Bengali red lentils with spices (Bengali masar dal)

by Julie Sahni (from Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking)

Pick lentils clean and wash thoroughly in several changes of water.

Put the lentils in a deep pot along with the turmeric and water; bring to a boil. Stir often to make sure they do not lump together. Cook over medium heat, partially covered, for 25 minutes. Cover, reduce heat, and continue cooking for an additional 10 minutes or until soft.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the ghee in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the onion and fry, stirring constantly, until golden brown (about 10 minutes).

Add the ginger and tomatoes to the onion mixture and continue frying until the tomatoes are cooked and the contents reduces to a thick pulp (about 8 minutes). Stir constantly to prevent sticking and burning.

Blend the fried onion-tomato paste and salt to taste into the dal; continue cooking for an additional 10--15 minutes or until the flavors have blended in. Keep the dal on a low simmer while you make the spice-perfumed butter.

Measure out the spices and place them right next to the stove in separate piles. Heat the ghee in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the panch phoron spice blend. When the mustard seeds are spattering and the cumin turns a little darker (about 15 seconds), add the bay leaves and chili pods. Continue frying until the chili turns dark (15--20 seconds), turning and tossing them.

Turn off the heat, add the garlic, and let mixture fry, sizzling for 25 seconds or until looks light golden. Pour the entire contents of the pan over the dal, mix well, and serve.

Bengal spice mix (Panch phoron)

The creation of the Bengalis in the eastern part of India, this is a simple blend of five whole spices combined in equal proportions. This particular spice mix is always added to the hot oil at the very beginning of cooking and fried before any other ingredients are added so as to perfume the oil.

Panch phoron is used in flavoring vegetables, dal, and bean dishes. Since the spices are left whole, they lend texture and visual appeal.

Combine the spices in equal proportions and keep in an airtight jar for up to a year.