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Choler Dal

Cholar Dal

A well-made Dal is a thing of beauty and a great comfort food. I could quite happily scoff a whole bowl with nothing more than a fluffy nan or paratha to scoop it up with. Choler Dal is a special Bengali dish which takes dal to the next level. It’s a pimped-up dal with attitude that is usually prepared for Bengali celebrations  and is thick, rich and slightly sweet. I learnt to cook it during a private cooking lesson at a woman’s home in Calcutta. Of course, I wasn’t given the recipe, because there was no recipe to be had. The lady cooked by instinct, with a “pinch” of this and a “handful” of that. So this recipe is from my hastily scribbled notes, and is a rough approximation of the “recipe” I saw demonstrated

(serves 3-4 people)


  • 300ml channa dal
  • 650ml water
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 1” ginger, grated
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 50g grated coconut pieces / dessicated coconut
  • Handful of raisins
  • salt to taste
  • Tempering mix
  • 2 or 3 dried red chillies
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1” cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of asafoetida (optional)


1. Rinse the dal in water several times
2. Add to pan or pressure cooker with the water, tumeric, chilli powder and ginger
3. If using a pressure cooker, cook for 10 mins. If cooking on the stove, simmer for at least an hour, until lentils are soft (channa dal is one of the “tougher” dals to cook)
4. While the dal is cooking, dry fry the coconut in a pan with no oil until turning brown. Set aside.
5. If using a pressure cooker, transfer lentils and water to a saucepan once they are cooked, to finish on the hob
6. Heat a generous amount of oil in a small frying pan (you can also put the oil in a small metal ladle and heat over the flame)
7. Once the oil is hot, add all the whole spices and fry briefly until fragrant.
8. Tip the spices and oil into the dal. They will sizzle in a satisfying way! Stir into the dal
9. Add a handful of raisins and the coconut
10. Simmer for at least ten minutes to let the flavours spread, stirring to prevent the dal sticking. Add more water if the dal is looking too thick or dry.
11. Add salt to taste. (Even if you don’t normally add salt to food, add a small amount to this dish since it really brings out the flavours)

optional – serve with a few toasted coconut pieces and/or a sprinking of fresh coriander leaves on top

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