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Telangana horse gram stew (Ulava Chāru)

Horse gram, or kulith, is one of the super foods that is available in India. It comes in two varieties, a white (in reality, a light brown) and black. Both varieties are packed with nutrients, but the black variety has a deeper, earthy flavor

I have been seeing packets of this dish ready cooked on most grocery stores and have always wondered about this dish. I learnt from my neighbors that is quintessentially Telangana dish, made in every household. Of course this piqued my interest even more!

On making this dish I realized why it is sold ready in stores. It is a lot of effort with a ton of steps. This cooking technique is all about slowly concentration flavors, the lentils are cooked twice, the bean cooking liquid is then reduced with the spices to yield a delicate sauce. This curry us delicious. A wonderful balance if sour from the tamarind, earth from the beans and heat from the chili.

Hyderabad is fortunate to be home to two very diverse an delicious cuisines. The more famous are the Nawabi dishes, biryani, mirchi ka salan, and bagare baigan. However, Telangana dishes are absolutely delicious. Packed with spices, very spicy and unique, these are flavors that I enjoy tremendously. Here is a wonderful article that highlights these cuisines. This is a wonderful cookbook that is packed with traditional Telengana dishes. The book was written by Archana Pidathala as an ode to her grandmothers cooking, and is a catalog of traditional recipes that she grew up with. This book is so much more than a collection of recipes, it brings to my table a history of the cuisine and culture of the region. Wonderfully written and with beautiful photographs, this cookbook fills a gap in my bookshelf of a cuisine that I know very little about.

For more delicious, and spicy, dishes from this cookbook, click here.


1 lb horse gram, either the white or black variety, or a mix of both

1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

3 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick

4 cloves

20 garlic cloves

5 tablespoons tamarind paste

2 teaspoons chili powder, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt, to taste

For the tempering:

3 tablespoons ghee

10-12 cloves garlic

1 teaspoons mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

4-5 red chilies

15 curry leaves

Cilantro, minced fine to garnish

Add the horse gram to a pressure cooker or Instapot and add 6 cups water. Cook for half the time for a regular lentil, 20 minutes in an Instapot. No need to wait for the pressure to release, do it manually. Drain the lentils saving the liquids.

Cook the lentils again as above in 6 cups water and for the same reduced time and when finished cooking release the steam manually. Drain, save and combine the cooking liquids with the previous batch.

While the lentils are cooking, toast each of the whole spices individually and grind them to a smooth powder in a spice mill. Add the 20 garlic cloves to a small blender with 1/4 cup water and blend to a smooth purée.

Once the lentils have been cooked twice drain and set aside. Combine the lentil cooking liquids, spice mix, garlic paste, tamarind paste, chili powder, turmeric, sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir the sauce every 5-10 minutes as a layer forms on top of the surface that you need to break up. Also scrape down the sides of the pot with a rubber spatula where the spices tend to stick. Taste and adjust for salt, sourness (tamarind), and spices. Please note the liquids will thicken more so plan for the flavors to concentrate.

Continue simmer till the liquids have reduced in volume to about half the original volume. The liquids should be dark and quite thick and the flavors concentrated. Taste and adjust for salt, spice, and sourness.

Add the lentils back into the pot and mix in with the concentrated liquids. If you think there is not enough liquids, add a touch of water to get the correct consistency that you desire. Simmer fro 10 minutes.

Heat the ghee in a small pot, or tadka vessel, on a low flame and add the second batch of garlic cloves. Sauté till the garlic is lightly colored. Add the rest of the ingredients and fry for 30 seconds. Pour the tempered oil and spices over the lentils and mix in.

Serve hot with plain rice.

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