cholar dal from The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles

by Kristina Sloggett

in cookbook review,Dinner,Gluten Free,recipes,Vegan

cholar dal

bengali five spice chronicles

I love cookbooks, and you know I love reviewing them. My original reason for accepting this latest book? Jason.

He loves Indian food, and I want to learn more about these flavors I enjoy as well.

The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles, Exploring the Cuisine of Eastern India, is from Rinku Bhattacharya. Born in Kolkaka, India, she now lives in Westchester, New York. In addition to the book, she teaches cooking classes and writes a food blog, Cooking in Westchester.

The book title comes from the five-spice blend Bengalis call panch phoron. This spice blend consists of five whole spices in equal proportions: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fenugreek seeds, and fennel seeds and is at the heart of Bengali flavors and the individual spices form the basis of the Bengali pantry.

Peppered with wonderful family stories. history and Bengali culture, this book is entertaining, educational and delicious. There are 180 easy to follow recipes – both traditional and contemporary – and a thorough guide to spice blends and pastes.

We have already prepared several recipes from this book, and I have many more marked to try. Everything has been fantastic – from tofu with tomatoes and bell peppers in cashew nut gravy and winter squash in spicy coconut mustard sauce to green plantain cakes and onion rings with nigella seeds. We have loved it all.

cholar dal from The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles

I handed Jason the book and asked him to choose the first recipe I’d make him. He picked a good one – this dal is warmly spiced and incredibly flavorful. Jason is requesting I make this weekly – in fact he said “I could eat this every day.”

This is buttery, with the perfect level of layered heat and complex flavors. I will not mind making this weekly.

dal with sriracha

Mesho’s Cholar Dal

reprinted with permission from publisher

makes 4-6 servings

2/3 cup dried yellow Bengali gram lentils (cholar dal), soaked overnight
1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
1 teaspoon fresh ginger paste (instructions below)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ghee (clarified butter)
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 or 3 dried whole red chilies

Drain and rinse the lentils and place in a cooking pot with 3 cups water. Bring the lentils to a simmer. Add the turmeric, salt, cayenne pepper powder, ginger paste, garlic, and tomatoes and simmer on medium-low heat for about 35 to 40 minutes. The lentils should be soft and easily mashed with the back of a spoon; the mixture should be creamy and fairly thick but the lentils should retain their shape.

Heat the ghee in a small skillet and add the cumin seeds and chilies. When the seeds begin to sizzle pour the mixture over the lentils and serve.

ginger paste

Aada Bata

Fresh ginger is peeled and ground to a smooth paste for use in Bengali dishes. Look for ginger that is relatively young, smooth and without much fiber. The ginger paste can be made by processing ginger in a blender or wet/dry grinder.

*I shared this recipe as is from the book; I kept our version vegan by using dairy/soy free butter.

cholar dal

Are you a fan of Indian cooking? I highly recommend The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles.


{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christine January 9, 2013 at 4:02 am

This is SO going on my meal plan next week! I hope WF has those lentils?! And that I can find a substitute for ghee. :)


2 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 9:30 am

hi Christine!! long time no see, GREAT to see you! :) as I said in the post, I simply subbed my normal Earth Balance soy free, melted… the second time I made this recipe I forgot that step completely (oops!) and it was still wonderful! I used lentils from Whole Foods ;)


3 Christine January 9, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Thanks K! I’m so excited to make this. :)


4 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 1:35 pm

I am excited for you – enjoy!


5 Heather (Where's the Beach) January 9, 2013 at 5:19 am

For some reason Indian cooking scares me a bit. Mostly b/c I’m not familiar with it. This looks so good. I can almost smell the spices in there. That’s one thing I do love about Indian foods – the richness of spices and flavors.


6 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 9:28 am

I know exactly what you mean – the unknown is intimidating sometimes – this was VERY easy and with fairly “regular” ingredients. I think you would really enjoy this book, Heather!


7 christina January 9, 2013 at 6:57 am

I spy Sriracha! I just bought turmeric, finally!


8 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 9:27 am

I know, it’s funny how you zero in on that stuff, right? ;) turmeric, yay! I use that a lot in my tofu scrambles, and people have said they look JUST like eggs ;)


9 Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table January 9, 2013 at 6:57 am

I’m going high carb next week before my race and you better believe this is going on the menu! Indian food is maybes favorite cuisine. It’s hard to trump Italian,,,


10 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 9:26 am

woo HOO – I know you will love this, Laura – can’t wait to hear how much!


11 Cory January 9, 2013 at 8:15 am



12 Angie January 9, 2013 at 8:51 am

This looks amazing!
Do you have any recommendations on subbing out Ghee for vegans?


13 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 9:25 am

hi Angie!

like I stated at the end of the recipe, I used a dairy + soy free butter (Earth Balance soy free) and melted it. I have also made this dish without that step (I simply forgot the butter!), and it was still remarkably flavorful!

Enjoy! Kristina


14 Angie January 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Thank-you for the response. I am definitely going to try this!


15 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 1:44 pm

enjoy Angie!!


16 Heather @ Better With Veggies January 9, 2013 at 9:04 am

I’m not as into Indian food as I think I would be if I ate it more often (and more variety). This sounds right up my alley, so I’ll add this to our meal list for next week! Thanks for sharing!


17 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 9:23 am

you are so very welcome! I know you guys will enjoy it – and it is a very straightforward recipe.


18 Mark January 9, 2013 at 9:31 am

as you said, cuisines you don’t cook at all can be intimidating, I tend to think there will be many ingredients I will not have. This recipe looks both straight-forward and not too foreign as far as ingredients go, I shall try it!


19 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 1:59 pm

I totally understand that, Mark – I felt the same way for so long! I had many of these ingredients on hand, and what I didn’t, I easily found at your average grocery store. so happy you’re going to step out of that comfort zone and try it! cheers!


20 Kath January 9, 2013 at 11:09 am

I believe we have everything already to make this, it does look very flavorful! thankyou for the review, I just purchased this book :)


21 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 1:56 pm

yay – so happy you bought the book!

sounds like you’ll be making this soon? let me know how you like it!


22 Kalyn January 9, 2013 at 11:25 am

This looks like a great book and the recipe also sounds fantastic.


23 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm

yes, Kalyn – right about both, we are really enjoying this book!


24 Lou January 9, 2013 at 11:27 am

sounds very flavorful, and your photos are (as always!!) stunning! thanks for this review, I will plan to make this recipe (very easy to convert to vegan!).


25 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 1:54 pm

thank you, Lou – those kind of comments always make me smile big. yes, this is definitely vegan friendly – we used Earth Balance, but I just received a new comment from a Bengali, she suggested using vegetable oil or even mustard oil! (I am off to find that!) so… there you go! enjoy!


26 Dori H January 9, 2013 at 11:59 am

I love dal, and I love Indian – we have it at our cafe (believe your husband works at the Oregon location of where I work…? ;) ) and I eat there most of all. I have always hesitated to make my own, but I am going to go buy the book now (thanks!!) and start with this recipe – you are right, it looks very good!


27 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 1:52 pm

YES, you’re down in the Bay, right? Jason used to fly down there every Friday! yes, he loves the Indian section in the cafe…

so happy you bought the book – you are going to love it! xo Kris


28 tommy January 9, 2013 at 12:22 pm

looking good, my dear – your pictures are great, they look like they go with the book design! we love Indian but go out for it, I should learn from you!!


29 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 1:46 pm

you should try this one, Tom – you’ll see how approachable it is! if you like Indian this is so very good!


30 Fran January 9, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I am one of those scared of cooking out of my comfort zone, but this DOES look like even I could do it LOL. thanks for sharing, going to look for the book!


31 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm

it really is fairly easy, Fran – I hope you try it! The book is a very good one – I definitely recommend it!


32 Soma January 9, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Hi Kristina,

This is Soma and a Bengali. I came accross your photo on food gawker. It’s nice to see you cooking and loving traditional Indian food. I see people asking you about ghee substitute. We use a lot of mustard oil in our cokking. For health reasons, we try not to use a lot of ghee. If you cannot find ghee, use vegetable oil or if you can find, use mustard oil.

I have started a new blog and it’s mostly about Indian food too.

Happy eating and blogging,



33 Kristina Sloggett January 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm

hello Soma!

thank you for stopping by, and thank you especially for the substitution suggestions – I know I will be cooking a lot from this book, and am definitely intrigued by this mustard oil you talk about – I will look for it!

I will come visit your blog – with our love of this cuisine I look forward to seeing your recipes.

Thanks again, cheers to you!



34 Rinku Bhattacharya January 9, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Hi Kristina,

Thanks for writing about my book.
Yes, something like canolla oil would work fine in this recipe instead of the ghee. While, I have used mustard oil in a lot of other recipes it would be too strong for this particular one. Hope that helps!



35 Kristina Sloggett January 10, 2013 at 10:29 pm

hi Rinku!

I LOVE your book – this recipe is so very good, and we have loved many others as well. congrats on a delicious book!

and thank you – this is definitely good to know. I still want to find this mustard oil, but I will follow your advice with it.

best to you,



36 Eileen January 10, 2013 at 3:42 pm

This dal sounds so good. I’ve never heard of using fresh ginger paste before–so maybe this is what all my dals have been missing! :)


37 Kristina Sloggett January 10, 2013 at 10:11 pm

I know, Eileen – I have never added ginger to mine, either – it works well!


38 Kristina Sloggett January 10, 2013 at 10:13 pm

and this is one of the best tasting dal I have ever had – honestly!


39 Sarah @ The Smart Kitchen January 20, 2013 at 6:22 am

One of the things I love the most about Indian cooking is how simple most of the recipes really are, but the amazing complexity of flavor that develops from the methods and spices. My favorite cooking class I’ve ever taken was with Asha Gomez, who is slowly becoming a master (at least in my mind!) of celebrating the cuisine of southern India.

How did you know I’m craving Indian food right now??? [At 9:22 AM. Whatever.]


40 Kristina Sloggett January 21, 2013 at 6:08 pm

ha! I crave “non breakfast” foods (who defines that, anyway?) all the time. I would love to take an Indian class sometime, for now I am learning through books… and Jason…


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