Dry curries / Gravy side-dishes

Gughuni/ Bengal gram lentil (Chana dal) dish from ancient Mauryan period

Gughuni – Chana Dal made during Mauryan era, 300 BC

Consider yourself lucky. You are one of the few chosen to travel back in time to enjoy the grandeur of a wedding feast in the Mauryan era, several centuries ago! In fact, by the end of this post, you too will be able to recreate at least one of the dishes that was cooked during the gala wedding of Chandragupta Maurya with Helen of Troy, circa 303 B.C.

I have an edition of an annual food magazine from the ITC Group. This particular issue traces the roots of India’s culinary tradition and what influenced it through history. It makes for wonderful reading. One delightful section recreates the wedding menu of the Mauryan emperor’s wedding feast. There are references to some dishes that we make to this day, like Patala (sesame seeds rolled in jaggery, or what we call Ellu Urundai in Tamil or Ellu unda in Kannada), Sharkari (sugar candy dolls), the delicious Malpua (Barley pancakes dipped in honey and ghee and topped with churma) and Srikarini (flavoured hung curd, better known as Srikhand).

But there were many dishes in the list that I’ve not heard of and (the book too claims) are not made any more. One dish that caught my eye was Gughuni. Not very attractive sounding, the sole reason it got my attention was because it was a dal and I was looking for some offbeat ones to feature during the current Blogging Marathon, edition 20.

Gughuni is, the book explains and I quote,

“Bengal gram soaked overnight with turmeric and coriander, boiled with cold pressed mustard oil, cumin, crushed pepper, ground ginger, bay leaf and cardamom, topped with sliced onions and cooked on dum on low heat.”

Most dishes have been explained thus and this leaves a lot to the reader’s imaginations. Now, is the lentil soaked with coriander leaves or seeds? I assumed it must be seeds as the leaves would wilt and turn bad during the course of the night. Then, is it boiled to a mushy, runny dal texture or till just soft? There doesn’t seem to be a tadka (oil-fried seasoning) for this dal either. Talking of tadka, when and where did the tadka originate?

Now, I’ve no idea if this dish is prepared anymore or has disappeared with time. I’ve tried to recreate it the way I imagine this one. The few changed I made were that I used a mix of Bengal gram and whole masoor (red lentil), used sunflower oil in place of mustard oil and gave the ‘dum’ (a style of slow cooking) a miss (I’m too lazy!). I prepared this to serve just two and least expected my mother-in-law to be taken in with it. But she took a second helping and said that the flavour was wonderful! It really made my day!

For a dish that took so little time to prepare and has just a few ingredients, it does taste quite wonderful and different. Come to think of it, it did look somewhat like sundal (south-Indian lentil preparation), but laced with stronger flavours. I imagined being among the attendees at the royal wedding and eating this dish. It made eating dinner so much more fun yesterday!

Gughuni/Chana Dal from the Mauryan era (300 BC)

Ingredients

(Serves 2)

Chana Dal (Bengal Gram) – ¼ cup

Chilke wali Masoor Dal (Red lentil with husk) – ¼ cup

Turmeric – ¼ tsp

Coriander seeds – ½ tsp + ½ tsp

Black pepper – 1 tsp

Cumin seeds – 1 tsp

Ginger – ½ inch piece, grated fine

Bay leaf – 1

Green cardamom – 2 (slit)

Onion – 1 (small), sliced OR 8 shallots, halved

Oil – 2 tsp

Salt

Method:

Soak both dals overnight with turmeric and ½ tsp coriander seeds in just enough water to cover them (I soaked them for 4 hours)

Retain water that it not soaked up and pressure-cook the dals in about a cup of water till 3 whistles for a soft dal with grains intact or with 2 cups of water till 4-5 whistles for a mushy dal. Take out when pressure subsides. If you’re planning to make a runny dal, mash with the back of a ladle or with a potato masher. Keep aside

Coarsely crush the pepper and remaining coriander seeds and keep aside

Heat oil and add bay leaf, cardamom, coriander seeds and pepper

After about 30 seconds (the spices must be fried but shouldn’t turn black) add cumin seeds, followed by the ginger once cumin seeds puff up

Add onion and sauté till translucent

Add cooked dal, salt and water as needed (I added ½ cup) to adjust texture and consistency

Cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat, sautéing occasionally. Remove from heat and serve with rotis (Indian breads) or rice

NOTES:

I think adding cooked long-grained rice like Basmati to this will make for a wonderful chana-masoor pulao; but only if you cook the lentil to retain shape like I did. If you cook it to a mushy, runny consistency, it would make for a wonderful dal dip for rotis. I treated it like dry sauté curry to go with sambhar-rice (a tangy lentil preparation with rice)

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8 thoughts on “Gughuni/ Bengal gram lentil (Chana dal) dish from ancient Mauryan period

  1. Pingback: Dum Pukht Dal : Unsuccessfully Home style « foodiliciousnan

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