If tadka dal is anything to go by Bengali Cholar Dal takes it a notch higher. Traditionally eaten during celebrations and one of the first times I sampled some was at a Bengali puja (prayer). Most people would agree that Cholar Dal must be eaten with Luchis or Puris; deep fried puffed golden brown bread to scoop up this delicious thick dal.
Bengali community in general are hugely passionate about their food; something that’s evident not just in conversation but also at occasions, while they entertain, cook for family and friends. High on the list of favorites among them include fish, meat and Indian sweets. Also a host of vegetarian dishes. To me the vibrancy of the culture, city, street stalls and markets go hand in hand with the food from this region.
Some of my favourite dishes include Maach Bhaja, Macher chop, Jhol, Bengali Shukto, Chingri Malai and Bhapa Ilish to name a few. When it comes to desserts and sweet meats there is a delectable variety; Sandesh, Rasogollas, Payesh and Bhapa Doi are a must try. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of sampling some amazing home cooked Bengali food. An invitation for a meal to a Bengali household or wedding is something I would never turn down!
A bowl of warm Cholar or Chana Dal is the perfect combination of spice, sweet and creamy goodness. Made with a base of Bengal gram/ Chana dal; the addition of coconut and raisins lifts the flavours in this lentil curry. Grinding the spices and adding them at the end lends the warmth to the dish from the cardamom and cinnamon. I have used pungent mustard oil for that addition of flavour but even vegetable oil works well.
Add the lentils and water to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat stirring often. Simmer and add the cloves, turmeric, salt & sugar. Continue cooking for a further hour and 15 minutes until the dal is soft stirring often making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat off and mash roughly with a potato masher or back of a fork.
To make the ground spice mix; heat a frying pan over a low flame. Break the cinnamon stick and chillies to smaller pieces. Add the cardamom seeds along with the cinnamon and red chillies to the pan. Keep the heat on low giving the pan a few shakes every couple of minutes. Roast the spices for 7-8 minutes. Cool slightly and tip it in a coffee grinder to make a fine powder. Set aside.
In a heavy bottom non stick pan heat the oil over medium flame; add the bay leaf and cumin seeds cooking until they sizzle for a few seconds. Now add the green chillies and stir for 2-3 seconds. Add the coconut frying for a minute or so until it start to turn light brown
Slowly pour in the cooked chana dal stirring well. Bring it to a boil, add the raisins and the ground spice powder. Simmer on a low heat cooking for 10 minutes with a lid on. Stir a few times as it simmers making sure it doesnt stick to the bottom of the pan. Check seasoning and garnish with fresh coriander. Serve parathas, luchis or steamed rice