- Rohan Kamicheril
Cherupayar Chena Puzhukku | Green Moong Dhal with Yam and Coconut
Most outsiders don’t often associate lentils with the food of Kerala, well-known as it is for its tropical, coastal bounty of bananas, seafood, and coconut. Yet lentils form a rich and varied part of the vegetarian cuisine of the state.
This dish of whole green moong dhal cooked with white yam and coconut is an unusual and delicious variation on an everyday staple.
Like so many great home-cooked dishes, it relies on very few ingredients, but treats them in a way that ensures that they make a tremendous impact.
Unlike most recipes for dhal, which typically start with you soaking the lentils, this dish begins with the dhal getting gently fried in coconut oil till it’s lightly toasted. It sounds unusual, but it has profound effect on the taste of the final dish.
The original recipe calls for the impressively named elephant foot yam, which can be a little hard to find in American supermarkets. If you have access to a good South Indian supermarket, do feel free to use one cup of cleaned elephant foot yam. If not, though, any starchy, white-fleshed yam will serve perfectly well.
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 cup green moong dhal
1 large white yam, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
½ cup fresh grated coconut (or frozen and defrosted grated coconut)
2 green chillies, finely chopped (or to taste)
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Salt to taste
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced through the root
2 dried red chillies
Sprigs of fresh fennel or dill
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil till it begins to shimmer.
Add the green moong dhal to the pan and cook it, stirring frequently, until the lentils shine and smell just lightly toasted—no more than five minutes. Take care not to let them burn.
Add enough water to cover by an inch, add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the lentils are al dente. How long this takes will depend on the age of your lentils.
Once they are almost completely cooked, add the cubes of yam to the pan and continue to cook for another 15-20 minutes, until the yam is cooked through. Add more water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking and burning. The cooked dhal shouldn’t be too runny or too thick. You’re aiming for a texture akin to thick oatmeal porridge.
When the yam is cooked through and the lentils are tender, add the finely chopped green chilli, garlic, and coconut and cook for just five minutes more to allow the flavors to meld together. Check for salt and adjust as needed.
In a small skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of coconut oil till it begins to shimmer and move easily about the bottom of the pan. Add the mustard seeds and cumin and stand back as they sputter in the hot oil. Quickly add the sliced shallots and dried red chillies to the pan and stir.
Continue to cook for 2-3 minutes, until the shallots have turned golden brown and the chillies are blistered in spots but not burnt.
Tip the seasoned oil over the hot dhal.
Garnish with fennel fronds or dill and serve while still piping hot.