This one comes from my beloved friend Sujayita, who indulged me with mega-doses of tea and sympathy for several years. We kept up an impromptu book club during that time, with shared tastes for many genres. But she stubbornly refuses to read cookbooks as if they were novels, and I insist on ignoring science fiction, although I will grudgingly agree with her that Asimov's "I, Robot" is fantastic :D
Sujayita shared a festive and elaborate dish called dhokaar daalnaa. She describes it as pieces of fried chana dal burfis in tomato-coconut gravy. Mitushi, you guessed right :) In this dish, chana dal is cooked not once, not twice, but three times. Move over, biscotti, triscotti is here! Chana dal paste is first cooked and patted onto a surface. Then diamond shapes are cut from the slab of cooked chana dal and pan-fried to a crispy golden brown. Finally, the fried diamonds are simmered in a flavorful gravy. The recipe that follows is Sujayita's adaptation of the traditional recipe; adapted and tweaked to her taste. She explained that most Bengali vegetarian food is made without onions and garlic ("saatvik" type) and the traditional recipe is also sans onion and garlic. But she likes flavoring the daalnaas with garlic, and her sauce is unusual too, with coconut adding a beautiful richness.
Sujayita's Dhokaar Daalnaa
For the savory diamonds:
1 C chana dal
1 clove garlic
1-2 green chillies
salt to taste
1 T oil
For the gravy:
2 t oil
1 T grated ginger
pinch of asafetida
1 large onion, ground finely into a paste
1 C tomato puree
¼ C thick coconut milk (or coconut paste)
salt to taste
pinch of garam masala
1. Soak chana dal overnight. Rinse well and grind to a thick batter with garlic, chillies and salt. Add only as much water as required.
2. Heat the oil in a pan and cook the batter until it turns a darker shade and "smells cooked". See note below.
3. Pour the cooked chana dal onto a greased flat surface and pat it down. Let it cool a bit, then cut into diamond shapes.
4. Fry the diamonds in a lightly oiled skillet until golden brown on both sides.
5. For the gravy: heat oil and fry the onion paste, ginger paste and asafetida.
5. Add the tomato, salt and fry until the oil separates.
6. Add coconut milk, 1.5 C water or so, and simmer for a few minutes.
7. Add the fried diamonds and simmer for a few minutes more. Sprinkle with garam masala just before turning off the heat.
8. Serve with freshly steamed rice.
Note: I had a bit of trouble with the chana dal paste sticking to the pan as I tried to cook it. Perhaps I will try to steam or bake the mixture next time. Or perhaps there is some trick I am missing here. Updated: Cathy helpfully pointed me to this recipe which offers a microwave alternative to cooking the chana dal mixture (scroll down to the end of the page).
The elaborate preparation was well worth it; we loved the dhokaar daalnaa! There are very few spices in this dish; instead it is the fresh ginger and chillies that make it flavorful rather than spicy. It is a rich and sumptuous meal, fit for a leisurely weekend lunch followed by a long nap. Sujayita has fed me many meals when I was writing my thesis, and this is yet another meal that she has fed me today! For her chholar dal recipe, see this post.
Shhh...the bhu-bhu is napping...
Have a great week ahead, everyone!