Maharashtra has a dish that exhibits the same simplicity, but it is made with toor dal (and not quite so much ghee). Toor dal is the lentil that gives Sambar (from Tamil Nadu) its creamy, flowing consistency.
Simply spiced, the dish highlights the flavour of the lentils. The dish is served with rice, and is a variation on its simpler ancestor, Varan Bhaat which literally means Lentil Curry-Rice. In many Maharashtrian households, this dish or the simpler Varan is cooked every day and it is a comforting and nourishing dish. It is also made as naivedyam/prasadam for Ganesha Chathurthi. It is particularly simple to make. (If you are after other recipes for Ganesha Chathurthi, browse here.)
There is some confusion at times regarding traditional Varan and Aamti – many recipes for Varan that you can find via google are actually Aamti. Let me explain, as I consulted my Maharashtrian friends. Varan is a very simple dish – just toor dal, turmeric and perhaps asafoetida, sometimes a little cumin. Dishes that also contain a souring agent such as tomato or tamarind, as well as cumin, chillies or chilli powder, fenugreek and other tadka spices are Aamti. Aamti can also contain Goda Masala or, if that is not available, Garam Masala. Really there is no substitute for Goda Masala – using Garam Masala will still make a good dal but it won’t strictly be Aamti. Goda Masala gives a very unique flavour.
Aamti Bhaat | Maharashtrian Toor Dal and Rice
0.5 cup toor dal
1 medium tomato, chopped
0.25 tspn turmeric powder
salt to taste
1 tspn jaggery
1 cup basmati rice
0.75 Tblspn ghee
0.5 tspn black mustard seeds
0.5 tspn cumin seeds
1 green chilli, slit from the tail to near the top, but not right through
8-12 curry leaves
green coriander leaves
Rinse the toor dal in cold running water and soak overnight, or at least 30 mins. Drain the dal.
Cook the dal in 2 cups water. After 20 mins add the tomato and turmeric powder. Continue to cook until the dal is very soft and falling apart. This might take 30 mins or 60 mins depending on the length of soaking the the age/dryness of the dal. Watch the water level during cooking and add more as needed. Look for dal that is disintegrating and mashes easy in your fingers.
Meanwhile, prepare your rice for cooking. Soak it for 10 – 20 mins, drain and allow to dry somewhat. As the dal finishes its cooking, begin to cook your rice so that the dal and the rice will be ready about the same time.
Mash the dal as you want it quite smooth – you can use a hand held blender to help. Add the salt and the jaggery. Add more water if the dal is too thick. Bring the dal to a simmer and turn off the heat.
Make a tadka by heating the ghee in a small pan or saute pan. Add the mustard seeds and allow to pop. Add the cumin seeds, and then the asafoetida and green chilli. Then immediately add the curry leaves. Allow these to splutter and crisp a little (be careful) and pour the ghee and spices over the dal.
Cover the dal with a lid and allow to sit for 5 mins for flavours to develop. Garnish with coriander leaves.
Serve with the plain rice and top with a little more ghee. A slice of lemon on the side is welcome.
recipe notes and variations
You can add a little grated ginger when adding the tomatoes (about 1 tspn finely grated ginger).
Add 0.25 tspn fenugreek seeds to the tadka. Add with the cumin seeds.
Add 1 tspn Goda Masala if desired – add with the salt and jaggery.