I have always liked mixed lentils - be it the 10 bean or 15 bean soup mixes of dry lentils you get in any grocery store or any homegrown/made mix that's born just to clear out the pantry. One of my cousins had a tarla dalal book with a recipe called 'panchmel' daal, and lately even our local Indian grocery store sells a ready made blend called 'paach daal' or 5 lentil mix - one more thing made easy for us to avoid more activity( to our detriment).
This recipe was born when I wanted to create something that tasted a bit different from the usual garam masala type spices that we use in Indian cuisine. Lately, I have started using one or two dominant individual spices to flavour a whole dish, instead of using blends. I feel this not only transforms everyday food to something unexpected, but also does not drown the taste of the main ingredient. This lentil mix looks very colorful when dry, but loses all this colour when it is cooked. I use the pressure cooker to first cook this lentil mix - these are split lentils and there is no need to soak them ahead of time, and this can be ready in half an hour or under thirty minutes :). You can also use a crock pot for this, I suppose, but I have never used them so far.
The dry red chillies are available in any Indian grocery store. I use whole chillies so can get away with the high number I am using. The Ajwain is the star in this dish, giving it the spicy kick. Ajwain or carom seeds are kind of pungent and spicy, as are the leaves, widely used in India as a grandmother's remedy for stomach aches, colds, upset stomachs etc. I chewed on them quite a bit in my college days. They can of course, be an acquired taste, but the taste has also been likened to thyme. I am adding some sugar to make this sweetish tasting like a gujrati daal and also to soften the punch from the Ajwain.
This daal can be eaten with hot steaming rice, or also as a thick lentil soup with some fresh crusty bread. Either way, it is sumptuous and fulfilling and will keep hunger at bay for a long time.
The recipe is as follows. This should make four big servings of thick daal.
1/4 cup tur daal
1/4 cup yellow mung daal
1/4 cup green split mung daal or chilka daal
1/4 cup red lentil/ masoor daal
1/4 cup black masoor daal
6-8 dry red chillies
3 tomatoes or 1 cup grape tomatoes
1 Tbsp Ajwain seeds
1 Tbsp fresh ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 TBsp oil/ghee
1 Tbsp sugar/substitute
salt to taste
1)Combine all the lentils or dry daals together in a pot and cook them in a pressure cooker with the usual time you need to cook daal in your particular cooker. Three whistles and steam for 10 minutes should be enough.
2) Assemble all ingredients that you need for the tempering to avoid scrambling while the oil smokes and burns i.e the dry red chillies - break one or two and keep the others whole. The whole chillies will mostly be ornamental, since the seeds will stay inside; fresh ginger - grated or julienned; ajwain seeds
3) Heat oil or ghee in a wok or thick pan. Add the Ajwain seeds and immediately add the ginger. Add the turmeric powder and the red chillies.
Stand a bit away from the stove at this point, since the chillies might splutter a bit and have the potential to create some art on your forearms.
4) Add the cooked daal and stir. Season with the salt, add sugar and add water if needed to get the desired thickness.
5) Bring the mixture to a boil and let simmer for 5-10 minutes for the flavours to combine. The more you simmer, the more concentrated the taste will be.
6) If you are Not using a pressure cooker, repeat all the above steps and add the uncooked daals( washed and drained) in step number four. You will then need to let it cook in the pot like any lentils and will take a longer time in excess of half an hour. I think the tur daal will take the longest to cook, while the mung or masoor should cook in a jiffy. A crock pot might be a better solution.
7) Cut the tomatoes in long thick slices, or just quarter them. Add them to the simmering lentils/daal just 5 minutes before you switch off the heat. You can alternately add whole grape tomatoes. We want the tomatoes to be barely cooked - just softened but not raw and retaining their shape. I think this looks restaurant style aesthetically, and also adds a nice unexpected tang between bites.
8) Serve hot with steamed rice or crusty bread.
Please note - If you are planning to store this in the fridge for more than a day or two, take care to take out the chillies. This is because the longer it stands, the chillis will gradually soften and release their heat into the daal.
You can further improve the nutritional profile of this meal by adding any vegetables of your choice to make this a vegetable-lentil type stew. I hope you like this Ajwain flavoured daal and make it often as I do.