Bengali Toasted Moong Dal with Spinach (Bhaja Moong Palak)
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.
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)
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.