In my previous home town of Madison, Wisconsin, we had a surprising number of Nepali restaurants per capita. That isn’t to say I understand “authentic” Nepali food better than anyone else, but at least there was some exposure to uniquely flavored dals, momos, and chutneys. Now we live in the much larger metropolitan region of Philadelphia, and I am unaware of any Nepali restaurants here (at least calling themselves “Nepali” and serving Nepali-style food). We do however, have a store that sells lots of Nepali food items, that I’ve previously reported on.
Those very uniquely Nepali flavors come from a handful of key ingredients that are quite unlike those of other culinary traditions of South Asia. Cured mustard greens and the Sichuan peppercorn-like timur are items that have perhaps closer affinities to Chinese food traditions.
Another unique ingredient, jimbu जिम्बु, pairs very nicely with black lentils, and is a traditional ingredient in Nepali black lentil dal. It is kind of hard to explain the flavor that this grassy onion imparts to the dish, but it seems to unlock the umami somehow. You can learn more about this spice and much more about Nepali ingredients and food culture at the excellent blog by Jyoti Pathak at Taste of Nepal. There you can also find a recipe for black dal, which, along with a recipe in the Association of Nepalis in the America’s The Nepal Cookbook were sources that I based my version below on.
Most recipes that I found online used split black dal or urad dal (again, see Taste of Nepal for a great introduction to this ingredient as well), but I used the whole polished black dal instead–the same kind I used for the prior Dal Makhani recipe.
Recipe: Black lentil soup with jimbu – Kali maas ko dal मास को दाल
For the boil:
1.5 cups black dal, split or whole
4-5 cups water
1 Tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 tsp tumeric
pinch of timur
salt to taste
1 Tbsp ghee
For the fried seasonings:
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp chopped ginger
generous pinch jimbu
generous pinch asofetida
2 Tblsp ghee
The general method is similar to other lentil soup preparations, where boiled beans or lentils meet a spiced fried oil mixture for final seasoning. In this case, the black lentils are boiled until fully cooked (up to an hour) with the ingredients listed above. Taste and adjust for saltiness, and finally top the soup off with the fried goodies in the second step. Mix well and serve.
I like my dals a little thicker, so I like to mash some of the lentils to make for a thicker sauce.