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  • Serves 4

  • 40 mins

  • Easy

  • 140g bengal split gram (or substitute toor dal, or red lentils)

  • ½ thumb of turmeric root, minced (or substitute ½ tsp powdered)

  • 4 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 thumb of fresh ginger, minced

  • 1 small green chilli, halved lengthways & deseeded

  • 1 large potato, peeled & cut into 1” pieces

  • 2 large fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

  • For the tempering:
    1 tsp panch purin
    1 small white onion, finely chopped
    3 dried large red chillies, roughly chopped

  • To serve:
    2 tbsp cashew nuts, lightly toasted
    Fresh coriander

At the flavour heart of Bengali food is the five spice combination called panch puran (panch phoron), usually combined with turmeric and dried red chilli. A nutty and slightly sweet spice mix that has a gentle heat of mustard seeds and nutty smoky flavours from cumin and fenugreek seeds together with hints of sweetness from fennel and black onion (nigella) seeds. This spice mix often appears in north east Indian dishes, which can be lighter and more fragrant than other regional Indian food. I sometimes make a simple vegetable curry from the neighbouring state of Orissa (Odisha) using this spice mix, which is utterly delicious with methi (fenugreek leaves). If you like squash and pumpkin, then the moreish Bengali dish with squash and chilli, kumro chenchki, might be for you. For the panch puran, you can prepare your own spice mix (equal quantities of mustard, fenugreek, cumin, fennel & nigella seeds) or buy a packet of the seeds ready mixed (whole not ground).

Being a dal addict, I decided to make a Bengali style dal with potatoes, using panch puran in the tempering. The basis of the dal is simple, and I used fresh turmeric root as it’s in season and incredibly nutritious, but the dried powder is perfectly fine. If you can’t get hold of panch puran, or all of the seeds, then a combination of mustard, cumin and fennel seeds used in equal quantities will get you close to the mark. Just as a heads up, if you leave this dish overnight, the flavours of the spice mix and dried chillies become more potent with a deep mustard heat.

  1. Rinse the dal until the water runs quite clear, then add to medium sized pan with the turmeric, garlic, ginger and green chilli.
  2. Cover with two litres of water and bring to boil. Simmer for 20 minutes then add potatoes and tomatoes, and cook until potatoes are just soft. Remove from heat. Add more water as necessary, to ensure dal is like a thick soup.
  3. In a small frying pan, add 2 tbsp of mustard oil and place pan on medium heat. Saute onion until soft and lightly browned, then add panch puran and dried chillies. Fry for a further minute or two until seeds are spluttering, then pour tempering mixture over the top of the dal. Stir well.
  4. Serve topped with fresh coriander, and soft roti or plain rice as accompaniment.
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