Yamuna Mataji

Yamuna Mataji

India's Way with Legumes – A Healthy Protein Alternative

IT WAS ABOUT 10:30 in the morning when I arrived at Sadhu Kutir, Srila Prabhupada's quarters. The two stone rooms, connected by a veranda, were perched on a knoll overlooking a panorama of craggy hills, a pomegranate orchard, a small lake, and a field. This idyllic setting lay within the compound of the famed Sri Radha Govinda Temple in Jaipur, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Srila Prabhupada was visiting the "Pink City" to attend ISKCON's first festival there, hosted by the queen of Jaipur, Srimati Gayatri Devi.

A clear February sky had made my shopping pleasant that morning, the fog of dawn dissipated by a warm winter sun. Laden with bags of kitchen supplies and mentally planning the lunch menu, I was less aware of the scenery than of the brazen long-tailed monkeys eager to snatch my goods.

Srila Prabhupada came into view only moments after I'd laid down my bags. Draped in a wool shawl, he was strolling to and fro on the veranda, quietly chanting on his beads. He called me over to observe a group of Rajasthani women preparing lunch in the open field. Pungent smoke from their cooking fire of margosa wood and cow dung wafted our way as a narrow-necked brass pot of dal (legume) soup simmered on a makeshift stove.

As the women worked on the noon meal, Srila Prabhupada commented on their ingenuity and expertise: They'd gathered wood; collected stones and built a small stove; set up a workable cooking area; and arranged an eating place. But more than anything, he extolled the virtues of the dal soup cooking on the fire. Dal nutritious, versatile, and easy to prepare is India's main source of protein, he told me. The innocent cow needn't be slaughtered to satisfy the demands of the tongue. Srila Prabhupada encouraged me to experiment with the goodness of this simple noon meal of dal, flame-toasted capatis, and perhaps a little yogurt and pickle. I started that very day, and the focus of his noon meal was the Vegetable-Dal Soup for which I give the recipe below.

Legumes, called dal in India, are members of the pulse family, plants that produce pods with edible seeds. These include dried beans, peas, and lentils. India yields the largest legume crop in the world, most of it consumed domestically. About a dozen varieties are widely used. If you're interested in exploring the classic treatment of Indian legumes, prepare three or four recipes for light soup, chunky potage, or thick stew from the Dal chapter in the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine. These recipes are not written in stone. You don't need to follow them exactly. Rather, use them to inspire your own creations with adjusted cooking times and seasonally available produce. I do recommend using seasonings such as turmeric, coriander, ginger root, cumin, and mustard seeds, not only for flavor but because according to Indian tradition they help with digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. The recipes that follow don't require a trip to an Indian grocery store; you'll find the ingredients in supermarkets and health food stores.

In the last few years, Americans have been eating a lot more legumes, largely through ethnic cuisines such as Indian, Mediterranean, French, Mexican, and Middle Eastern. Many people know that legumes are an outstanding source of low-fat protein, an excellent alternative to animal protein. And from the nutrition standpoint, legumes are rich in B-vitamins, iron, and potassium. They're packed with dietary fiber, are a good source of complex carbohydrates, and are easy on the waistline a mere seventy calories for about a half-cup serving of cooked beans.

Vegetable-Dal Soup

(Serves 6)

Split, husked mung dal, Srila Prabhupada's favorite, was used in the Jaipur version of this dish. It can also be made with Indian split toor or urad dal or yellow split peas.

1 cup split peas or dal
7 cups water
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 cups cauliflower florets
1 cup chopped carrots
2 tablespoons ghee or cold-pressed oil
1-2 jalapeno chilies
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons lemon juice
fresh ground pepper

If you're using split peas, soak them in water for 2 hours; then drain. Sort through the dal and remove foreign matter; then rinse in several changes of water. Place the split peas or dal, water, turmeric, and vegetables in a heavy-bottomed casserole and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover, and boil gently for 45 to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the legumes are fully tender and creamy. Remove from the heat and blend in a food processor, or hand whisk until the texture is creamy.

Heat the ghee or oil in a small pan over moderate heat. Add the chilies, ginger, cumin, and fennel and toast until the spice seeds turn deep brown. Pour the seasoning into the soup, add the cilantro and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.

Whole Mung Beans With Spinach And Tomatoes

(Serves 6)

An alternative to chili thick, robust, and hearty. For added texture, towards the last 20 minutes of cooking you might want to add to the bean pot 1/2 cup pan-sauteed crushed mung vadi, diced homemade panir cheese, or diced tofu.

1 cups whole mung beans
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 pound fresh spinach
3 tomatoes, chopped
pinch of cayenne or 1 tablespoon chili powder
fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil

Soak the mung beans in 4 cups of water for 2 hours. Drain and place in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with 6 cups of fresh water, the turmeric, the ginger, and half of the cilantro. Bring to a boil; then reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer about 1 ½ hours until the beans are plump and tender.

While the beans are cooking, wash the spinach leaves and remove their stems. Place the leaves in a stack, roll them into a log, and slice finely into shreds. During the last 20 minutes of cooking the beans, add the spinach, tomatoes, and cayenne or chili powder and cook until the spinach is wilted and soft. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a small pan over moderately high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover, and when they begin to pop, drop in the cumin seeds. Continue to toast the seeds until the cumin browns a few shades. Pour the spices into the beans, add the remaining herbs, and drizzle with part or all of the ghee or oil.


Yamuna Devi is the author of Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and is a regular contributor to The Washington Post.