Yellow Mung Beans with Summer Squash

by on April 20, 2006
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I need to have a list of recipes that didn’t come out as well as I hoped they would. This one would be at the top, but I think that’s my fault, not the writer of the original recipe, Neelam Batra’s. This may just be one of those recipes that doesn’t work well without fat.

The problem is that most of the spices in this dish are added at the end in the form of a tarka, which Ms. Batra explains is a special flavor-enhancing oil that is added just before serving the dal or lentils. Her original recipe called for the onion to be cooked in 3 tablespoons of peanut oil or clarified butter. I chose to use 1/8 teaspoon of oil and a little water. Consequently, the spices didn’t seem to cook–they tasted a little bitter. I think the recipe would have come out much better if I’d just given up the idea of a tarka completely and added the onion, cumin, and coriander directly to the mung beans. If any of you Indian food bloggers or cooks out there have any suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them!

Yellow Mung Beans with Summer Squash

2 cups dried yellow mung beans, picked over and washed
5 small yellow squash, cut into 1-inch pieces (original recipe suggests zucchini)
5 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tbsp. salt
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced (original recipe suggests 5, optional)
2 tbsp. peeled and minced fresh ginger
3 tbsp. minced parsley (original states 1/2 cup cilantro)

For the Tarka Topping:

1/8 tsp. canola oil (original calls for 3 tbsp. oil)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 tbsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. paprika

Place the bean, squash, water, turmeric, salt, and jalapeños in a pressure cooker. Cover and bring to high pressure. As soon as it reaches high pressure, remove from the heat and allow the pressure to come down naturally. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cook it uncovered over high heat with an extra 1/2 cup water until it boils; reduce the eat to low, cover partially, and cook until creamy, 20-25 minutes). When the pressure is released, gently stir in the ginger and parsley and keep warm.

While the pressure comes down, begin making the tarka. Heat the oil in a small saucepan, and cook the onion until medium brown, about 4 minutes. Stir in the cumin seeds and cook for another minute. Add 2 tbsp. water (if using the full amount of oil, skip this) and stir in the ground cumin and coriander. Remove the pot from the heat and add the paprika.

Immediately pour the tarka over the hot dal and stir lightly. Serve garnished with cilantro, if you wish.

Adapted from The Indian Vegetarian.


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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous December 2, 2009 at 10:12 am

Hi Susan,
I know I,m late in posting this comment, I just checked out this recipe now and wanted to give you a suggestion. Moong dal is very nice when it is cooked in a normal pan instead of a pressure cooker(the difference is it is nice and grainy instead of sticky). It wont take long. You can cook it covered on high heat initially and then simmer it for some time. It takes approximately 20 minutes.
And regarding seasoning the spices, you can add the powdered spices to the dal directly (about five min before you turn off the heat). That way you wont get the raw smell of the spices as well as you can use very little oil to season the onion.
Thank you for sharing such wonderful recipes.


2 Anonymous January 1, 2010 at 8:34 am

Susan, first of all, thank you for your amazing blog! I really enjoy reading about the impressive variety of cuisine you manage to try and of course, looking at all the pretty photos 🙂

SIV is right about tadka or tempering; hot oil releases the aromas and flavours of spices. You could try dry roasting spices without oil (adding water is not a good idea at all) on low to medium heat.

I'm curious about your attempt to completely avoid oils, though, because as far as I know, fats are an essential nutrient for the human body, required for many critical life-sustaining processes. As long as one chooses a variety of healthy oils and uses moderate quantities, they actually contribute to a wholesome, balanced diet. Perhaps you have other reasons for trying to omit fat from your diet?

Coming back to tadka, I have a tiny pan – it's called a tadka pan here in India – just for this. In about a teaspoonful of sunflower oil, I can fry 4-5 teaspoonfuls of whole spices plus small quantities of onions etc. The key is heating the oil for a minute or so, then turning down the heat before adding the spices. Frying the spices on low heat and stirring frequently helps me avoid burning. Hope this helps!


3 Anonymous January 1, 2010 at 8:55 am

Susan, I'm the one who posted about tadka and fats being essential. I should have looked at your FAQ first; I read through and found that you do include whole foods with EFAs in your diet. I also followed some of the links there and read a comment you'd posted somewhere explaining that a low-fat diet helps you manage your type-one diabetes better. Apologies for the premature question! It's clear to me now 🙂

In fact, I absolutely agree with your idea of eating whole foods for fats where other nutrients are also intact. I try to do this as far as possible myself. If I had an oil spritzer, I'm quite sure I'd use a lot less oil. I think it's also a question of what kind of oils are available where one lives. Having access to cold-pressed unprocessed oil can make using the small amounts necessary for things like stir-frying easier.


4 SusanV January 1, 2010 at 9:55 am

Anonymous, thanks for your tadka suggestions and for checking out my FAQs (that makes answering questions about the fat-free diet so much easier). I wanted to point out that I've never had diabetes, though I know that a fat-free vegan diet is used by a lot of people to control or even cure type-one diabetes. Fortunately, I've never had that problem (maybe because I follow a low-fat vegan diet!) 🙂


5 Anonymous January 3, 2010 at 3:43 am

It's me again; thought I'd leave a quick note of apology about the diabetes part – it seems I misread something somewhere. Just the kind of thing that happens when you try to go through a million comments in minutes in a sleep-deprived state at some obscenely late hour – you go around giving healthy people diabetes 🙁

Great to hear that you don't have this problem. Keep up the great work!

Cheers 🙂


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