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Calcutta yellow split peas with coconut and golden raisins (Cholar dal)

This is the most traditional dal from West Bengal, especially Calcutta. This dal is particularly served during Hindu festivals and during weddings. Most importantly, this dal brings out the character of the culture and people of Calcutta, it is a touch sweet, mildly spiced and beautifully balanced.

This dal is made through the process of slow-cooking, the split chickpeas are slow cooked in stages to allow them to almost break down. During this process, spices are added to enhance the flavors and the very traditional spice mix "panch phoran" (five spices) is used that is essential in almost any Bengali dish. The addition of crunchy coconut and sweet raisins add a mild sweetness that complements the complexity of the dish. However, this dal is all about harmony, the flavors need to be in perfect balance, sweet, salt, spices and coconut, for this dal to be perfect. This is a common dal to find in Calcutta or any Bengali restaurant, but finding the perfectly made dal is almost impossible.

This is a wonderful cookbook that tackles both the traditional cuisine from the region, some dishes from the Raj period, the famous street food of Kolkota, and some dishes from the influence of the Chinese.

For more recipes from this cookbook click here.


2 cups yellow spilt peas, chana dal, soaked in water for 3-4 hours

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Salt, to taste

2 teaspoons sugar

Water, as needed

2 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil

1 small bay leaf

3-4 dried red chilies, boriya chilies if available

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, lightly roasted

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (jeera), lightly roasted

1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (soanf), lightly roasted

1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds (kalonji), lightly roasted

1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi), lightly roasted

3 tablespoons golden raisins

1/4 cup grated coconut

2 tablespoons cilantro, plus some for garnish

Heat the water with salt in a saucepan. Add the lentils and bring to a boil, scooping off the scum as it comes to the top. Once all the scum has been removed, add the turmeric, chili powder and sugar and simmer till the lentils are cooked and quite mushy, about 15-20 minutes. Careful not to let the water burn off, adding more as needed.

While the lentils are cooking, heat a frying pan with oil and add the bay leaf and chilies. Sauté for 30 seconds and add the mustard seeds. As soon as the seeds start to pop, about 20 seconds, add the rest of the spices, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, nigella seeds, fenugreek seeds and raisins and sauté on low heat for 1 minute till the seeds start to just turn color. Add the coconut and cook on low heat tossing the contents frequently so the coconut does not burn. When the coconut turns a golden brown, about 3-4 minutes remove from the heat and move to a cool bowl to stop the cooking precess. Careful, as the coconut burns very easily.

When the lentils are cooked and quite mushy, mash them with a potato masher to get a coarse texture keeping some of the lentils whole. Add the fried spices and mix in, simmering for 5 additional minutes. Taste and adjust salt, sweet and other spices. The dal should be sweet but well balanced with spices and salt.

To serve, the dal tends to thicken as it sits. Add water to make the consistency that of heavy cream. Heat well and add the cilantro and mix in. Serve in deep bowls sprinkled with the cilantro garnish.

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