Influened by its history and its geography, Bangladeshi cuisine is a rich and varied amalgam of Mughlai, Central Asian, Armenian, Persian, and Indian culinary traditions. Like many countries in Asia, rice is the staple grain. The protein of choice is fish. The dish featured this month, Masoor Dal Chorchori, is a vegan, gluten-free dish found in the kitchens of Bangladesh and its neighbor, India. In the Bangaldeshi avatar, the oil that is traditionally used is mustard oil. A distinguishing feature of the Bangladeshi dish is the addition of the mix of spices known as “Panch Phoran” (also called panch phoron or paanch phoron). Panch Phoran literally translates to “five spices” and is a spice blend commonly used in Bangladeshi cuisine. It consists of the following whole spices: cumin, brown mustard, fenugreek, nigella, and fennel. To keep the dish traditional, we will be using mustard oil. If you do not have access to mustard oil, you could substitute with avocado oil which has a high smoke point, an essential quality for “tempering.” Tempering is a technique used in South East Asian cooking that involves “blooming” whole spices in oil so the spices perfume the oil and deepen the flavor. The tempered oil and spices are typically added to the cooked dish while both are still hot to infuse the flavors into the dish. Watch for splatters when tempering and adding to the cooked lentils/dal!
The Bangladeshi tradition is to serve the dal hot with cooked basmati rice and sabji (vegetables).
Bangladeshi Masoor Dal Chorchori
2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon oil (mustard or avocado)
1 ½ cups Masoor Dal (red lentils), rinsed and drained
1 onion – ½ diced, ½ thinly sliced
1 tomato, finely diced
½ inch ginger, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 dried red chili peppers (whole)
1 teaspoon red chili powder
2 teaspoons panch phoran*
1 bay leaf
cilantro, to garnish
3 cups water
Small sauce pan
Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan that is on medium heat. When oil is hot, add the diced onions and saute until it turns golden.
Add garlic and ginger. Stir to combine for a couple of minutes. Be cautious not to let the aromatics burn.
Add turmeric, chili powder, and then the tomatoes. Saute until the tomatoes soften and carmelize.
Add salt to taste.
Rinse and drain the lentils/dal and add and stir to combine with the onion, tomato, and aromatics mixture. Add water and bay leaf to the mixture, and let it come to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium and let it simmer until the lentils cook down to a creamy consistency.
Remove the bay leaf.
While the lentils are on a simmer, add 1 tablespoon of oil to the sauce pan and add the finely sliced onion, the red chili, and the panch phoran.
Allow the spices to sputter (watch for splatter). This is known as tempering.
Add the tempered mix (including the perfumed oil) into the cooked dal. Stir. Garnish with fresh cilantro
Serve hot with rice (basmati) and (optional) sabji**
*Panch Phoran is a traditional Bangladeshi mix of 5 spices. You can make your Panch Phoran using this combination:
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon nigella seeds (also called black cumin or kalonji)
1 ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
**Sabji is any sauteed vegetable. I served with roasted cauliflower. I cut the cauliflower into bite sized florets and seasoned with garlic, ground cumin powder, red chili powder, and salt. Then I roasted it in the oven at 325F for about 30 minutes until golden brown and a little crispy.
Recipe and photo credit: Vinola V. Munyon