Lentil & Vegetable Stew | Odia Dalma
One of the reasons I started this blog was to document and to share some of the great home cooking I grew up eating, cooking you can’t find in restaurants. Within the Indian diaspora, food from my home state of Odisha is not very well-known. Odisha is a coastal state in eastern India and if anyone knows anything about the eastern part of the country, they are likely familiar with Bengali food. Lots of people in and out of India don’t know much about Odia food; there are probably some historical reasons for why some cultures become more dominant than others but I am on a one-woman mission to share some of what I’ve grown up eating so that the rest of the world can find out how great our food is.
One Odia classic recipe is dalma, served in lots of homes and temples across the state. It is a lentil stew with a lot of hearty vegetables, and finished with some whole spices tempered in ghee (clarified butter). There are many regional variations - this one I’ve cooked up is my mom’s recipe, of course. You start with a base of lentils, add in the vegetables, and season twice, once with ground spices and once with whole spices tempered in ghee. The layers of flavor are fantastic and I’m confident that this is the best lentil stew you will eat. Some of the ingredients on here may be harder to find, such as panch phoron; everything out of the ordinary is available online or any specialty Indian grocery store. Panch phoron, the mix of whole five spices, is a key ingredient here and I recommend you do not try to substitute. If you’re curious to read more about these spices, check out my guide to Indian spices for a quick primer.
In terms of the vegetables, you can really use whatever is handy. Traditional recipes call for a mix of pumpkin or some other squash, radishes, potatoes, plantain, taro, and drumstick. Drumstick is a vegetables native to South Asia; it’s hard to find fresh drumstick outside of South Asia, so frozen is your best bet.
1.5 cups moong dal (dried, split mung beans)
4 cups water
4 small red potatoes
3 cups cubed squash (I used spaghetti squash)
6 drumsticks (optional)
1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
1/2 tsp powdered turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp panch phoron
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 dried red chilies
salt to taste
Heat up a large pot on (4-7 quarts) and add the dry lentil. Dry roast the lentils for 3-5 minutes or until fragrant over medium heat. Add in all of the water, cayenne pepper, turmeric, salt, and the tomato, halved. Mix well, cover with a lid, and cook for 15 minutes covered.
While the lentils are cooking, cut up the vegetables into large, bite-sized chunks. Cut up the potatoes, squash (clean out the guts first), and radish into similarly sized chunks. Add the vegetables into the pot with the lentil, add a little more salt, and cook for an additional 20 minutes partially covered.
Dry roast the cumin seeds and dried red chilies; once fragrant, grind the whole spices and set aside. Next, melt the ghee in a pan and once melted, add in the panch phoron. When the whole spices crackle, add them into the pot of lentil and mix well. Next, add in the ground spices and mix well. If using, toss in the frozen drumsticks. Let the lentils cook for an additional 15 minutes uncovered to reduce the liquid. If needed, season with more salt.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve by itself or with rice!