Maharashtra’s delectable cuisine is rich in flavor and known for its distinguished presentation. Lentil and rice or “daal chawal” as it called in India, is a staple food all across India. Varan (sweet dal) is a simple comfort food eaten on daily basis in all Maharashtra homes. It is a cooked with yellow split peas, mashed, and spiced with a bit of turmeric and asafetida with a tiny amount of Jaggary.
A traditional varan is called “gor varan” or “sweet varan”
There can be many variations to this basic lentil like moong dal varan, fenugreek seed varan, cumin flavored varan, etc. Traditionally varan is served on a mound of hot steaming rice (Ambemohar or Basmati variety) with a spoon full of ghee (clarified butter) along with lemon and salt on the left side of the thali (plate).
During important functions and weddings it is an important starter for the main course and the rice is pressed into a flower shaped mould and inverted on the plate before varan and ghee is poured on top of it.
Here I present two scrumptious recipes comes from my mother’s kitchen. She is a great cook and we have always loved the two variations of healthy varan that she makes so lovingly.
1. Gor (sweet) Varan
1-cup pigeon peas lentil
1 tsp. Turmeric
1/2 tsp. Asafoetida
2 cups water
Salt to taste
Jaggary size of a small walnut (grated)
1 tsp. Ghee (Clarified butter)
Clean and wash the lentil several times.
Add 2 cup of water, asafoetida and the turmeric powder and pressure cook until soft. Transfer the cooked lentil into a pot. Blend the cooked lentil until it mixes thoroughly.
Take a pan and pour the lentil in it to boil, add salt and Jaggary. Boil until the ingredients mix and remove from heat.
Serve hot on top of rice with a spoonful of ghee and a slice of lime.
Variation: add a tempering to the lentil. Heat oil; add mustard seeds, when it pops add cumin seeds, chopped onions. Cook until onions become transparent, add spices – cumin powder, coriander powder, as needed, then add chopped tomatoes, and cook for 5-7 minutes.
Add all this to the cooked lentil.
2. Ambat Varan (Sweet and Sour Varan)
“Ambat” means sour. This sweet and sour lentil recipe is a specialty of my mother.
1-cup Pigeon peas lentil
1 tsp. Turmeric powder
1/3 tsp. Asafoetida
1/4 cup tamarind pulp (thin)
3-4 tbsp sugar or Jaggary
1/2 cup fresh Cilantro leaves chopped
2 Tbsp Oil
Four cloves of fresh Garlic
1/4 tsp. Asafoetida
1 tsp Mustard seeds
1 tsp. Cumin Seeds
1 tsp. Red Chili powder
1/2 tsp. Turmeric powder
1 green chili – seeds removed and cut lengthwise into two parts
5-6 Curry leaves
Add 1 cup of water, asafoetida and the turmeric powder to nicely washed lentil. Pressure cook until soft and transfer the cooked lentil into a pot. Add 2 cups of water. Blend the cooked lentil until it mixes thoroughly.
Add the tamarind and Jaggary and cilantro leaves and bring it to a rapid boil. Add salt and let it cook for 8-10 minutes. Bring down the heat to medium and keep it boiling.
In another small pan, heat the oil until hot.
Add the garlic cloves and cook until golden brown. Now add the asafoetida, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds.
Once the seeds start sputtering, add the red chili powder, turmeric powder, curry leaves and green chili.
Cook for a few seconds and then temper the boiling lentil with this mixture. Bring it to another rapid boil.
Note: The sourness and sweetness needs to be adjusted, as the tamarind you use will vary in its tanginess.
Garnish with more chopped cilantro leaves. Serve with plain rice with a spoonful of ghee (clarified butter) and a squeeze of lime.
I am sure all of you will love the aroma and the flavor of these two very simple yet delicious lentil preparations.