janet @ the taste space

Bengali Toasted Moong Dal with Spinach (Bhaja Moong Palak)

In Mains (Vegetarian) on March 12, 2012 at 6:26 AM

I have talked about my inherited spice drawer before, but I did not tell you how I am positively smitten by it. It is a bit nonuniform as I haphazardly slotted in new spices in a hodge podge of old bottles, but the easy access to rows and rows of alphabetized spices is positively beguiling in its sheer simplicity. I used to have a rack of test-tubes filled with spices. As you can tell, though, my favourite spices cannot be contained within 12 test tubes. When I move, I need to devise a new spice system. The problem? I don’t know what my next kitchen will look like, or what the next one after that will look like… I need something practical, functional and most importantly: adaptable. The Kitchn has some great ideas but nothing that wows me. This one is really cute, but I want something that is both light-proof, air-tight and portable between kitchens. For now, I am thinking of finding similar white-top glass bottles (from Bulk Barn or Solutions) and storing them in a lightproof box.  Do you have a tried-and-true system?

Rob has suggested downsizing my cookbook collection before our move to the US. I suggested 20 cookbooks. He thought I could do better. I have over a year to figure things out or negotiate with him. hehehe.

Thank goodness he hasn’t capped my spices. I have over 50 spices, for sure. Cooking relies on fresh herbs and spices and it is much easier to move a box of spices instead of plants.

I am constantly amazed how a simple change in spices can lead to a completely different meal. In this case, I was curious about using 2 seemingly polar spices together in a savoury dal: cloves and fennel. Who knew that they would work so well together?

The Bengalis, that’s who!

This Toasted Moong Dal with Spinach is a Bengali curry adapted from 660 Curries. Not only is the strong fennel and cloves special to Bengali cuisine, but the lentils (moong dal) are toasted which firms them up. They do not disintegrate like red lentils. Rather, the toasting enhances their nuttiness allows them to keep their shape. This is known as a bhaja. Feel free to substitute your favourite green for the spinach.

Back to the spice issue at hand – what is your favourite way of storing your spices?

Bengali Toasted Moong Dal (Green Lentils) with Spinach (Bhaja Moong Palak)
This is being submitted to this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Ancutza, to this week’s Wellness Weekend and to This Week’s Cravings (Green).

Bengali Toasted Moong Dal (Green Lentils) with Spinach (Bhaja Moong Palak)

1 cup moong dal (skinned green lentils)
2.5 cups water (the original recipe calls for 3 cups but I think it makes it too soupy since the lentils do not disintegrate)
1/4 tsp turmeric (optional, I forgot to add)
8 oz fresh baby spinach, well rinsed
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp Aleppo chili flakes, or more to taste (original recipe called for 2-4 dried red Thai or Cayenne chiles to taste)
3/4-1 tsp salt (add more to taste)
1 tsp agave or sugar

1. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, toast lentils until reddish-brown and fragrant, about 5-10 minutes.

2. Carefully add water and turmeric to lentils, stirring to combine well. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer until firm-tender, around 15-20 minutes.

3. Add the spinach into the pan (you may need to cram it all in there in batches), cover and let the steam wilt the spinach, around 5-8 minutes. Stir occasionally to expedite the wilting.

4. While the greens are wilting, heat the coconut oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fennel seeds, cloves and chili flakes and cook until they are aromatic, around 15-30 seconds. Remove from heat and let cool.

5. When the spinach has wilted, add the oil from the skillet along with the salt and agave (or sugar). Continue to simmer the curry, uncovered, for 5-8 minutes, to mingle the flavours.

6. Serve with a flatbread like naan or roti.

Serves 4.

  1. I’ve cooked Bengali food from a favorite cookbook, but I never really thought of the actual combination of clove and fennel. Excellent! I find this recipe appealing and the spicing applicable to other dishes as well. Thanks so much.

  2. I love your spice drawer system. I always end up picking up and putting down loads of containers till i find the right one!

  3. mmmm, love the look of this comforting bowl. nicely done!

  4. i love your curries! they always look so familiar yet so so different at the same time. i would have never thought to put fennel and whole cloves in a lentil curry .. i’m trying this ASAP! i also loved that curry you made with berbere spice and collard greens. yum!

    • Hey Leslie, I never doubt for a second that there are more than 660 different curries… a subtle change in spice makes a dish completely different. Definitely let me know how you like it. 🙂

  5. It’s not my FAVORITE way, but I just have all of my spices stored in a completely random way in a cabinet and it’s awful. Don’t do it. 😛 But if you find a good way to organize than let us know!

    Cloves and fennel…that really IS an unlikely pair! But if you say it’s good, then I believe you!

  6. What a delicious dinner recipe – looks so flavoursome 😀

    Choc Chip Uru

  7. What a lovely looking dish, and so simple. I love that the moong dal stays whole–so pretty!

    Re spices, just make sure your jars are big enough to get a teaspoon into is my only advice. And spices (like all vegan food, ahem) are so pretty it’s a shame to keep them in a dark drawer, though no doubt they like it better in there.

    P.S., Rob wants you to downsize *what*?

    • Hey Zoa, Great tip on being able to scoop out the spice with a measuring spoon. Thankfully mine are narrow so they fit in just fine! (I know that’s a problem for the tiny jars)… I also love having my beans and grains on display but sometimes I also wonder whether the sun is bad news. 😉 So far, so good, though.

  8. I have yet to figure out a good way to organize my spices. At one point I put the spice name and date I bought it on the top and they are in a drawer but it still usually takes me a while to find them. Sigh.

  9. you can never have too many spices, or cookbooks, for that matter. 🙂 you’ve inspired me to try a different spice combination in my next savory dish! (beautiful blog, by the way!)

  10. I love both fennel seeds and cloves! And don’t use either often enough. I recently purchased some silver tins and plan to move all my spices over. I love your spice drawer though. Mine will be going on a shelf above my counter.

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  14. […] While my curry was tart and somewhat crunchy. After around 2 hours, I think I gave up. I decided the curry was too tart so I added in the suggested sweetener and it tasted much better. With a dusting of garam masala, the flavours really popped. The toor dal, however, remained a bit on the plump side. This was still a nice curry, just not with the creamy, falling apart toor dal I was expecting. The beans kept their shape instead, just like when I toasted the mung dal in the Bengali Dal with Spinach. […]

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