Some women shop for shoes. I shop for spices, pulses and grains. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming to open the pantry and wonder when, exactly, you were planning to use them all. Never met a pulse I didn’t like. A half-filled jar of mung beans, the result of a failed sprouting attempt, needed emptying in an effort to wrestle back some semblance of control. Mangy-looking sprouts sold in supermarkets and one, delicious, meal of kichidi aside, I’ve not cooked or eaten mung beans nearly as often as their nutritional profile suggests one should. Moong dal is one of the few foods considered tridoshic in Ayurvedic medicine; a protein- and fibre-rich, easy-on-the-digestion, no-soaking required, all-rounder of a bean. Why, I wondered, haven’t I been cooking a pot of them at least once a week?
A large portion of Saturday morning, post voting and a half-hearted attempt at weeding, was spent faffing on the computer. Fool. The weather was stellar, but there I sat, sucked into a vortex of food related searches. Three hours passed, trawling the internet mindlessly and nothing, not one, single, useful thing had been achieved. Not exactly my intended Saturday. Frustrated, I switched the damn thing off, found a wide-brimmed hat and headed outside with Marion Halligan and Mark Bittman tucked under my arm.
‘Mung Bean Dal with Apples, Coconut and Mint’, from Bittman, sounded revolting, not least because half a cup of mint is, in my opinion, only really useful in a teapot. Bittman’s is a fairly broad use of the word dal, but it is worth noting that there are nearly as many dals as there are cooks. His suggested ‘twist’ - ditching the apples for carrots and the shredded coconut in favour of cashews - sounded interesting. And those mung beans had already lost their coveted spot. The result, with a few changes, is a surprisingly delicate moong dal with enough of the elements of Keralan cuisine to take your tastebuds on a nice little trip to tropical southern India. I can’t tell you how light and lovely this is, odd and inauthentic though its various components seem.
Having wasted Saturday morning, wasting the afternoon shopping would not have been wise. That is the beauty of a well-stocked pantry. A few handfuls of less-than-perfect spinach wilted through at the end and a palmful of curry leaves, retrieved from the very back of the freezer, rounded things out nicely. Two limes from the grocer next door were the only shopping required. One for the recipe, to cut through the coconut milk and the other for slicing into a celebratory Cointreau later in the evening. Sipped whilst dancing (badly) and messaging like-minded friends, a bit further away than I’d like them to be.
Mung dal with cashews and carrots – for 4-6
Adapted from this book. A highly delicious way to eat a highly nutritious little wonder-bean. Great with basmati rice spiced with a tablespoon of mustard seeds, carefully popped in a little hot oil moments before serving. Mustard seeds aid the digestion of beans – I do love the ancient, noble wisdom of Ayurveda.
1 ½ cups of whole mung beans (moong dal, yellow dal)
½ cup of raw cashews
3-4 medium-sized carrots, chopped
A large knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated (about 2 tablespoons)
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
8-10 curry leaves (optional)
½ teaspoon of turmeric
1-2 dried red chillies
1 x 400g (15oz) tin of coconut milk
1 ½ tablespoons of brown sugar or agave syrup
1 teaspoon of sea salt
A handful or two of spinach leaves
1 long green chilli, thinly sliced (to garnish)
Basmati rice (see above), to serve
Pick over the beans very well. Pebbles and other stray bits will do your teeth no end of damage and this also gives you a chance to discard any damaged or shrunken beans. Soak the beans in a bowl of water while you prepare the other ingredients. I’m never sure of the age of mine, so a short soaking means they will cook, perfectly, within the allocated time.
Drain the beans and place them, along with the cashews, carrots, ginger, garlic, curry leaves, turmeric, chillies, coconut milk and sugar in a large, heavy-based saucepan (a Dutch oven is perfect). Add enough water to cover by 10 cms (4 inches) and bring slowly to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and partially cover with a lid.
Simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring and checking the water from time to time (I keep a hot kettle of water by the stove to top things up). The beans must be absolutely tender before adding the salt, stirring through the spinach and squeezing in the juice of the lime.
When the spinach has wilted, ladle out over bowls of basmati rice and garnish with the slices of hot, green chilli.
So, I’ve earmarked some shelf space and washed out a new jar. Mung beans will be back. Might just be making that delicious coriander and garlic-laced kichidi again, too.