Mung Dal

Mung Dal

Mung Dal

Are there are a lot of exceptionally mediocre recipes out there? Or is it just Google throwing up countless, tasteless recipes only when I query a particular ingredient? It’s hardly surprising so many people go out to eat. And then there are the exceptions! And I was in luck to find both that inspired this dish: Dudhi ki sabzi – Bottle gourd in gravy and Moong dal fry. And thrilled about it, too. In a roundabout way I’d bought dudhi or bottle gourd, something I don’t remember trying before. And that sparked off the necessity of finding a recipe to suit. That didn’t happen. And I didn’t care. As I didn’t especially care for the pan-fried dudhi anyway. It just tasted bland in a slightly scorched way. And I’m definitely not trying it boiled. But! As I’d bought in mung dal for the first time as well I went with. And so glad I did. What surprises me is the use of fennel seeds here, that I’ve seen in several recipes recently. I’ve only ever used them with sweetcorn. And a beef dish I made up using up ingredients my then neighbour left outside my door as he was off to New York. In fact, the poor guy decided to defrost his freezer the night before. Hence the fortress built in the hallway containing countless parcels, mostly wrapped in towels to prevent them from defrosting too quickly. Wouldn’t have mattered. As most of them were well beyond their sell-by date. And I wasn’t for chancing those. One of the advantages of having trained as a chef. Being able to read dates!

And I must make Toby’s boeuf (as I’d called it) again, when I’m eating meat. Until then I’m perfectly happy with playing with spices. Not to the extent that I feel particularly confident with just going with spices to hand. I do need guidance. Which is where both blogs come in. What I’ve ended up with isn’t even remotely authentic. And that’s not the point. This is spicy and incredibly flavoursome. Exactly what I expect from a curry. The fact that it’s loaded with caramelised onions – yes, those again! – and finished off with butter and a little single/light cream may cause certain facial expressions – mostly of disdain. But, even though I’ve never been to India I couldn’t see anything so terribly wrong with adding them. Especially as ghee is extensively used. And cream. Although that might just be for the British palate over here. I don’t know. What I do realise is that I wasn’t happy with the watery gravy the first time I made this, that for me needed emulsified to pull all of those flavours together. And what surprised me was the use of the fennel seeds. A word of caution: there’s a metric measuring teaspoon used before dry roasting and grinding. After that there’s only a quarter teaspoonful used at a time to get this to personal taste. As otherwise the fennel is overpowering. For me that cautionary route worked. And great to have extra for reheating this the following day as the flavour of the fennel dissipates, considerably. Another quarter teaspoon definitely needed to perk this up again. As for the forlorn rice! It’s organic long grain. And very delicious. Just not with this dish. Don’t like the texture. What’s needed is a big, fat, flaky home-made paratha cooked in all it’s buttery-gheeness ‘n’ splendour. Now, where to find a recipe!?

Mung Dhal


PREP: about 30 mins ~ COOK: 30 mins ~ READY IN: 45 mins

ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT NEEDED: pestle & mortar or electric grinder suitable for grinding whole spices

  • up to 300g (10.58 oz) x onions, peeled, trimmed, sliced from their root end toward the stem, turned and root end sliced off to end up with half crescents
  • oil
  • 1 or 2 x green finger chillies (Scoville heat units/rating: 50,000), washed and slit (for a milder curry use one and keep it whole)
  • 1 x dried bay leaf, split
  • 1 x organic garlic clove, peeled, trimmed and kept whole
  • 100g (3.527 oz) x yellow mung dal, rinsed in cold water until the water runs clear
  • 1 x teaspoon coriander seeds, dry roasted and ground separately
  • 1 x teaspoon fennel seeds, dry roasted and ground separately – only up to ½ teaspoon ground actually used
  • 1/2 x teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 – 3/4 x teaspoon freshly grated ginger (use less to begin with and add more to personal taste)
  • 1/4 x teaspoon cayenne pepper, more or less to personal taste
  • 1/4 x teaspoon ground turmeric
  • freshly ground sea salt, to personal taste
  • 200ml (6.763 fl oz) x cold water
  • 2 – 3 x tablespoons single/light cream
  • 10g (0.353 oz) x unsalted butter, more to personal taste
  • red pepper flakes (if curry isn’t hot enough due to the chillies used) – optional

Measurements within brackets above are approximate only.


  1. Start by putting a heavy-based saucepan on electric heat No 3 out of 6. Prep the onions, and by that time the pan should be hot enough to add a good glug of oil, the onions, chillies, bay leaf and a lid. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring through occasionally, and then remove the lid for the rest of cooking time. Add the whole clove of garlic. Any signs of the onions drying out add either a splash of water or a drizzle more oil. Any signs of scorching reduce the heat. Mine take at least 30 minutes, reducing the heat to No 2 after about 20. Heat may have to be reduced sooner to prevent scorching. Either add several grinds of freshly ground sea salt to the onions and stir through or add them to step 3 below.
  2. Bring a large saucepan half full of cold water to a boil on heat No 4 with a lid. When boiling add the well rinsed yellow mung dal, bring back to a boil, reduce heat to No 2 and simmer for up to 15 minutes, checking before this time to make sure they’re not overcooking. They should be soft if squished but not so soft they’re about to disintegrate. Take off heat, drain into a suitable metal sieve and immediately plunge into cold running water to prevent them from cooking any further. When absolutely cold drain well and set aside.
  3. Put a heavy-based pan on heat No 3 and when hot add a little oil. Add the yellow mustard seeds and let them splutter. Take off heat and add the grated ginger, ground coriander, turmeric and up to half a teaspoon only of the ground fennel seeds and stir through to combine. Allow spices to infuse. The residual heat of the pan should be enough to do so. Add the drained mung dal and stir through. Put back on heat No 3 and pour in the water. Bring to a mild simmer until the onions are ready. Add a couple of grinds of freshly ground sea salt and stir through. Reduce heat to No 2 if necessary to prevent the gravy from reducing too quickly.
  4. When dal is needed add the caramelised onion mixture to the spices, up the heat if necessary to not only heat the onions through but also to reduce the gravy. Add a little butter and a couple of tablespoons of single/light cream and stir to combine. Keep on heat until gravy/sauce is reduced to the consistency needed. Taste for any needed extra ground fennel, red pepper flakes (if not hot enough) and seasoning. Remove the bay leaf and chillies before serving.

All photographs within (Todas las fotografías dentro de) Kitschnflavours:
All rights reserved (© Todos los derechos reservados) – Copyright © Johnny Hepburn

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  1. You won’t see a look of disdain on my face, like the addition of butter a splash of light cream. Really does sound delish, I am very cautious with fennel seeds, you are right they can over power, I also think the Paratha is what I would choose.

    • Thanks for that, Suzanne. I guess I’ve got to adapt to my palate, regardless of what others may think. Besides, it’s my lunch! Yes, haven’t had a big, flaky paratha in years. Not since working for Claire that specialised in Keralan cuisine. Must try and make them, as I’m nearly certain they’re cooked on the hob/stove rather than being baked. They really are delicious when cooked properly.

  2. Great photo! I love the combination of the black, white and golden mung dahl. I’ve just recently arrived home from a trip to India where I learnt a fantastic recipe from my Grandmother for a dahl curry. I’ll post it up soon so be on the lookout :)

    • Looking forward to your posts! Have to admit that dal was never my favourite. It’s a dish, that even the chef I worked for (who then specialised in Keralan cuisine), didn’t send me off into the realms of, this is one of the best recipes ever. And Claire’s food was undoubtedly, by far, the best (authentic) Indian food that I’ve eaten. And having lived in Central London for so long I’ve been to mine, and others’, unfair share of Indian restaurants. :)
      Thanks re photo. Funny thing is, I don’t have any food props coloured yellow! Which is why I opted for the charcoal/mono look to highlight the dal.

      • Actually it’s funny because growing up we sort of hated it as well. I guess it’s that weird thing where you never really initially like the food of your own culture because it’s the staple.

        Re the photos, they turned out great non-the-less. I think the vibrancy of the dal would have been lost if combined with yellow props. I’ll let you know when I post it up :)

    • I’ve already bookmarked a recipe for the halwa. And I’m hoping to buy white mung dal next week, out of curiosity. Very much into spicy foods right now, as it’s so cold and damp!

  3. Bottle gourd! I’ve only seen them sold as souvenirs, as water containers. Never even thought about eating them! I’d put caramelised onion into everything, marvellous stuff.

    • They’re safer and better off sold as souvenirs! I really wasn’t keen on the soppyness of them. But I would try a differing cooking method, if I ever find one. As dudhi are on sale in my local store. So far, it’s the only veg I’ve bought that really disappointed. And yes, love caramelised onions!

    • Thanks re photo. Odd thing is, when I went to set up to take photos I suddenly realised that the only food prop I have with yellow is a side plate that has decals of lemons on it. Couldn’t use that as there’s no relevance. Which is why I went with charcoal to highlight the yellow mung dal. Shame I don’t have a suitable board. Must start checking more of the local communal bins!
      Yes, the fennel seeds are especially fragrant. And quite an extraordinary flavour with the coriander. I would never have thought to use them. Partly as I’m really not overly keen on anything aniseed. Apart from fennel seeds, for some reason.

  4. Johnny, this dal looks amazing. Your photos are absolutely stunning. I love your use of all of the whole spice seeds. I can only imagine how fragrant this must be. I have to make this.

    • Thanks, re photo. As usual it’s the light issue! I’ll refrain from droning on and on and on.
      Yes, this is heavenly fragrant. It’s also a lot spicier than dals I’ve had cooked by professionals. To the extent I never order this in a restaurant as they tend to be too mild for my tastes. But with the ingredients list it’s possible to cook this to personal taste – I’m hoping so anyway!

  5. This looks so beautiful, healthy and rich. The yellow color from the turmeric is so pretty. I, too, like a bit of fennel in a dish. I am glad to hear you checked those sell dates… nice of your neighbor to share, but it is NEVER worth chancing it and becoming ill. EEK. I will be an adventure like you and pick up some yellow mung dal next time I am at a market that sells it. Warm wishes, Johnny! – Shanna

    • Yes, a little bit of turmeric does help with the colour. I tend to use it sparingly as, like fenugreek, it’s not one of my favourite spices. Regardless of how healthy it’s supposed to be. And you’re so right about frozen meat. Veg and stuff is so much easier to deal with. Meat, beyond four weeks, is a bit of a no, no. Well, according to which type. There are some cuts that would be okay. Like the stewing beef I used for Toby’s boeuf. Huh, I did let it dethaw completely, gave it a good sniff and cooked it to nearly to an inch of its life! I also told him, when he got back, that I would be bringing my own food to his place the next time I was invited up for dindins! Just in case he used frozen. :)

      • Even with a very long stew, you just never know. Poor guy… I hope he is not offended. He did have the most generous of intentions – he sounds very kind. As for turmeric and fenugreek, just a pinch goes a long way. Otherwise, the dish tastes bitter and overpowered! We are on the same spice time in this regard. :-)

        • Toby? Offended? Believe me, I’ve said worse. Actually, it was a very sweet thought of him to leave so much stuff. But Toby knew how I was about cooking/cleaning. So he wasn’t at all surprised. He just laughed.
          If there had’ve been any sign of the meat going brown – even at the edges – I wouldn’t have eaten it. As it was it was perfectly red as meat should be. No, I don’t take the risk. I think once you’ve studied about food poisoning you just know not to.

  6. I had to look up bottle gourd! I didn’t know these are edible. Don’t know why I thought that, seems I have seen them as musical instruments. (?) Did you cook it yet? Intriguing. What’s even more intriguing is this recipe. I am going to make this! I can not get enough spice these days, must be the cold wet weather and this one looks like it suits me well. Maybe I’ll pick up some naan to go with it, we have a pretty good local supplier. Your colors works so well here in this photograph Johnny!

    • Maybe that’s what I should do with them! Start selling them as seaside souvenirs. As they’re not worth eating. This link suggests, like others I’ve looked at, that they’re a good alternative to courgette/zucchini! You’re kidding! They’re nothing similar. If anything they’re more like marrow, soppy, wet and need to be stuffed before I could eat them. Actually, that’s possibly the way to go with them, as in roasting them. Anyway, when I was out food shopping earlier I happened to notice them in the wrong box with the name of mooli. So I panicked, wondering if I’d bothered to link to them. Which I’ve just done. Mooli are more like daikon, apparently. I haven’t tried either of those – yet!
      This, if you do make it, won’t be like any other dal. Certainly not compared to the dals I’ve had over here the occasional time in restaurants. Even the chef I used to work for made dals to go with a veggie dish and I wasn’t overly keen on it. This is quite spicy in comparison. From what I recall that’s how you like your curries. Hoping so. Having said that, you’ll know to add pinches less or more of some of the ingredients to get this to your personal liking. And a delicious naan would be far better than rice.
      Thanks re photo!

      • I like the idea of selling them as souvenirs! Hilarious! What I found for bottle gourd was something called “calabash”. Well, maybe not so intrigued anymore about cooking one after hearing your description. :) I rather liked the sound of your dal, I did notice the recipe to be different than any I have had. That is why I want to make it. :)

    • You’re lucky to be able to buy paratha. Here, there’s naan and chapati. Which is why I’m hoping to find a recipe for home-made paratha.
      Re FB! What a bore that can be. I ended up having to go into my page, search for you and then click like. Otherwise, if I’m in your blog I have to switch to my personal page to be able to do so. Why? Just to confuse me? Hahaha, oh so easily confused!

      • You’re confusing me! So, what am I supposed to do to like you? Aah…I’ll figure it out eventually. But, don’t worry, I peruse your site daily and I’ll continue sharing your photos. Hopefully, I’ll get you discovered. And when that happens, you owe me 15% agent’s fee. :-)

        • Only 15? I’m sure Frasier paid more – his agent was one of my favourites, even though the actress was hardly ever in the show. Shame I can’t remember her name.
          I’ve no idea how FB should work. :) Try searching for Feed the Piglet, then click ‘see more results’ and that should allow you to click like without having to go into my page. Or go into my page! It worked for me.

    • Thanks, re photo. Occasionally it’s fun just chucking ingredients around – picking up afterwards can be a bit of a dampener. Especially as I kept finding dal in the oddest places. At least the dal tasted good. :)

    • Yes. And it’s an age since I’ve cooked with them. Admittedly, it’s usually green, le Puy or split red that I’ve used. So I’m itching to buy the white version of the dal, which I’ll be getting next week.
      Thanks, re photo.

  7. I don’t think I’ve ever had dal – it always seemed a bit heavy for me, but with lots of onions and all those fragrant additions I bet this tastes amazing.
    I love the photo too, the contrast of the yellow lentils on the black cloth – very dramatic!

    • Thanks re photo. As for dal, any version that I’ve had has tended to be mildly spiced. Which isn’t how I like my curry. You know, sort of reminds me of baby food. Which I’ll be eating again soon enough! Why can’t we just have one wisdom tooth, like in the middle so everyone can share?!

  8. Glad I looked up bottle gourd… I just assumed it was something in a bottle. I can hear you laughing at me Johnny! We don’t use that word here, gourd. It’s a squash. That dal does look fantastic. And you should be able to add whatever fancies you, it’s your dish after all.

    • That’s what I would call it, as it’s a vine. They do look nice in photos. Shame they’re a bit on the bland side. And I totally agree. Dal’s are never normally spicy, from what I’ve had over here. Which is exactly why I never order them. And as there’s leftover ground fennel I really must make more of this over the next couple of days.

  9. I’ve never had a dal before but from the ingredients in your recipe I’m sure I would enjoy your version. As several others have mentioned, your photo is outstanding…your lighting is perfect, really shows off the color contrasts and textures. :)

    • Thanks, Karen. I would be happier with the photo without the rice! As it looks as inviting as a slab of herringbone parquet flooring. That aside, I do happen to like this particular recipe. Maybe I’m wrong but I’ve always had the impression that dals over here is the vegetarian choice – and quite often the only veggie choice on the menu! So I really wanted to look at developing this dish so that it stands alone. Well, with paratha and pickles.

  10. Love dal haven’t made it in years perhaps I should. I cannot but love your photograph, it is just like a painting, I love the composure, especially the spoon of turmeric, my eye is drawn to that.

    • Thank you, re photo. I’m guessing your reference to the spoon of turmeric is the strong yellow/orange colour within the main section of the photo. That’s just the cold enamel of an egg spoon. But that’s given me a nice idea to sort of paint spices on to plain spoons and plates. Well, the next time I use spices. Which isn’t that often.

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