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Mrs Parmar's Indian Kitchen: Dhal Soup and Cluster Bean Masala

For those who don't know, Mrs Parmar is my next door neighbour and an amazing cook of Indian foods. She hails from Gujarat via Uganda and has lived in North West London since the early 70's and the nasty business with Idi Amin; for the last two of those years she has been making and bringing me the most incredible vegetarian curries you can imagine and lately I have been forcing the poor lady to teach me her skillllllz. She likes me coming over really, don't worry, and this time we made one of my favourite dishes: dhal. I've loved dhal ever since Moolis in Soho arrived and presented their fantastic version before cruelly taking it away - when are you coming back into our lives Moolis?

I though dhal was a simple affair, but no. There are so many types of dhal and even the lentils themselves seem to me to have unpronouncable names and be almost indistinguishable from each other. I foolishly took over some chana dhal (apparently), whereas Mrs Parmar insisted that we must use a type of dhal that after much googling I guess is either masoor dhal or toor dhal. Sigh. She later conceded that chana dhal would in fact work, so I suggest you use whatever is available in a yellow or orange lentil!

After rinsing the dhal three or four times to rid it of scum, starch etc, Mrs Parmar started by getting out her masala dabba (above - she bought me my own for Christmas and I love it) and selecting a small spoonful of fenugreek and mustard seeds to fry off in a small quantity of oil. She also added a dried chilli before stirring in the lentils and topping up with plenty of water. Then you need a small handful of curry leaves, shredded, and a few pieces of cinnamon bark.

Once it has come to the boil, leave to simmer on a low heat for an hour or so. Add in a tablespoon of minced ginger just before serving and season to taste. That's all there is to it:

Ridiculously healthy, comforting and warming. Mrs Parmar was serving it with a side of rice and a vegetable masala.

She presented me with this green Indian vegetable, which I've never seen before, but I believe to be a gavar bean also known as a cluster bean. These can be easily acquired in Indian grocers apparently; Mrs Parmar gets hers in Kingsbury or Wembley and they are a very traditional Gujarati staple.

I asked if I could substitute the gavar bean for something similar and she said no. I expect you could use something like runner beans or green beans but I suppose it would be like asking if one could use a different vegetable in a cauliflower cheese - sure it might technically work, but it's then a completely different dish.

Mrs Parmar had topped and tailed the veg and heated a good slug of oil in a pan to add two heaped tablespoons of minced garlic. She then quickly added two or three large tomatoes that she had pureed in a blender:

Once the tomatoes and garlic have cooked down, add in a small spoonful of turmeric, ground coriander and chopped fresh coriander. The sauce should look like this:

Then you can add in the raw veg and top up with about 150ml of water. Pop the lid on and let cook down for about 20-25 minutes dependent on your veg. The gavar beans may take up to 35 mins or so if they are particularly large, tough or bitter. Reduce the bitterness by adding a teaspoon of sugar to the water if so. Finish with plenty more chopped coriander and serve alongside the dhal and some rice if you like.

Here's my solo effort with the maligned chana dhal:

It was all so good that I can almost get past the fact that she told me my new nose piercing was on the wrong side and therefore disruptive to my prana.

Read my first post with Mrs Parmar here if you like:!Mrs-Parmars-Indian-Kitchen-Vegetable-Curry-Chapatis/c1rfl/22B9E034-852B-45BB-9CE2-0002A1897C37

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