW that you can’t even drive on the pot-hole filled roads. In that case, you do not eat dal-roti. No, you eat minestrone soup and dip some bread-sticks into it.

OK, back to the dal. I made chana dal or “cholar dal” as Bengalis say. If you go to an Indian/Bangladeshi/Asian store, chances are you will encounter bags of this lentil marked as “chana dal” or “channa dhal” or some such thing. Otherwise, it might be marked as “split Bengal gram”. Be sure to buy the skinned variety (that is, without skin). This lentil needs much more time to cook than red lentils. I normally use a pressure cooker to cut down on cooking time, but you might achieve the same result by soaking your lentils overnight in water. In spite of its long cooking time, cholar dal is considered a festive dal in Bengali cuisine. Because we almost never cook it without adding “garam moshla” or “garam masala” which means “warm spices”, namely, cardamom and cinnamon. And if we want to impress the guests, we also add pieces of coconut browned in some ghee and even some raisins. Or sometimes with onion, garlic and eggs, or even some meat. Yep, the possibilities are endless when you want to impress guests.

But if you have detected a pattern in my madness by now, you will have guessed that I did not make it the way I have just described. I had no fresh coconut at hand. Plus, I tend to keep cardamom only for specific kinds of dishes. Also I am not a fan of raisins in lentils. And meat and I have an on and off relationship. Have I justified my minimalist recipe enough? I think so.

Recipe: Cholar dal or chana dal with ginger and cinnamon

Serves 2


1/2 cup chana dal or split and skinned Bengal gram
2 cups of water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp grated ginger
One very small (like 2 cm) piece of cinnamon.
A generous pinch of sugar
1 tsp of ghee (recipe coming up)

1. Add the lentils, water, ginger and cinnamon into a large pot or your pressure cooker.
2. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the lentils are falling apart. In a pressure cooker it takes 15-20 minutes.
3. Add the ghee and the sugar and mix well, breaking down the lentils a bit. Done!

You can serve this lentil dish with any bread or even rice.

Vegans, do not let the addition of ghee put you off this dish. Add any fat/oil that you like.

My dinner plate

Clockwise from left – cholar dal, pan-fried American sweet potato, egg-curry, arugula salad, left-over roti reheated in the microwave oven for 20 seconds. In the bowl is some potatoes mashed with the brown bits left over from a session of ghee making. It is yummy! Unleavened bread AND potatoes, you say? That’s right, we don’t care what the rest of the world says.