Moradabad, Muradabad or the city Of Brass (Pithal Nagri) may be a little known entity today in the Edible Map of India, but the culinary history chapters will always hold this little town as the playground of chaat-making. A place that not only introduced the use of kachcha pyaz or raw onions as an integral part of North as well as East Indian chaats, but also helped develop the first iteration of chaat masala and the use of chilli powder and green chillies together to give cooked food a new flavourful twist. An excellent example of this has been the Moradabadi Dal. Made of moong dal, the dish first came to prominence during the reign of Murad Baksh, the third son of Emperor Shah Jehan, who set up this small city back in 1625.
One of the more able sons of Shah Jehan, Murad is said to have followed the footsteps of his Great Grandfather Emperor Akbar. A frugal eater, much like Akbar, Murad took a fascination to Rajasthani cooking much early in life – and in doing so to vegetarian food. In fact, it is said that Murad’s fondness for the Moradabadi Dal can only be ascertained by the fact that the prince was in a habit of having the dal in small portions throughout the day, albeit spiced differently each time. This perhaps can explain the rise of the practice of serving the dal with a variety of garnishes like the chaat powder, dhaniya, green chilies and of course every warrior’s ration, onions. It is said the one serving that the prince always enjoyed was the dal served with a generous dose of ghee (clarified butter) on it. Historians believe that this could be the effect of Jodha Bai’s kitchen, which continued to shape the taste buds of many Mughal princes like Aurangzeb and Murad who took to vegetarian eating , in spite of the culinary renaissance happening in Shah Jehan’s royal kitchens and in other kingdoms.
The existence of Jodha Bai’s kitchen, which survived the death of the Ajmeri princess, played a big role in the birth of the dal. It is said that by the royal diktat issued by Akbar, Jodha Bai’s kitchen continued to be the official kitchen every Thursday for the entire Mughal royal entourage – this included the emperor, his queens, prince and princess, couturiers and even concubines. In fact, the actual credit of popularising and documenting Jodha Bai’s kitchen – and in doing so Rajasthani dishes like ker sangria, gate ka palao, gaund ke ladoo among others – goes to Shah Jehan, who unlike his frugal eater grandfather, would treat each of his meals like a feast, enjoyed with at least a group of 50 diners. However unlike Shah Jehan, who preferred the exotic food of his kitchens to the simple dishes of Jodha Bai’s, Murad and Aurangzeb took to vegetarian food like a pea in a pod. It is said when Murad was given the charge of Rustam Nagar, a small but crucial district of the kingdom named after the governor Rustam Khan and later renamed to Murad Nagar and then Muradabad after the prince, the first person that Murad decided to take after his first visit was a cook from Jodha Bai kitchen, a seasoned hand that will recreate the same food in his city.
Whether the prince succeeded in taking one of the cooks is still debatable, but it was during his short lived reign that the famous Jodha Bai’s daal (of the daal baati churma) made of tuvaar dal and served with generous tempering of ghee to Akbar, was reborn as Moradabadi Dal. It is said that after a while Murad was bored of having to eat the same dal again and again and ordered the cooks to make something as light yet delightful as his favourite daal. There were many attempts at combining dals and cooking others as well, till a cook, quite by accident discovered that cooking moong dal on slow flame can result in a dish that is sweet, creamy and yet adapt new flavour twist better than tuvaar dal. After cooking it for 5 hours – though there are records that claim it to be 10 hours as well – the dish was presented to the prince not in a copper vessel, which was a protocol those days to avoid poisoned food, but in a small bowl made of dried beetle nut leaf just before his meal. The prince though loved it but didn’t order it again. The next day, he was served the same dish the same way, but with a bit of garnish with aamchur and chillies. The prince is said to have polished the bowl. By the third day, a pinch of chopped onions was added to it.
Gradually the prince who loved his daal both sweet and salty took to having the exact portion at least 3 times a week. The portion never changed, what did was the garnish. This may be the reason that the Moradabadi Dal still is served with a variety of garnishes and in small portion. It is said that it even when Murad was cheated by Aurangzeb and taken prison and executed a few months later, the daal was among the few luxuries that the Last Mughal Emperor granted his youngest brother.
The popularity of the Moradabadi Dal among the masses is said to be through the eat street of this city. And though each household has its own special variation of this famous daal, the garnishes differs according to occasion. While a simple dal with a little ghee and chopped coriander is seen on a lunch table, during weddings the same dal takes on a chic avatar, when it’s served with a variety of ways and masala. Incidentally what hasn’t changed is that even today, Moradabadi Daal is more of a starter than a part of the main course, much like how the cook introduced the dish to Murad.
Moradabadi Moong Ki Daal
• 1 cup yellow (Dhuli) moong daal
• 1 tsp hing
• 1/4 cup fresh grated ginger
• 1 tbsp Green coriander fresh tangy n spicy chutney
• 2-4 big dried whole red chillies deep fried n browned
• 1 tbsp mix of ajwain, jeera, dhania powder, hing (roasted and powdered)
• 2-3 Green chillies, chopped
• A bunch of green coriander
• 5 cubes Melted butter
• 20gm Fresh paneer crumbled
• 1 no Lemon juice
• Pressure cook the dal with ginger and hing in 14 cups of water till two whistles on high flame. Set aside. Once its cooled down, simmering for a few minutes on low flame. Ensure you stir it regularly so it doesn’t burn. Keep stirring it until it becomes approx three four cups only.
• Remember it should become yellow soup and not a single grain should be visible.
• Now strain it and serve in bowls with all things of garnishing sprinkled as per taste. Finally drizzle with lemon juice and serve.
RECIPE AND PICTURE COURTESY: PRACHI AGARWAL. FOUNDER CHATKHOR
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