This past weekend has been one of celebration as it was Durga Puja. For Bengali Hindus (my husband’s side of the family) Durga Puja is the biggest religious festival in the Hindu calender. In Kolkata, which is the heart of Bengal, I am told it is taken to another level altogether, when families feast, dance and pray to the goddess Durga – the conquerer of good over evil and the mother of the universe, as well as her children: Ganesh, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kartik. Schools close and everyone takes time off work to celebrate.
The statue of goddess Durga on her lion fighting the demon Mahishasura in the Hounslow Pandal
Tooting Goddess Durga
The making of the statues is a hugely lucrative business in India and at the end of the six day festival the statues are ceremoniously carried to the Ganges and left to drift away and be reabsorbed into the Ganges. The statutes themselves are made of straw and mud from the Ganges and then glazed with paint to give them that glossy shine; the craftsmanship and detail never ceases to impress me.
There are thousands of Durga Puja pandals, which are basically huge structures housing the goddess and her children, erected all over the different Kolkata neighbourhoods. It’s all hugely competitive and each pandal competes for attention in beauty and innovation. I visited two different ones in London – one in Tooting and the other in Hounslow and both were very spectacular in terms of colour and design, the latter I know had been shipped from Kolkata.
Ganesh – one of Durga’s offspring in the Hounslow Pandal
The banging of the drums, the blowing of the conch shell, the incense, the chanting of the prays and hustle and bustle of people coming and going really transports you to India. It’s all rather frenetic and yet very warm and inviting at the same time. In the Hounslow pandal alone thousands of visitors came and went over the course of a few days. Catering for that number must be rather daunting but I was very impressed by the taste and quality of the food and the fact that it was all hot. It was the longest queue for food I have ever witnessed, but it moved quickly and before long we were given a plate of tasty vegetarian food.
Some vegetarian cuisine given to those who attended the Hounslow puja in London
Back at home I have been cooking an endless amount of Indian dishes from: methi and pomegranate pork curry to amma’s chicken curry, red lentil dal with spinach, yellow dal with courgette, Bengali fish curry and mung bean and cumin dal.
It is the mung bean dal recipe that I wanted to share with you all today. Unlike red split lentil and some yellow dal it does require a little more forward planning as it needs to be soaked, ideally overnight.
It’s delicious, nutritious, cheap to make and other than the soaking of the mung beans, is very straightforward. My mother-in-law makes a completely different tasting mung bean dal, which I will post another time, but to get you started try this one and let me know how you get on. It’s perfect for a week night vegetarian supper.
Mung Bean and Cumin Dal
250g mung beans (also referred to as moong bean), soaked overnight
3 tbsp mustard oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric
half tsp red chilli powder
half tsp garam masala powder
half tsp cumin powder
1 tsp salt
juice of half a lemon
fresh coriander to serve
1. Place the pre soaked mung beans in a pan and cover with water and gently simmer until softened. This will take around 40 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, place the oil in a pan and gently fry the cumin seeds for a minute or so until they begin to bronze. Immediately add the onion and mix together with the cumin seeds.
3. When the onions have softened and become translucent add the cumin powder, red chilli powder, turmeric and garam masala and stir together.
4. Drain the mung beans and then transfer them to the pan with the onions and fold in thoroughly. Add the salt and lemon juice and simmer together for a further 5-10 minutes. You may need to add a little more water at this stage.
Whilst it is delicious to eat on its own or with a chapati it is also great to accompany it with a fish, meat or vegetarian curry (see my recipe library) if you wish to make a more substantial Indian feast.
Mung beans soaked overnight
Step 3 above