There are some foods that you always say you don’t like, and then when you haven’t had them for a while you really crave them. I remember when I first moved to Montreal for Grad School, I had not eaten Pakistani food in over a month. Luckily, I made a Pakistani friend who had done her research and knew of several Pakistani restaurants. I did not cook at my apartment, simply because I was grossed out. I did no prior research and just opted for Graduate Housing and thought it would be fine (at least the pictures online looked fine). When I arrived, I was almost in tears, looking back it wasn’t thattt bad, but still. When that lease was finished, I moved out of there and into a new place like it was no one’s business.
That is why I never cooked, and lived off of takeout or meals that did not require cooking. So, when my friend asked if I wanted to go out for Pakistani, I was so incredibly excited. Thank God, she took me for a buffet. That was one time that I was in the mood for “all you can eat.” I don’t even remember what exactly we ate, but I do remember we were both extremely satiated.
I think it was during that dinner, we started talking about our moms’ cooking. Most Pakistani moms do cook quite well, or so their kids say. Even though my mom doesn’t look like the typical Pakistani mom, her food is always great. My friend and I started talking about when our moms throw big parties and what their cooking specialties were. It turned out that both our moms thought their maash ki dal (white lentils) was something special. It’s different than the more soupy dals out there, and is “party-worthy” food. My friend and I laughed so much thinking about how our moms thought their dishes were something unique. My friend was saying that her mom makes the maash ki dal because it is everyone’s request. It was the same story with my mom.
I never really paid maash ki dal much attention before. But, there are those few times that I crave it. Luckily for me, it is a snap to prepare and my husband will eat just about anything without being overly picky, so he enjoys it as well. It is a different dish to add to your repertoire and you can also make this dal soupy, if you chose to. The recipe here is a dry version.
White Lentils with a Sizzling Oil (Tarka) Garnish
1 cup maash dal sometimes called Urad dal, available at Indian/Pakistani grocery stores (soak the dal in water for 1 hour and then rinse away the old water a few times)
2 cups water, scant
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon turmeric, optional
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, or to taste
1/2 a tomato, chopped finely, optional (I just used one because I had half of one in the fridge)
3-4 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 a small onion, sliced thinly
2 branches/stems of curry leaves (removed from stems), available in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores
4-5 whole dried red chilies
handful chopped cilantro
a few mint leaves, chopped
2″ piece of ginger, julienned
1 green chili, sliced in half length-wise
In a medium-sized saucepan bring the water to a boil on medium to medium-high heat. Add in the maash ki dal, salt, turmeric, red chili powder, and tomato. Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, until the water has evaporated and when you press on the dal with your finger it mashes easily. The grains should be separate, not mushy. Place the dal into your serving dish. Next, in a frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat. Add the onion and begin to fry it. After 3 minutes add in the cumin seeds, curry leaves, whole dried red chilies and fry all of the items together until the onions turn golden brown. You may want to run your exhaust fan during this process because it may cause you to cough a bit. When the onions are golden, pour the hot oil mixture over the lentils. Then finish the garnish with the ginger, cilantro, mint leaves, and the green chili. Serve with roti or naan.