- By Deepa Krishnan
With the winter season gone, it is time to say goodbye to the last of the "turichya shenga" - the green pods of tuar dal.
The English name for this most basic of Indian dals is pigeonpea. I find the name both prosaic and beautiful :)
There is archaeological evidence of tuar dal in India from nearly 3500 years ago. Two Neolithic sites from Odisha - Gopalpur on Sea and Golabai Sasan - have shown evidence of tuar dal. In fact, Odisha still has wild strains of tuar growing it forests. Tuar has been found at Sanganakallu (near Bellary, Karnataka), another Neolithic site where extensive excavation work has been going on. Another Chalcolithic site in Maharashtra, Tuljapur Garhi (Vidarbha district) also shows tuar dal.
There is some dispute around whether tuar dal is native to India, or came here from Africa. However, the more accepted understanding by researchers is that tuar went from India to Malaysia and East Africa, then on to West Africa and finally to the West Indies, where in 1962 it was named pigeonpea. Pigeonpea then went to the New World (America etc) through the slave trade from Africa.
Today it is grown in more than 25 countries, but India has a giant share: we produce 80% of the world's tuar dal. We import tuar dal from Africa because we cannot meet our domestic consumption needs.
I went to the Indira Market at Sion last week and bought a quarter kilo of fresh tuar pods. It is an expensive vegetable, typically selling at Rs 100 a kilo. The simplest way to eat it is by cleaning the pods, and steaming them whole in a vessel with salt and turmeric. You can spend some happy "timepass" hours shelling them and eating the sweet pods inside.
I decided to make rava-bhaath with the rest of my fresh tuar. Here's a quick recipe: Take two tablespoons of oil, and temper with mustard seeds, green chillies, curry leaves and asafoetida. Add rava (semolina) and saute some more until it turns a light brown. Add salt. Toss in fresh pigeon peas, then add boiling water, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the flame, squeeze lemon juice and garnish with fresh coriander leaves before serving. We ate it with yoghurt and amla (gooseberry) pickle. Here is what it looked like:
Tuar is grown primarily in Maharashtra, which accounts for nearly 35% of India's production. The other somewhat big producers are Orissa, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, which together account for another 40%. It is a kharif crop, so we see fresh tuar coming into the market in the winter season, from December to March. After March, you can't usually get fresh tuar. If you love the taste of fresh tuar, you can shell them like peas, and put them away in the freezer for use later in the year.
I haven't frozen any fresh tuar, so for the rest of the year, I've got to eat the dried version.
Here's one of my favourite recipes of dried yellow tuar dal with kasuri methi (fenugreek leaves):
In a kadai, add a tablespoon of oil. Add jeera (cumin), dried red chillies, finely chopped garlic and half a chopped onion. Saute until you get drunk on the aroma :) :) but don't allow the chillies to blacken (keep the flame low). Add cooked tuar dal, and a little bit of turmeric. Let it boil for 5 minutes on a low flame. Add a handful of kasuri methi (dried fenugreek) and switch off the flame. Stir the fenugreek in, garnish with coriander, and serve piping hot with basmati rice. Enjoy!