[Tiki Misra’s Mung Dal: Photos by Linda Swaty, 2012]
About Mung Dal Soup
Mung dal soup, as my family will tell you, is far and away my favorite food. I’d eat it every single day if I could — and have done so in India. It doesn’t take much more than that and a couple of hot chappatis to make me happy.
Dal is the Hindi term for dried beans. Mung dal (Phaseolus aureus or radiatus) is the split and husked version of the small green whole mung bean, that is the size of a BB. (Whole mung beans are commonly used in the U.S. for bean sprouts.) Mung dal is yellow, flat, and oval-shaped, about 1/8” long. It is the most popular dal in North India, cooks relatively quickly, and is easy to digest.
My approach to cooking Indian food has changed over the last thirty years: When I was in my twenties and thirties, I was attracted to the pungency of chili peppers. I gradually eliminated them from my diet as I began learning about the ayurvedic properties of spices, and how to finely calibrate seasoning to benefit one’s constitution.
The six basic tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. The artful combination of these five tastes produces depth of flavor. Mung dal is primarily sweet and secondarily astringent. Among the countless ways to prepare mung dal, varying the way it is spiced tempers these tastes and their effects on body and mind.
Mung dal calms vata and pitta. Its sweet taste, which consists of the earth and water elements, tends to cool and aggravate kapha. But, its kapha nature is offset by warming spices such as cumin, mustard seed, ginger root, and black pepper. The lightness and dryness of its mild astringency, a combination of air and earth, aggravates vata. However, the heaviness and oiliness of the salt and the baghar — as well as additional water — counteract vata. For those with a pitta constitution, additional coriander powder and coriander leaf (cilantro in Spanish) offset the pungent ginger, garlic, and mustard seed, cooling it even more. Because the pungency of onion is moderated by sautéing, it can be substituted for the hotter garlic.
Here’s two recipes that use the same spices. As Tiki repeatedly emphasized, this is just the way she made it for us on one specific day. I, too, vary my recipes according to the desired taste, time available, and ingredients on hand. It’s rarely the same.