the three leaves
And what are these three leaves?
They are kele ka patta, karipatta and palak patta!!
My son, Aniruddh, woke up this morning to go to school and the first thing he said to me was, “Daa-ad’, I am going to be a vegetarian tonight, okay!” (this wasn’t a question, it was a statement).
“That’s fine,” I replied, “but why tell me?”
“Because” he answered, packing his school bag with last-minute items, “I want you to cook me dinner with vegetables only, no chillies, I don’t want it to be too spicy, and no curry. Okaay!”
My son is one of the few people in my household allowed to get away with using the term ‘curry’.
“Yes son.” I replied, quickly thinking what vegetarian dish I could serve him that fitted his urgent requirements.
Monday is the one day when I get to cook what I want, how I want, and not what someone else wants me to, even if he is next to the almighty!! However, this is my son asking, so I must do it!!
Once he’s headed off to school, I head off into the kitchen to cook for my son.
So, what will it be?
Is it going to be potatoes, or cauliflower, or cabbage, or mushrooms, or . . . ? The list is endless and my mind is working overtime.
One thing I know, for sure, is that he will eat anything I cook as long as it fits into the ‘all vegetable, no chillies and not too spicy’ category.
So, I make my decision.
It will be slow-cooked mung lentils or moong dal, with chopped, or puréed, spinach, tempered with black mustard seeds and kari leaf.
I will serve this dal palak with plain boiled rice.
As I can’t help myself, and so that it looks good, it will be served on a banana leaf.
the most beautiful, natural serving plate
I choose mung lentils because it is, now folks get ready for this, considered to be the Queen of all beans and lentils.
Moong dal, or mung lentils as they are called in the West, are a great source of potassium, which helps prevent blood pressure. One cup of cooked mung lentils is equivalent to eating two bananas a day (my son will be very happy to learn this as he bemoans having to take a banana to school for recess as he says it gets squashed!).
Mung lentils also contain iron and copper, magnesium and zinc. Iron, as we all know, is extremely good for the blood; copper, on the other hand, helps produce haemoglobin and magnesium helps keep you calm whilst zinc helps us smell and taste the food!
Mung beans are also known to prevent heart attacks, but if you’ve already had one, I’m sorry, but it’s too late to prevent one.
Sprouted mung beans in Chinese cuisine are considered to be cooling for the body and are eaten during the summer months.
My mother would make a moong dal called moogache varan during the summer months when we lived in New Delhi briefly in the 70s.
Mung lentils are also an excellent source of protein and contain more nutrition than eggs, fish and red meat. More importantly, the lentils are easy to digest and cause no flatulence, or far…ng, just what my son needs!
So, in order to prepare this queen of lentils dish for the little king this is what I do. Please follow me.
First off, I cook about 2 cups of mung lentils in plenty of cold water with a pinch of turmeric, so that they retain their colour.
mung lentils cooking
Once the water comes to the boil, I reduce the heat and slow cook the lentils until they start to break down.
At this stage your spinach leaves, which have been washed in cold running water, are finely puréed (you can chop them beforehand, if you want) in a blender and are immediately added to the lentils.
make sure the mung lentils are cooked
An aside, if you don’t mind my interrupting my cooking process, on spinach.
The spinach leaf is an ancient leaf that has its origins in Southwest Asia. It has been used in this area for a long time, even before it was known in the western world. As we all know nowadays, it is rich in iron and a great source of antioxidants as well as containing the vitamins C, A and B.
So, let’s get back to our lentils and spinach.
Add the puréed spinach to the lentils
Once the spinach is added the salt goes in (I only use iodised salt a.k.a cooking salt), and then you fold the mixture once or twice.
Fold the spinach into the mung lentils
and it is now ready to have some flavours added to it, known as tempering!
Well, at this point I have to be careful as my son has warned me not to make it too spicy and he doesn’t want any chilli either!
So, a good spice that can do the job of both without being overpowering is a spice you’ll all know called mustard seed!
Mustard seeds come in two forms: either black or brown and yellow.
For this particular dish I am using the black seeds.
black mustard seeds aren't just black!
They have a slight pungency and bitterness and they are also called a pickling spice as they are often used to do this job. Excellent news! as the ‘pickling’ element will help preserve the dal, and in fact make it taste better the next day, if there are any leftovers!!
Mustard is also a source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 which reduces the risk of arthritis as we get older, which I’m afraid is something none of us can escape. It is also great for the immune system!
By the way, another aside whilst I’m getting on with my dish, did you know that Australia produces one of the best mustard oils in the world? This oil hails from the region of Yandilla in Queensland and the oil is sold by that name.
However, for my dish we are not using the oil just the spice.
Mustard leaves are very popular in India and are eaten by women going through the menopause.
The leaf, called sarson, is rich in folic acid and magnesium. The first is good for preventing osteoporosis and the second for reducing stress and restoring sleep patterns. It is also a rich source of vitamin E which helps reduce the occurrence of hot flushes!!
So, I need a medium for tempering.
Ghee is good and is very cooling. But, as most of you will know if you read my blogs regularly, I have never understood this medium of cooking, hence I prefer to use polyunsaturated vegetable oil, which is neutral.
Adding polyunsaturated oil to a hot pan
So, into the pan goes the oil. Just as it starts to smoke I remove it from the heat and add the black, or brown, mustard seeds.
adding the mustard seeds to the hot oil
Then I let them pop.
A close-up of the popping mustard seeds
The hot infusion is now ready to be placed on top of the cooked dal-with-spinach-purée.
But hold on a moment!!
Have I forgotten something?
Yes, I’ve forgotten the second leaf called kari leaf or karipatta.
This leaf will give the dal its unique aroma which will permeate through the dal if added to the hot oil.
I personally prefer to place the leaves on top of the dal.
Place the kari leaves on top of the dal
I then pour the hot oil onto the leaves.
Tempering - pouring sizzling mustard seeds and oil onto the kari leaves to 'snap fry' them
This makes the leaves ‘snap fried’ bringing out the volatile oils to the surface!
Curry leaf, as it is erroneously called, is good in helping prevent diabetes (we have known about this aspect of the kari leaf for a few years, actually a few thousand years but who’s counting?!).
The leaf is used as a mild laxative and as a coolant to the internal organs. It can also be used a mild antidote for small insect and spider bites.
We have two curryleaf plants on our balcony and in the summer months they prevent mozzies from coming into the house.
The leaf has yet even more uses in its prevention of bad breath as its essential oils are antibacterial!
Finally, the rice is cooked (boiled or steamed), and at the moment I am using a polished grain called Sona Masoori, this is a polished grain that comes from the region of Andhra Pradesh.
The grain of this particular rice is slightly thicker than Basmati but is easy to cook and half the price! Also, if you cook your rice using the absorption method you simply use 3 cups of hot water to 1 cup of rice for a superb accompaniment. Nothing could be finer!
So, we’re nearly there. My son has come home from school, he’s doing his homework in his bedroom (so I’m led to believe) and is waiting for his dinner.
I’ve nearly finished too but I’ve one last part to do.
My son likes to eat with his eyes first, just as all of us like to eat with our eyes first!!
If it doesn’t look good, and doesn’t smell good, it can’t taste good, that’s his philosophy!! I agree.
I place the boiled rice on a banana leaf and put the dal palak in a separate bowl, sprinkled with the juice of a quarter of a lemon.
(As you’ll all mostly know, the banana plant is very auspicious to Hindus and is a representation of the Goddess Durga!! The leaf is the purest form of a dinner plate and food served on the leaf has a positive effect on the human body besides bringing out the true colors of the food. The fruit and the flower of the banana plant are also very nutritious and . . . well, I don’t have the time now to go into that description as my son is waiting for his dinner.)
the banana leaf
So, I serve the meal, call him to come and get it and wait for his reaction as eagerly as any mother/grandmother/parent!!
He comes back for seconds in no time.
Mission accomplished for this evening!
“Daa-ad,” he asks eagerly, “what are we having tomorrow….?!”
Anah daata sukhi bhava!!
If you want to make this dal palak recipe at home and don’t want to have to read through the blog yet again, please click dal palak recipe for it in user-friendly form!