Tamarind Dal (pulusu pappu or khatti dal, my mother's recipe)
My mouth is actually watering as I write this, conjuring up that image and taste and smell and heat. Pulusu means any concoction made from something sour, usually from tamarind. Basically, you make a talimpu or tempering (this time with urad dal and chana dal and ginger and garlic, fenugreek seeds and even asafoetida, which you wouldn't put in the simple moong dal) and then put in the prepared tamarind water and let it boil. That is your basic pulusu. And you can use it with quite a few things actually – another favourite is with sweet potato. so it's worth learning how to make a basic pulusu.
1 mug kandi pappu (tuvar dal) – I prefer the non-oily kind
Small handful of tamarind – not the paste – the kind you have to unstick from what looks like a vacuum packed packet.
1 teaspoon of urad dal
1 teaspoon of chana dal
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds
2 teaspoons of mustard seeds
2 teaspoons ginger garlic paste
Handful of coriander leaves
Handful of karyapak
1 medium onion sliced
2 green chillies – either slit (to be removed before serving) or chopped fine (which will blend in)
1 dried red chilli
Sunflower oil - a medium dollop - enough to fry the onions
Preparing the tamarind
Extract a lump - about a large golf ball size from the packet. Remove any dusty bits, remove the hard white strings around the pods, then soak in a couple of mugs of cold water for as long as you can – at least twenty minutes. (If you have the paste instead, put about two or three teaspoons of the paste into a bowl of water, and stir it up into a medium brown juice - but the whole tamarind is much better)
Cooking the dal
Cook the tuvar dal in advance – it typically takes a long time to cook than the moong dal. And there is a trick to it – don’t put salt in it while trying to get it to soften. Amma says when she was first married and went to live in the army camp with my father, near Atmakur, she spent the first evening desperately trying to cook the dal on a wood fire – hadn’t realised you shouldn’t put salt in (it thickens the skin) – and was sitting there struggling with eyes streaming from the smoke. When suddenly, along rolled up a tonga with Aravindatha’s mother and many of the sisters who were then little girls. Having heard about her presence there, no way were they going to let her live in a tent! I guess that solved the dal cooking problem. I cook it now in a pressure cooker – three whistles, as they say! – with not too much water, so it can be mashed up a bit when done (if you don’t have one of those pappu mashers, just use the back of a ladle).
The talimpu (tempering) and making the pulusu
In a large kadai, heat the oil and then do a talimpu (tempering) with the fenugreek seeds first, then the cumin seeds in the hottest part and when they crackle, the mustard seeds, then the urad dal and chana dal and then the red chilli. Then the karyapak leaves. When these are slightly crisping up, add the green chillies and the onions (pic 1). Wait for ages until the onions cook soft and translucent and not browned (pic 2). Then add the ginger garlic paste. Stir around. Put in the turmeric and the salt.
Now pour in the tamarind water through a sieve – then soak it in a bit more water and pulp it best you can, squeezing the tamarind to get the juice out. Now let this mixture boil and simmer (pic 3) for a good fifteen minutes or so.
Adding the dal
Then add the dal, let it all blend in, add the coriander and let it bubble a bit. At the last bubble, add a teaspoon of fenugreek and jeera powder and let it mix up. And you’re done! Should look a medium to dark brown and taste wonderful. Taste it actually, to check for sourness (add more tamarind if not) for salt and for chilli (don’t add raw chilli powder – you can just roast it dry a bit before adding or do a second talimpu with green chillies if really needed).