Lal chori ne saag dal (red chori and spinach dal)

Red chori is also known as aduki/adzuki bean. If you are familiar with chinese or japanese cooking, you may know it as red bean paste used for desserts. Growing up, we didn’t eat this dried version but instead the long thin green legume also called chori which is delicate and best cooked simply with garlic, ginger, chilies and spices.

The lentil has a very earthy taste reminiscent of kidney bean but without the hard exterior.  The dal is heavy and thick which tastes better with rotlis than with rice. The proportions below fed two adult amply and there was enough left over for a meal to freeze.  In this recipe, I’m used dried lentils which require overnight soaking but in the past when pressed for time,  I happily pick up a tin of ready aduki beans from the local supermarket (same aisle as where canned chickpeas are). Mind you, I don’t like cooking this in a hurry and prefer a slow cook where the flavours have time to develop. Ideally, I like to cook it in the morning and then re-heat it for dinner time.

For once, I also decided to dry roast the spices. Whenever I see professional chefs cook on TV, they always dry roast the spices and then freshly grind them before adding to a dish. I’m in two minds about this – on the one hand it means that you aren’t picking out cloves,cardamom pods etc. while you are eating, and you bring out the flavours by roasting but, on the other hand my mother never did it as far as I know so I have grown up with the taste of non roasted spices. I find when I roast spices that they become a little stronger and when I just add them to the vagar (sauce) non roasted, I’m able to distinguish their tastes when eating which for me adds to the enjoyment of eating. But it’s entirely up to you. Roast & grind, or don’t.

Finally, a lot of the base ingredients are the same in many of my recipes. The distinguishing factor is the vegetable or pulse/lentil being cooked. I find it hard to write down quantities as sometimes I want to spice things up so add more, and other times want to hold back so use less of each base ingredients. In colder weather, spicier food is comforting but in the heat of summer, I go easy on the spices. In other words, see the quantities as a guide only and adjust according to your own tastes.

Ingredients:

  • 250g red chori dried weight.
  • 8 cloves (laving)
  • 8 green cardamom (elaichi/ elji)
  • 8 peppercorns (mari)
  • 1 stick cinnamon (tuj)
  • 2 tbs groundnut oil (tel)
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds (varia) (if not to your taste, cumin seeds  work just as well)
  • 2 dried bay leaves (tamal patra)
  • 1 dried red chili (lal marcha)
  • 1 large onion diced finely (dungri)
  • 1 tbs ginger / garlic paste (this is about 4 large cloves of garlic minced then mixed with 2 inches of grated ginger) (adu / lasun)
  • 1 fresh green chili  chopped finely (marcha)
  • 1 tsp salt (nimak)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (marcha)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric (hurder/haldar)
  • 1/2 tsp coriander cumin powder (dhana jeeru)
  • 120g vine ripened tomatoes chopped finely (tamata)
  • 2 tsp sugar or guar/jaggery which adds a delicious molassas undertone) (gaur/gol)
  • 140g frozen spinach (I actually think fresh spinach would be better but don’t use baby as it won’t be up to the heat)
  • 8-9 curry leaves (limbra)
  • 3 dried mangosteen flowers (kokum)
  • Lemon juice to taste (limbu)

Preparation:

  • Dry roast the peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom in a tawa or saucepan.
  • That is, cook them over a medium heat until you see a very thin vapour / steam rising off them. Make sure they don’t burn as that will make it bitter.
  • Take off the heat and allow to cool
  • Grind either in a machine or in a pestle and mortar. The skin off the cardamom pods can be discarded if you wish.
  • Put aside ready to add to the vagar.

  • Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear. Then put in a container with enough cold water to completely cover the lentils and 1 inch extra. Cover with a lid and leave overnight to soak.
  • The lentils will become enlarged slightly. That’s fine.
  • Discard the water they were soaked in.

Cooking:

  • Heat the oil over a medium heat in a large heavy based saucepan (a pressure cooker is ideal)
  • Add fennel seeds, red chilli and bay leaves. If not dry roasting, also add the cinnamon stick.
  • Once the seeds start to sizzle, add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes until they start to brown. Stir often.
  • Add the ginger garlic  paste, and roasted spice mix (or the separate cloves, cardamom and peppercorns).  Stir and cook until the ginger garlic begins to brown
  • Add the remaining spices and cook for about 15 seconds to cook the spices then add the tomatoes and cook until they break down. Keep stirring to prevent sticking.
  • If you are using frozen spinach – add it now and cook for about 2 minutes so it starts to defrost.
  • Add the lentils, mangosteen and curry leaves and mix to ensure that it is all coated well.
  • Add 4 cups of water (600ml), mix well and bring to the boil.
  • Turn down the heat and cover. If using a pressure cooker, don’t put the weight on. Check it every now and again and stir else it may stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the lentils soften – add boiled water if the lentils aren’t co-operating. If using dried lentils this can take time. Once the lentils are softened, add the fresh spinach if using and lemon juice (if you feel it is not sour enough) and cook until spinach has wilted.
  • Serve with freshly made rotlis smeared in ghee or baturas. Alternatively, pile into a dish, add a large dollop of yoghurt and eat up as is.
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