The simple things in life: Mung Dal [no onion-no garlic]


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When life begins to feel complicated, I take a moment to reflect on the meaning of happiness and what it is for me. Is it really a bigger house, more money, an expensive bag or things like that? Yes, I would be lying if I said these things didn’t make me feel good at all. It does, but for that moment and may be a few days more. The only problem is if I continue to seek happiness in such things, my definition of happiness will keep getting complex.. and there’s really no end to it. There is always a want for more… and more. Nothing wrong with it but I find it important to take a moment, think back and put things in perspective.

It’s always the simple things in life that gives me true happiness. I am sure it’s the same for you too. In my quest for happiness, I listed a few things (not in any particular order) that make me truly happy:
A hug from my 4 year old child
Being a Mom
A good cup of ginger tea (chai) early in the morning
An unknown, probably insignificant, little flower my child picked up from the roadside. Just for me.
A conversation with my closest friends
A breath of fresh air
Soaking the sun rays
Companionship
Recalling childhood memories
A simple home made meal: Dal-Chawal

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Dal-Chawal or Lentils-Rice. A combination which is a staple in India. It may be in different variations depending on which part of India or which home it has been cooked, but essentially it is lentils or Dal and Rice.

Every time I travel, I immerse myself in the food and culture of that place. It’s an unspoken rule that we never order Indian food when traveling [outside of India]. However, when I come back home, the first meal cooked, without fail, is a very simple Dal-Chawal.

I wouldn’t even want to call this a recipe considering this is such a staple in Indian households. I still choose to write the method down as every home has their unique way of cooking lentils. Dal is cooked in a lot of Indian homes, almost every day. And that is also the reason, why one gets bored of eating it ever so often. In order to bring variety to Dal, I like to rotate the kind of lentils I cook. My pantry is stocked with some 7 different types of lentils/beans. I don’t cook Dal all 7 days a week but it definitely finds it’s way to our dining table at least 3 to 4 times a week in various forms.

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This preparation is quite simple – No onions, No garlic. A simple Dal flavoured with cumin seeds, asafetida and tomatoes. The cumin seeds, asafetida and tomato are the main players in this act. Asafetida gives it a pungent taste and tomatoes add a mild sour flavour to the Dal. It’s a little tough to tell which one is more dominating – the asafetida or the tomatoes, but together, they rule the otherwise modest Mung beans.

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The process of making this Dal is two fold. Part one involves roasting the Mung beans and then softening the beans while infusing it with some fresh ginger. Part two is the tadka or tempering that will add the flavours to the Mung. The tempering is done in ghee or clarified butter with cumin seeds, asafetida, finely chopped (or grated) tomatoes and some Kashmiri chilli powder for a mild spicy touch.

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I am also sending this recipe to Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen for the 61st edition of MLLA. My Legume Love Affair (MLLA) was started by Susan of the Well-Seasoned Cook and is now being carried forward by Lisa of Lisa’s Kitchen.

Mung Dal with Asafetida and Tomatoes (no onion-no garlic)
Serves: 3-4
Time: 30 mins

Ingredients:
Yellow Mung beans / dal / lentils: ¾ cup
Asafetida (hing): ½ tsp
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Tomatoes: 2 medium sized (about 1 + ¼ cup of finely chopped)
Kashmiri Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Ginger (grated): 1 tsp
Turmeric: 1/8 tsp or roughly a big pinch
Salt: to taste
Water: 2 cups
Ghee: 1 tbsp

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Method:

  1. Dry roast the Mung beans. I do this in a pressure cooker to avoid getting too many utensils dirty. Keep stirring the beans constantly to ensure they are evenly roasted. I did this on medium heat for about 5-6 mins. When roasted, take it off the heat. Rinse with water 2-3 times.
  2. In a pressure cooker, add the rinsed Mung beans, 2 cups of water, a pinch of turmeric, ginger and salt. Cook the beans until soft while still retaining their texture. If you are using a pressure cooker, let the steam build up on high flame. Then lower the flame and let it cook for another 5 minutes until done.
  3. While the Mung beans are getting cooked, heat ghee in a pan. Add cumin seeds. When they are done, add the asafetida and chilli powder. Let it cook for a few seconds. Then add the chopped tomatoes and a pinch of salt. With the heat on high, cook the tomatoes constantly stirring it to ensure they are not burnt and until the raw smell no longer exists.
  4. When the tomatoes are cooked, reduce the flame. Add the Mung beans. Add water to a consistency you want and adjust the salt as per your taste. If you want to add chillies, add 2-3 slit chillies (a combination of green and red adds a nice colour.. You can add just green too and skip the drama). Let it come to a boil on high heat and then simmer for 3 minutes.
  5. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with rice and any vegetables of your choice.

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Khao Lak contd. | Thai Green Curry with Chicken and eggplants

As I begin to recollect my Khao Lak experience, reports of a strong earthquake and a Tsunami warning come flashing in all over the news media. A sense of panic struck. Considering I was there just over a week ago made matters worse. All I hoped for was the damage to be minimal and the tsunami averted.

I breathed a sigh of relief once the Tsunami warnings were lifted and reports confirmed that things were under control.

The joy of idling away an entire day by the beach knows no bounds. The clock stops ticking. Hunger takes a back seat. It almost feels like every part of your body is on that much needed vacation!

We continue our little party at the poolside bar. The poolside bar is one of the best places to hangout in this resort. The cocktails are inviting but the part I enjoyed most was sitting on the bar stools inside the pool. There is something so casual and refreshing about it.

Later that evening, we took a so-called taxi (songthaew in Thai) to explore the Khao Lak market. It’s a rather small market area with rows of individual shops. In particular, I was interested in a boutique shop named ‘Kanyarak’, after reading about it online. All the desperate attempts to find the shop were futile. Frustrated, we decided to stop for a drink. As luck would have it, the shop I was looking for was right opposite the restaurant where we stopped for a drink. ‘Kanyarak’ has an impressive collection of designer stainless steel cutlery and dining ware (no plates though!). Be sure to carry enough cash or a credit card if you intend to shop 🙂

On the last day, we spent the afternoon at the ‘White Sand beach’, a 20 min songthaew ride from our Resort. The beach holds true to its name. Although it has its share of tourists, it is still less crowded than the Resort. The shacks at the entrance of this beach where the songthaew dropped us, serves some really authentic and spicy Thai food. Undoubtedly, the best we had in our trip.

We concluded our vacation with the last few hours spent at the spa, bringing us to the end of an absolutely gastronomical and rejuvenating retreat.

As the old adage goes: a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a snapshot of some of the heavenly food we had during our trip.

Green Curry Chicken or Keng Khiao Wan Gai Recipe

I wouldn’t shy before concluding that Green curry or Kaeng khiao wan is one of the most popular Thai Curries across the world. The main reason for such universal appeal, in my opinion, is the ever-so-faithful combination of all the different herbs and spices used to make the Green Curry paste as well as the fact that it is mostly a mild curry.

Be forewarned: My version is on the spicy side of the spectrum. Please tone it down by reducing the number of chillies or use less-hot chillies in your Green Curry Paste if you prefer a mild curry.

Some restaurants like to add carrots and potatoes in this curry. I am not too big a fan of that in this context. Mine is a simple version with baby eggplants and green round eggplants. You may want to add more vegetables as you like.

Serves: 4

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

Green Curry Paste: 4 tblsp [To make it at home: Refer to my previous post : How to make Green Curry paste]
Boneless chicken: 300 gms (sliced into 2″ pcs)
Low fat Coconut milk: 2 1/2 cups (substituted by:  1 & 1/2 cups of coconut cream and 1/2 cup of water)
Kaffir lime leaves: 10 – each leaf roughly torn in two (tearing these leaves gives an  instantaneous aroma)
Galangal (Thai Ginger): 1″ pc, lightly crushed
Sweet Basil leaves: a big handful
Baby egg plants: 1/2 cup; Stem removed and washed.
Small round green egg plants: 5 (can be substituted with any other egg plant): Cut into quarters
Oil: 1 tbsp
Palm sugar: 2 tsp
Fish sauce: 1 tbsp or more depending on your preference

For Garnish:
1 big red Thai chilli (remove seeds and cut into thin strips)
3-4 tsp of coconut milk

How I did it:

Heat oil in a deep bottomed dish. Add the green curry paste and fry for 3 mins on medium-low heat.

Next, add 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Continue to cook until the coconut milk is almost assimilated into the green curry paste (5 mins).

Next add the chicken and fry for 2 mins until the chicken is nicely coated with the curry paste and begins to turn white. Now add the remaining 2 cups of coconut milk. Let it boil on medium heat for about 5 mins.

If using coconut cream, use 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk in all. Add 1 cup water. Coconut cream is thick in consistency so adding water helps to achieve the desired consistency.
Add the eggplants followed by palm sugar, torn lime leaves, galangal and 1 tbsp of fish sauce. Fish sauce is salty so make sure you taste the curry before adding more.

Note: the shrimp paste already has salt. So, if you have added shrimp paste in your green curry paste, do not add too much fish sauce at first. Let it cook for another 5 mins on medium heat. Stir in between. Do not overcook the eggplants as they become too mushy when overcooked.

Cooking Green Curry Chicken

When almost done, check the seasoning. Adjust palm sugar and fish sauce as per your liking.

Once done, turn off the heat. Add a handful of sweet basil leaves. Give it a good stir.

Garnish with a swirl of coconut milk and red chilli strips. Enjoy with steamed rice.

Destination: Bangkok [Vegetarian Thai fried rice or Khao Pad Chae]

August 1996, New Delhi.

I had left Delhi under very chaotic circumstances. No, Delhi did not get more chaotic, but my life on that day most certainly was! The courier company had screwed up my package with the air tickets. Apparently, they had sent it to Bombay! My dad was in Bangkok at that time and I was to fly to Bangkok at midnight. I could see the world conspiring against me.. It would be meaningless to take the next flight as I was flying just a day before my Uni entrance exams. I retired into my room after a very stressful day of angry phone calls and a never ending wait…

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I woke up rubbing my eyes.. Some one was banging on the door! It’s only 10:30 pm for heaven’s sake! Let me sleep, I mumbled..

I opened the door somewhat pissed off. It was my uncle. He had just returned from work. The tickets had arrived! But, it was 10:30 pm. I hadn’t even packed! I was leaving the country!  This can’t be happening!!

In the next 10 minutes, my mother dumped my essentials into a bag and we were on the road. It was a good 30 minutes drive to the airport. I went in to the check-in counter while the rest of my family waited outside the airport. It was closed. I pleaded, I almost cried. It had worked in the past. And, it did, again! A staff came back, opened the counter for me. Before I knew, I was through immigration!

My family was waiting outside the airport not knowing whether I am flying or not.. And I was running inside the airport with no sense of what was going on. I was going where I was meant to go, worried that my family must be waiting outside. In those days, we didn’t have mobile phones. I was desperate to send a message across to my family, that I am flying off.. and a hug.. and a good bye.. In all the rush, I saw an airline staff just before boarding the flight. There was something about her which made me trust her.. or may be I did not have any other option. I asked her if she could page my uncle to let him know that I am flying off. She agreed. I came to know the next day that she did:)

That evening, as the flight took off, I was sad. I was leaving my country for a long long time without saying good bye to my family and close friends…

I was out of the airport in Bangkok, all alone, expecting to see my Dad. But, there was no one. Not for the next 10 minutes. Not for the next 30 minutes. I decided to call him using a public telephone. And suddenly it hit me! I had no money!!! Nothing at all. Not even a coin to make a phone call. In all the mad rush of last night, everyone forgot about money! I asked someone for help, all in sign language. This stranger gave me a coin and told me how to use the phone, all in gestures. I could not have asked for more!!

Thanks to the time difference and chaos, my Dad wasn’t aware that I had eventually boarded the flight last night! In the next 30 minutes, my Dad arrived and I was on the way to my new home…

And now.. for today’s recipe. This one is my mom’s favorite! She is a vegetarian and one that loves all her veges nice and crunchy! If you love your veges, you’ve gotta try this out!

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

String Beans: 2 to 3
Carrot: 1/3 of a medium sized carrot
Capsicum: 1/4th of a big capsicum
Cabbage: roughly 5 to 6 leaves
Thai / Chinese green leaves: 4 to 5 leaves. I used Xiao Ban Cye (you can use any other locally available greens)
Thai Garlic (or any other garlic) – 6pcs if using small Thai garlic. 3 if using the bigger garlic
Thai Chillies: 2 red and 2 green (tone this down if you don’t like it extra spicy)
Lime leaves: 3
A Bowl of cold pre-cooked rice
1/2 medium sized Onion (optional)
Vegetarian oyster sauce – 1 tbsp
Light Soya sauce – 1 tbsp
Oil – 1 1/2 tbsp
Wok
Sliced cucumber for garnishing
2 chopped chillies with 3 to 4 tbsp light soya sauce (in case the 4 chillies were not enough like they weren’t for me!)

How I did it:

Cut the long beans, capsicum and carrot into 2″ long pieces. Carrots should be cut into thin and long pieces. Roughly cut the cabbage and green leaves into big chunky leafy pieces. Pound the garlic and chillies together in a mortar and pestle.

In order to make fried rice, as far as possible, use left over rice from the fridge. When freshly cooked rice is used, it does not turn out the same way as freshly cooked rice tends to stick together into lumps.

Heat a wok. Once hot, add the oil. When it gets smoky, add the pounded garlic and chilli mix into the oil. Stir fry for 30 seconds. If using onions, add sliced onions at this point. Let it turn translucent. Next, add the carrots and beans. Continue to stir on high heat. Reduce heat for 1 min to let the beans and carrot cook.

Now add the cabbage, green leaves, capsicum and the torn kaffir lime leaves. Increase heat to high. Add the soya sauce. The smoke adds a nice flavor to this dish. It is important to stir this continuously to avoid the veges from getting burnt. This may take 30 seconds to a minute.

Once the veges are crunchy and cooked, add the bowl of cold rice, basil leaves and vegetarian oyster sauce. Stir continuously and on high heat. Check for salt and add more soya / vegetarian oyster sauce, if needed. Combine all the ingredients (on high heat). This may take up to 1 minute depending on the heat.

Serve with sliced cucumber and chopped chillies with soya sauce. The vegetables lose their crunchiness if kept cooked for long. So enjoy it immediately after cooking! 🙂