Dal Matters: Masoor Dal for Rose

Her name may be Rose; she looks anything but...

This and other similar snide comments were whispered by visiting relatives and guests alike when they saw our maid, Rose. She was a tribal girl, an Adivasi, who had come to Bombay in search of a better life. She had some basic education so she could read and write in both English and Hindi, and she could count, too. She and her sister had dropped out of school because getting there took them several hours, as did getting back. They lived in a hut with a thatched roof in a remote area of Bihar and had to walk several miles for water on a daily basis. They had no electricity. Every year, she would go home for about a month, to take some of her earnings back to her family. The journey itself was long: several days by train, followed by several days by bus and about a day of walking. Every time she came back, she had lost a fair amount of weight from both the journey as well as the harsh conditions in which the rest of her family coexisted. We were like two lionesses - my sister and I - with nails drawn and teeth bared, when it was assumed that it was perfectly alright to snicker about her.

Rose was an excellent cook. She taught us many of her recipes, just as she learned many from us. The one that has stayed with me is her Masoor Dal. It is simple, it cooks quickly and it can be used copiously to drown rice in a large bowl and consumed in absolute bliss. Here is my adaptation of Rose's Masoor Dal.

Masoor Dal

  • 2 cups uncooked masoor dal, washed and drained (hulled split red lentils)
  • 2-3 tsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • pinch asafetida
  • 10-15 whole black peppercorns**see notes
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 beefsteak tomato (optional), sliced into 8 wedges
  • 6 cups water
  • juice of one lemon
  • salt to taste
  1. Heat oil in the pan of your pressure cooker.
  2. Add mustard seeds and when they pop, add asafetida.
  3. Add whole black peppercorn - careful now, as they have a tendency to pop right out of the pan and into your face.
  4. Add turmeric powder, red chilli powder and the tomato wedges.
  5. Add masoor dal, water and salt. Stir well.
  6. Cook under pressure until the dal cooks, taking care to ensure that it does not burn. The time and method varies depending on the type of pressure cooker. I usually cook it under pressure on medium-high and after the first 'whistle', I turn the heat down to low and let it cook for another 20-25 minutes.
  7. Allow the pressure cooker to cool and open it only when it is safe.
  8. Add lemon juice, mix well and serve over steaming hot rice.

  • Rose's original recipe called for a generous sprinkling of freshly ground black peppercorns over the dal just before serving. I prefer to add whole black peppercorn because it works for all of us. Those who can't deal with the intense flavor of black pepper can pick out the whole peppercorns. Those who need the punch can just munch on them.
  • This dal is meant to be sour. However, you can add less lemon juice, if you wish.
  • You could add chopped cilantro, too. I don't because this is my go-to dal when I am out of fresh green chillies and cilantro. You don't even need dried red chillies. You could add them if you wish, but why bother pulling out the cutting board? I chop my tomato and lemon right over the pan. Enjoy simple flavors with very little clean-up.
  • I don't have a picture of the finished dal. I might update this post later with a pic and do a Priya on you.

The funny thing is that no matter what they called her, everyone agreed that Rose had magic in her hands. Even funnier is that her real name was not Rose. She was Ruth.

(I know the ending does not make much sense. But that is why I am not a famous author that all of you are clamoring to meet. It is why I write a blog.)


Kitt said...

What a lovely backstory for what looks like a tasty recipe. What ever happened to Rose/Ruth?

Anita said...

I too got wondering what happened to Rose...hope she is happy wherever she is working her magic.

I can't believe that masoor takes so long to cook over there! Masoor and moong are the two dals I turn to when I am in a real hurry and haven't had time to soak any dal. Wonder what might the contributing factors might be...

The recipe looks like one of those comfort food staples one can always rely on!

Indian Food Rocks said...

Kitt, she was with us for quite a few years. She left a couple of times and then returned to work at my sister's. She works somewhere else now but my sister hears from her every now and then.

Anita, masoor dal will probably cook faster if I upped the heat. But I like to cook it on low to ensure that I don't end up with a burnt layer at the bottom of the pan. We also like this dal when it is completely mushed. This works very well for me.

Moong takes longer than tur dal which has always puzzled me. My Mom used to swear that moong dal cooks the fastest. I don't molly-coddle my dals and pre-soak them or anything. They get washed and bunged into the pressure cooker.

bee said...

when you say 'lemon' do you mean lime or the big american lemon?

Shilpa said...

Love the story and simplicity of this dal.Masoor dal and lemon juice is my fav combo.

Indian Food Rocks said...

Bee, lemon. The large yellow one you get in the grocery stores. The one with the thick skin. The one that I make lemon pickle from. That one. You can always use less if you don't like it that tangy.

Shilpa, I like that it doesn't need any ginger or garlic. This rides on black pepper and lemon juice.

Srivalli said...

now..thats really cute!..:)..do update the picture ok

Priya said...

woohoo! I've set an example!
~la lala lala~

and I don't find moong to be quick cooking either, may be cos I stand right by the counter waiting for it to turn tender! My mother uses it when she needs something ready for dinner asap.

Will try the lemon and masoor combo soon, my roomie used to make one with moong...just pressure cook it, and...wait, let me make that a post :) That might be Priya-2...:D

Unknown said...

Nice recipe n nice post..

bee said...

the only time i guy 'that one' is to make your pickle. i always buy limes, but i like it tangy, so no problem.

musical said...

Great to meet Rose through your post! Her recipe is simple and yet with the black peppercorn touch, it has everything you need to leave a lasting flavor! Hot and tangy, that's how i like them :).

For me, Masoor daal cooks faster than Moong. My buddy Golden Girl's Aayi loves this thing about Masoor so much, that she made us this lovely waran with Masoor instead of toor daal. And trust me, it is YUMMY!

Nirmala said...

Have made masoor dal with onions and tomatoes. But this "no-cutting-board" recipe looks great! Ah I've just uttered an event name ?

Indian Food Rocks said...

Srivalli, I will. When I run out of fodder for a post!

Priya, but of course, trendsetter that you are!

A watched pressure cooker? Nah. It just does not cook fast. Maybe it's treated before it is allowed to be exported here. Maybe it's the water. I don't know!

Divya, hey there! How was your day?

Bee, I knew you would appreciate 'that one' :-D

Musy, masoor dal cooks the fastest. Since I cook directly in the pressure cooker, I have to ensure that it does not burn. Therefore after the first whistle, I cook it on low. Will try varan with masoor dal next.

Nirmala, I command you to go forth and create your event. There is only one condition - alright, several conditions: every entry must link to this post as the post that inspired the event, every blogger must subscribe to my feeds, mark me as their favorite on Technorati, send me money... no! I am just kidding. Go ahead! If you allow old posts, I will send this one in.

Rachna said...

aw come on, you write so well... done undermine yourself, love your writing

ThreeTastes said...

I loved this! The recipe too. I'm making shilpa's chicken ghee roast tonight and will have to try this dal with it.

Soma said...

Being a lover of Masoor dal & rose ( ur pic) I loved this recipe. Will make it soon! esp. for the very fact that the recipe has mustard oil.