Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kala Chana Usal (Stir Fried Bengal Lentils)


I grew up on Prabhat Road in nicer times; when the air SPM index was way below 100. Breathing was easier, washing hands didn’t make the sink muddy and Deccan Gymnkhana was the shopping area for fresh fruit and vegetables in addition to sundries. Vegetable shops ranged from huge fruit and vegetable stalls to small ones, like women sitting on a damp jute rag with small portions of cilantro or pieces of young coconut for 25 Paise each. The most interesting shops were on the side where Karve Rd met Prabhat Rd. There were 3 levels of shops / vendors on this street. The concrete shops starting with the Oil Depot at the apex, Vrindavan which was once a tea house, the school (Shishu Vihar) in the middle of nowhere, followed again by some oil depots, grain shops and then the Central Book House which never sold a book you actually could use. After the concrete shops was a layer of semi-permanent low-level shops that sold anything from bangles to brooms to poorly made plastic items. On the next level were the small herb and spice vendors that would have just one or two things to sell. One such lady sat outside the Latay Oil Depot and sold sprouts. It was the only one of its kind and in spite of being so small, was the place to go for fresh sprouts. I don’t quite know why no one else had sprouts. The sprout lady had become a landmark on that street although she occupied less that a 3 feet X 3 feet area. Anyone who has ever shopped there definitely knows who this person is. The last time I visited Pune, the pollution had gone from bad to worse, especially near Deccan Gymnkhana. And these small vendors sit at street level right next to the main Deccan traffic light where hoards of poorly maintained vehicles spew petrol and diesel fumes. It would be a shame to see this little market go away. And although I can claim that 90% of the sprouts I ate in Pune came from this frail lady, I hope for her sake that she along with her friends has relocated. Or better yet, retired, breathing some cleaner air in her village and munching on some nutritious sprouts.

Ingredients
1 lb fresh Green Bengal Lentils (not dried)
1 tbsp oil
1 twig Curry Leaves (around 10)
1/2 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Maharashtrian Goda Masala
1/4 tsp Mustard Seeds
1/2 tsp Asafoetida (Hing)
Salt to taste

Method
In a wok, heat the oil.
Add curry leaves, mustard seeds and asafoetida
As the mustard seeds start to splatter add the chili, turmeric and goda masala
Once the spices start to froth, add the lentils and stir so that they’re all coated with the spices
Allow it to cook covered for a few minutes stirring occasionally
Garnish with lemon and cilantro
Serve with bread or rice and yoghurt