Dal Fry

My Boropishi and Kiki (paternal aunt and uncle) are two of the most adventurous people I've come across in my life. They've been to various parts of the world — mostly untrodden by tourists — in not your usual conventional manner. They've ridden for days on trucks, slept under the open sky in the biting cold and also braved animals, if I'm not wrong.
Now Boropishi and Kiki had this hotel in a place called Betla (Jharkhand). Betla is a national park comprising of the Palamau Tiger Reserve in the Chhotonagpur Plateau and as Wikipedia tells me, is an acronym of the words bison, elephant, tiger, leopard, axis-axis. Needless to say, most of my vacations back in school would be spent amid the forests of Betla. They also had a hut right at the heart of the Tiger Project in Maromar, which would be our day-long getaway from Betla. Boropishi, braveheart that she is, would take us for walks inside the forests. She would point at foot marks, half-eaten bones, rustled leaves, all of which indicated that the king of the forest had been there barely minutes before us. When our excitement would peak, coupled with a sense of fear and anxiety, she would declare that she has lost the way. This happened so many times. Much later did I realise that she never really lost her way ever, it was just her way of making us more confident and pro-active in the mouth of danger. Maromar obviously did not have any electricity, so after sundown we would pull our chairs in the open veranda, light a fire and a few lanterns and sing and dance to glory. Sometime the local tribals would come down and keep us engaged with their rhythmic steps all around the fire. They would cook with us and in the pitch darkness of the night together we would enjoy a humble dinner. Blissful times, I say!
Once back in the hotel at Betla, I would eagerly look forward to my absolute favourite Dal Fry which nobody can really make the way the cooks there could. I would wolf down roti after roti with that one bowl of dal fry.
The other day I was going through my old albums, sifting through photographs of our times spent in Betla and immediately what came to my mind was the fond memory of this Dal Fry. I don't know whether I've been able to replicate the taste here but whatever came out was pretty darn good. I think from now on, this will be my go-to dal in a hurry!
Serves: 4-6

Arhar dal/Toor Dal: 1 cup
Tomato, cubed: 1
Turmeric powder: a pinch
Asafoetida / heeng: a pinch
Amchoor / dry mango powder - 1/2 tsp
Chaat masala: 3/4 tsp
Sugar - a pinch (optional)
Salt - to taste
Onion, chopped finely: 1
Garlic - 1.5 tso
Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Dry red chillies - 3-4
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Oil - 1 tbsp
Coriander leaves; For garnish


1. Pressure cook the dal, tomatoes and turmeric powder with 3 cups water and a little bit of salt for 3 whistles. Let the steam release on its own.

2. Heat oil in a pan and add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and dry red chillies . After 20 seconds add onions and garlic. When the onions turn transparent, add the cooked dal and stir well.

3. Add salt, heeng, sugar (if using), amchoor and chaat masala and mix well. If the dal is too thick, add some water. Stir well and let it simmer till the desired consistency is reached. Check seasoning before turning off heat.

4. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with steamed rice and alu bhaja!


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