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Vegetable Chana Dal Recipe

Vegetable Chana Dal Recipe Recipe
Turai chana dal is a dish that Baji, my husband Lulu's late grandmother, would make for the family. It's a healthy dish made of ridged gourd vegetable and lentils.
The ridged gourd vegetable, also known as turai or beerakaya, has the shape of an elongated starfruit squash. You can find it at any Indian grocery stores. This time, I made my own interpretation of her dish using a similar looking Vietnamese vegetable called mướp, which is a loofah gourd. Like the ridged gourd, mướp also belongs to the squash family. I've made this recipe with other vegetables such as zucchini and opo squash (trái bàu in Vietnamese) before and it’s come out well because once cooked, the texture of all these vegetables is quite similar. The flesh is soft and tender with a mild, natural sweetness.
No matter which vegetable you end up using, this dish will make a great veggie main course for your next meal.

Ingredients

Yields: 6 servings
1 large loofah gourd (or ridged gourd)
2 tablespoons canola oil (or any neutral oil)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, julienned and cut about 1" long
1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste 
½ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
¼ teaspoon red chili powder, to taste
1 jalapeño green pepper, cut into thirds
10 fresh curry leaves, torn in half
½ cup cooked chana dal
¼ cup urad dal
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dried mango powder (see tips)

Preparation

Trim and peel the loofah gourd. Slice it in half, lengthwise and cut into 1"-chunk, horizontally.
In a deep pan, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ginger garlic paste, turmeric powder, the julienned ginger, green chile peppers and red chili powder. Once the mixture is fragrant, add both lentils (chana dal and urad dal). Cook for about 3-4 minutes over high heat. Add loofah gourd, the curry leaves and garam masala. Stir well. Add ¼ cup of water (up to ½ cup). Cook for about 3-4 minutes, on high heat. Cover with a lid, so the water doesn't evaporate too fast (keep an eye on the level of moisture so the dish doesn't burn). Lower to a gentle simmer for 8 minutes. Season with salt. Once the water evaporates completely, check the softness of the dal and make sure the vegetable is very tender (it should look a little translucent). Add more water and cook a bit longer if not fully cooked. Add cilantro, ground coriander and finish with mango powder. Stir well. Cover until you're ready to serve.
Serve warm with basmati rice.
Bon appétit!

Tips

If you've never heard of ridged gourd (turai in Urdu) before, you've probably heard of loofah, like the exfoliating sponge. If you decide to cook the dish with turai, make sure to peel the tough skin and ridges and cut the soft inside lengthwise.
Whether you buy loofah or opo squash, these vegetables usually don’t keep for more than 2-3 days. So use them quickly, otherwise they turn a little bitter. For a sweet and non-bitter taste, pick young-looking thin, long squash. If the skin looks wrinkled and drooping, pass; chances are there won't be much flesh inside.
In Vietnamese cuisine, you will often see mướp cooked in canh ("soup" in Vietnamese).
For an acidic and tart taste, dried mango powder (also known as amchur) is added to the lentils. Amchur is made of the finely ground flesh of sun-dried green mangoes. It's an important step toward the end of cooking. You can find the beige-colored powder at any Indian store. If you don't have any, you could replace it with 2 teaspoons of lemon or lime juice. It adds a unique sour flavor to the dish.
I usually pre-cook chana dal (urad dal cooks much faster). Just soak chana dal for about 30 minutes and use a pressure cooker for a faster cooking time. 
You can find fresh curry leaves in any Indian grocery stores.

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