When we first moved to California back in 1999, my mother made a really good friend named Susan, a woman roughly my mother's age who often came over the house to drink coffee and watch movies with Mom in the afternoon. (My mother was an avid collector of musicals on DVD, and Susan was one of those people who truly appreciated that the most!)
Susan met her husband, Raj, when they were both attending UC Berkeley in the early-to-mid 1970s. Susan was just another 'California girl' and Raj had just immigrated there from West India. When the two fell in love and ultimately got married, Susan, of course, had a hard time living up to Raj's parents' expectations as to the kind of woman they had wanted their son to marry. However, over time, Susan learned the customs, traditions, and the recipes(!) that her husband's family lived by - of course, making them very pleased!
Dal Fry is a dish that often reminds me of Susan and Raj, as Susan once told me it was the very first Indian dish she learned how to make for her family. I remember one time she made extra just to share with my mother and me, and I was instantly addicted to the blend of spices, especially the whole black mustard and cumin seeds that add an extra punch to the plate. The ingredients might be a little tricky to hunt down if you don't live near a place that sells many Indian/Persian ingredients or unique spices, but once you get these all in one place, dal fry will easily be one of your favorite meals to make!
Punjabi Dal Fry (Yellow Pigeon Pea Lentils)
(Serves 3 - 4)
[Note: For each ingredient, I included both the English and the Hindi name to make it a little easier to find when you track these down.]
1 cup tuvar dal/arhar dal/pigeon pea lentils
2 1/2 - 3 cups of water for pressure cooking the dal
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
1 medium sized tomato, chopped
1 or 2 green chilies/hari mirch, slit or chopped
2 - 3 dry red chilies, kept whole
10 - 12 curry leaves/kadi patta
1/2 inch of ginger/adrak root + 3 - 4 cloves of garlic/lahsun, crushed or made into a paste in a mortar & pestle
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds/rai
1 teaspoon cumin seeds/jeera
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida powder/hing
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder/haldi
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder/lal mirch powder
1 teaspoon kasuri methi/dry fenugreek leaves
2 - 3 tablespoons oil or ghee or unsalted butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
1 - 2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves/dhania patta, for garnish
1 cup water or as required
Salt, to taste
1) Pressure cook 1 cup of the arhar dal with a pinch of turmeric in 2 1/2 - 3 cups of water. Mash the dal lightly with a wire whisk or with a spoon, and keep aside.
2) In another pan, heat oil or ghee or unsalted butter. Add the mustard and let them splutter.
3) When you hear the spluttering sound of the mustard seeds, add the cumin and fry them. Add the onions, and fry until they become transparent or light brown.
4) Now add the ginger-garlic paste, and fry for some seconds till their raw aroma disappears. Add the green chilies, red chilies, and curry leaves and stir. Next, add all the spice powders - the turmeric powder, red chili powder, and the asafoetida powder. Fry together for a few seconds.
5) Add the tomatoes and cook until they soften, for about 2 - 3 minutes. Now, add the mashed dal. Stir well, and then add water and salt. Combine and simmer the dal for an additional 3 - 4 minutes (or until you get a smooth and slightly thick consistency).
6) Lastly, crush the kasuri methi in the palms of your hands, and add them to the dal. Simmer for a minute, switch off the fire, and then add lemon juice (optional), and stir well.
7) Garnish the dal fry with coriander leaves while serving or just add them to the dal and mix well. You can also garnish the dish with some ghee or butter. Serve it hot with steamed basmati rice, biryani rice, jeera rice, or saffron pulao. It's also delicious with roti or naan!