Typically, Indian lentils bring to mind something a little heavy, creamy and hearty. This dish is the absolute opposite of that – light, tangy and refreshing. Growing up dal was not my favorite (sacrilege considering I grew up in an Indian vegetarian home) but whenever my mother made moong dal chaat I would willingly gobble it up. It had been years since I had this tasty treat and since my mother has been visiting, I asked her to teach me how to make it. Dal is usually something that takes hours to prepare simmering in a crock pot so imagine my surprise when Mom informed me that this could be on the table in less than thirty minutes! She said she would often make this when she didn’t feel like cooking or didn’t have the time to make something more elaborate – of course we were not in on that little secret. For us it was a delicious welcome change from our typical Indian dinner.
Moong dal chaat was inspired by a dish served on the streets in Rajinder Nagar in Old Delhi and my mother learned to make it from her paternal uncle. Small, oval shaped, yellow lentils called moong are used here. We used a pressure cooker but you could also do this on the stove top. I don’t mind using a pressure cooker here because it is not important for the lentils to keep the integrity of their shape as it is in other Indian dals and stews. One taste and you will realize that this is one of those dishes you will be making again and again. The dal and rice are comforting and soft, the chaat masala and lemon juice add bright acidity, the veggies give you much needed crunch and freshness and lastly the roasted cumin powder gives a slight smoky flavor. My husband had never had this dish before and after two helpings last night he asked if he could bring the leftovers for lunch today! I think, like it was for my mom, this is also going to be my secret, super-fast, yummy dinner in a pinch.
MOONG DAL CHAAT
- 1 c. moong dal
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 2 c. water
- 1 lemon
- 1/2 English cucumber, small dice
- 2 medium tomatoes, small dice
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped (we used yellow onion but red would also be nice)
- 1 jalepeno, seeds and inner membrane removed, finely chopped
- 1/2 c cilantro, finely chopped
- chaat masala to taste **
- roasted cumin crushed to a powder, to taste **
- 2 cups cooked basmati rice
1. Put the dal in a small bowl and cover with water. Run your hands through the lentils and then dump out the water. Rinse in this way another 3 times.
2. Put the rinsed dal in your pressure cooker and add water, salt and turmeric.
3. Put the lid on the cooker and turn the heat on to high. As soon as the pressure cooker sounds, turn the gas off and let the cooker return to normal pressure covered. Your dal is ready!
4. To assemble – ladle about a cup of dal on your plate. Sprinkle with chaat masala and crushed roasted cumin. Also sprinkle over the juice of 1/4 of the lemon.
5. Next layer on the onion, tomatoes, cucumber and jalepeno. This is all to taste to so add more of what you love and leave off anything you don’t care for.
6. Lastly top with a thin layer of rice and sprinkling of fresh cilantro.
** Chaat masala is a spice blend used in Indian street food called chaat. It is sour and tastes wonderful on fresh fruit.
To make roasted cumin powder, simply roast cumin in a dry skillet over medium heat until it turns a shade darker and starts to smoke slightly – 5-7 minutes. Then crush in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. It is used often in salty lassi (refreshing Indian yogurt drink) and would also be smashing in a good, old American chili.