Maharashtrian cuisine is based upon a delicate balance of flavors and tastes. Most dishes combine sweet, sour and spicy tastes and a few may also contain a subtle bitter component. Maharashtrian dal made with tamarind and jaggery is a wonderful example of this delicious combination of tastes and precise balance of flavors.
Many of you may be unfamiliar with fenugreek, but it is quite common in Indian cooking. Fenugreek is used as both an herb (fresh fenugreek leaves) and also as a spice (fenugreek seeds). The leaves have a wonderful and unique flavor. Known as “methi” in India, these small leaves have a very slight bitter flavor and a fragrant aroma. The seeds are used in the preparation of Indian pickles, spice mixtures (masalas) and curry pastes. Fenugreek seeds are also known to aid in the digestion process. Fresh fenugreek or methi leaves are available in most Indian grocery stores. They are also available in a dried form (known as Kasuri methi) and can also be found in the frozen section.
The tamarind tree is native to India. It produces a large brown fruit or pod that contains the tamarind pulp. The use of tamarind (pulp) is very common in Indian food, especially in South Indian cuisine. It imparts a unique sweet, sour and tangy flavor that is absolutely delicious. Tamarind pulp has many health benefits and aids in digestion. It is high in both vitamins B and C and also calcium. Tamarind pulp is easily available in any Indian grocery store in many forms such as tamarind powder, tamarind concentrate and even dried tamarind pulp. If you are unable to find tamarind pulp, you can use fresh lemon juice as a substitute.
Jaggery is a type of unrefined sugar that comes from either the sugarcane tree or the date palm tree. In India, it is known as gul or gur. It is available in block form in most Indian or Asian grocery stores. If you are unable to find jaggery, you can substitute dark brown sugar.
MEHTHI CHI AMTI (Fenugreek Leaves Dal)
1½ cups chana dal (skinned & split Bengal gram dal)
½ tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
4-6 fresh curry leaves
3-4 small green Thai chilies, slit in half lengthwise, to taste
pinch of asafetida (hing)
½ tsp turmeric (haldi)
½ tsp red chili powder, to taste
2 tsp kala or goda masala (you may use garam masala as a substitute)
salt & pepper, to taste
3 cups fenugreek leaves (methi), finely chopped
1 tsp tamarind concentrate or paste
½ tsp jaggery (gul), to taste
1 tbsp oil (vegetable or canola)
¼ cup freshly grated coconut for garnish
freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
In a large pot, combine the chana dal with enough water to cover by at least 2 inches. Bring to a good boil, cover & let simmer for about 30-45 minutes or until done. The dal should be completely tender but not mushy. Set aside and let cool until needed. Alternatively, you could also make the chana dal in a pressure cooker.
Meanwhile in a saucepan on medium high heat, add the oil. When hot, carefully add the black mustard seeds. When the splattering stops, reduce the heat and add the cumin seeds along with the curry leaves, green chilies and the asafetida. Next, add in the spices (turmeric, red chili powder, kala masala, salt & pepper). Stir well & let cook for a few minutes. Then carefully add the cooked dal along with any cooking water. Mix well to combine all of the ingredients. If the dal is a bit too thick, add a little water as needed. The consistency should not be too thick or too watery. Then, using the back of a large spoon or ladle, slightly mash the dal against the sides of the pot. This will give you a nice creamy consistency.
Stir well to combine and add the fenugreek leaves, tamarind & jaggery. Reduce the heat to low, bring to a gentle boil & let simmer for 8-10 minutes until all the flavors have mingled. Garnish with freshly grated coconut & freshly chopped cilantro leaves, serve with fresh chapatis & Basmati rice.
Try adding a little freshly chopped garlic to the hot oil along with the green chilies, curry leaves and asafetida. Try adding some desiccated coconut to the dal; dry roast the coconut first in a dry skillet and then add it to the dal during the cooking process along with the tamarind and jaggery.