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.
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.
MAHARASHTRIAN DAL WITH TAMARIND & JAGGERY (Chincha ani Goola chi Amti)
2 cups toor dal (split yellow pigeon peas)
1 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi), roasted in a dry skillet for a few minutes
½ tsp black mustard 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)
1 tsp kala or goda masala (you may use garam masala as a substitute)
½-1 tsp tamarind paste
¼ tsp jaggery (gul), to taste
salt, to taste
1 tbsp oil (vegetable or canola)
freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
In a large pot, combine the toor dal with the toasted fenugreek seeds and 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 cook the toor dal along with the toasted fenugreek seeds in a pressure cooker. Set aside and let cool until needed.
Meanwhile in a sauce pan on medium high heat, add the oil. When hot, carefully add the mustard seeds. When the splattering stops, reduce the heat and add the curry leaves, green chilies and the asafetida. Next, add the turmeric and stir, let cook for a few minutes. Then carefully add the cooked dal along with any cooking water. Stir well to combine. 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.
Next, add the kala or garam masala. Stir well to combine and add the tamarind, jaggery & salt. Reduce the heat to low, bring to a gentle boil & let simmer for 6-8 minutes until all the flavors have mingled. Garnish with 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. You can also add some cumin seeds to the hot oil as well. 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.
Feel free to add some cooked diced eggplant to the dal, I recommend using the long thin eggplant variety as they stand up better to the cooking process. Some cooked butternut squash, acorn squash or pumpkin pieces work well in this dal also.
Instead of toor dal, you can make this dish using edamame instead & no mashing necessary :-)