About this dish
This is a dish that my mother and I co-created when she was visiting me here in Berlin. Why I say co-created is because pumpkin (especially Hokkaido pumpkin) isn't a traditional ingredient for this dal at all. In fact, you cannot even buy this sort of pumpkin in India (as far as I know). However, in this dish, I think Hokkaido pumpkin works like magic, in fact I much prefer it to the traditional ghiya which is usually added to the dal back home.
Chana dal is baby chickpeas that have been split and polished and is a household essential in both North and Southern Indian homes. This dal is a Punjabi style preparation and is one of my favorites and a go to comfort food in my home. It's one of the first things I make when autumn comes around and the supermarkets are adorned with pumpkins of different shapes, sizes and colours.
- 1 cup chana dal
- 1 large or 135g onion
- 1-2 or 150g tomatoes
- 20g ginger
- 300g hokkaido pumpkin (or any other squash)*
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- 10-15 springs coriander
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp cumin (jeera)
- 1 pinch asafoetida (hing)
- 2-3 cloves or 15g garlic
- 5-6 asian shallots (sambar onions)
- 1-2 green chillies or dried red chillies
- Rinse well and soak the chana dal overnight or for at least 8 hours. Drain the soaking liquid.
- Pound the ginger into a coarse paste using a mortar and pestle or chop finely. Roughly chop the tomatoes and onion. Cut the pumpkin in chunky 3cm cubes. Leave the skin on. Separate the coriander leaves from the stems. Finely chop the stems and save the leaves for garnish.
- Pressure cook the chana dal together with 2 cups of water, ginger, pumpkin cubes, chopped tomato and onion, turmeric, salt and bay leaves. Cook for about 2 whistles or until soft but not mashed (10-15 minutes). Note: If you don't have a pressure cooker, use a heavy bottom pot instead and cook the dal for 35-40 minutes with a lid on.
- The dal should no longer have a bite to it. The pumpkin should have completely cooked through at this point. It should be cooked to a point where there are still visible chunks of pumpkin, but some of it should disintegrate to thicken and sweeten the sauce. If you peel the pumpkin, it would turn into a complete mush.
- At all points in the cooking process, feel free to add more water and adjust the consistency based on what you prefer. A thicker consistency is preferred if you're eating the dal with roti's or by itself but if you'll be eating it with rice, consider thinning it out a bit.
- Once the pumpkin is cooked and the dal is soft and easily mashable, it's time to temper the dal.
This step is key in seasoning the dal. Without the tempering, the dal would be rather bland but the tempering elevates it to something scrumptious. Two things to ensure to successfully temper your dal:
Heat: the ghee should be hot in order to roast the spices you add you to it and extract their flavors. If your ghee is too hot, your spices would burn rather quickly and turn bitter. If the ghee is not hot enough, this flavor extraction and infusing that we're aiming for just wouldn't take place. For me the sweet spot is 120°C however, if you want to check without measuring the exact temperature just add one cumin seed to the ghee to see if it sizzles. This way you'll know if your oil is hot enough.
Fat: we are infusing flavor to the ghee and this ghee is then going to flavor the rest of the dal. For this to happen, we need to be a little generous with the fat that we're using. One teaspoon just isn't going to cut it in this case. I usually go for around 2 tablespoons of ghee. So, be a little generous. :)
- Heat your ghee/butter/oil on medium-high heat in a small pot or pan (the smallest cooking vessel you own).
- Once it's hot, add the cumin seeds and let them splutter. They should sizzle when you add them in and shortly after start to splutter.
- Then add your pinch of asafoetida followed by garlic, shallots and the chillies. Once all the seasoning elements are well roasted and the shallots and garlic are browning around the edges, you can add this hot tempering mixture to your dal.
- Mix the tadka into the dal to incorporate. Taste the dal and season with salt.
Garnish with the coriander leaves and serve with rice or rotis or just eat as is.
*Vegetables and Variations
I love to use pumpkin in this recipe, specifically Hokkaido pumpkin because I like how it maintains it's firmness, doesn't water the dal down and adds a very nice natural sweetness to the dish but please feel free to use any vegetable of your preference. Traditionally this dal is made with ghiya which is a long gourd, closest replacement that I could get my hands on here is zucchini (specifically the small light green ones that they sell at Turkish stores), so that's something that you can also try. Spinach (fresh or frozen leaves) also work very well.