The light has changed even though the weather is not too inhospitable, not yet. But it has been dark. And the weather was oppressive last week, rainy and uncharacteristically grey, somber, even at noon. This weekend has been sunny and mild: an interstice of blue-sky warmth forestalling the arrival of winter. We went for a walk/run on the lakefront yesterday, and once the evening chill settled back in, I began to crave a dal. Something cozy and hearty, with a familiar smell.
Roasted Moog Dal with Eggplant
In its shelled and dried state, the small mung bean is yellow and oval shaped. This is a sturdy dal, savory and full, and it offers a good complement to the rich tasting eggplant that makes this a wonderfully earthy, autumn dish.
1 cup dry measure mung dal, toasted
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 long Asian eggplants. A regular eggplant works just as well.
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 dried chili pepper
1 tej leaf or 2 small bay leaves
Olive or canola oil for frying eggplant
Salt to taste, approximately 1 teaspoon kosher salt per cup of dry dal cooked.
Step 1: Toasting the Dal
Place the dry mung beans in a skillet over medium-low heat and dry toast for approximately 10 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally to redistribute the seeds evenly. They will release a fragrant, nutty smell and turn a slightly darker shade when ready.
Note: You can also fry the dal in a little bit of butter or ghee for a richer flavor.
Step 2: Cooking the Dal
Put the dal in a heavy stockpot or saucepan and for every cup of moog dal, use 4 cups of cold water. Heat to medium and once the dal reaches a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook, covered, for 45 minutes, or until the mung beans mush easily when pressed between your thumb and forefinger. The mung beans should have a little bit of resistance but should also be very tender. Because of this dal’s relatively long cooking time, many Indian cooks prefer to cook the dal in a pressure cooker. While the dal is cooking, prepare the eggplant:
Step 3: Sauté the Eggplant
Slice the eggplant into ¼ inch slices, much the way you would slice a cucumber. If using a regular eggplant, slice the rounds into quarters. Place 2-3 tbsp. of the olive oil into a sauté pan and arrange the eggplant, making sure the slices do not overlap. You may need to cook the eggplant in batches. Sprinkle with salt and cook the eggplant over medium-high heat until one side turns golden brown; flip the eggplant and brown the other side. Remove and set aside. Add more oil to the pan as you sauté second or third batches of eggplant.
Step 4: Prepare the phoron (oil and seed) mixture
Add three tablespoons canola or olive oil your sauté pan, heat the oil for a minute of two and then add the chili pepper, tej leaf and cumin seeds. Heat the oil until the spices become fragrant (about 2 minutes).
Step 5: The Combination
Now, you can add the oil to the cooked dal in the stockpot or you can pour the dal into the pan with the oil and spices. Add the turmeric next, stir, and then carefully fold in the sautéed eggplant. Salt to taste, and simmer for about 5 minutes to incorporate all the flavors. This dal is fairly thick in its consistency, but feel free to add some water if it seems too thick for your liking. It will thicken further as it cools. Stir gently so as not to break the eggplant.
Done. Serve with rice.