Sunday, August 9, 2015

Unde Huli (spiced lentil balls cooked in yogurt based sauce) - High dose of delicious proteins

Imagine yourself being an awkward young adult with limited social skills and a clam shut mouth especially around new people. It is the age when you don't easily fit into any age group. I was one of them a few years (who am I kidding?) many years ago. Big brother had just got married and as the 2 families lived in the same city, we were trying to get acquainted with each other and get to know each other while the newly weds were far, far away in another country :-). It was an exciting and happy time and I was asked by the aunts and uncles of my SIL to their homes. Mine was a more informal visit as I had a 2-wheeler and could just drop by on my way home in the evenings than having to arrange for a real dinner or lunch with all the elders.
One of those visits, one of the well meaning aunts brought out a cup filled to the brim with a somewhat milky looking dish in it and offered it to me. My first impression of the dish was that it was some sort of payasa or kheer. Being the sweet hater (I know it is a strong word but I used to really despise sweets that time, I am glad it was just a phase and it passed and I enjoy all kinds of sweets now), I politely told aunty that I was full and she should really get half the cup emptied out before I would touch it. Aunty went in and came back with the cup now filled only a little below the half way mark. Comfortable I could swish down that amount with a handy water glass and not look too rude infront of the new family, I strategically placed the water glass close to me and took a spoon ful of the dish from the cup.

It definitely wasn't payasa, nor was it any kind of dessert, instead it was a delicious sensation of yogurt and spices in the mouth followed by a quick touch of a bite of something that tasted vaguely familiar and I was kicking myself (mentally ofcourse) as to why I made aunty take away half the cup before even knowing what it was. I am sure if I was a more mature person, I would not only have readily asked aunty for more but also checked out the recipe with her. The natural inhibitions of the young adult made me not ask for more as I greedily wiped the cup clean and kept it. And unfortunately the conversation was so engaging all around that aunty didn't notice my enthusiasm and didn't offer me any seconds. I agree the loss was entirely my doing :-)
I came home and told nammamma about what I ate and demanded why she had deprived all of us of that delicious dish all these years. Here was the problem, I never noticed what aunty called the dish and so nammamma ofcourse had no way of knowing what I was talking about with my limited culinary vocabulary at the time. She just brushed me aside and went about her ways. It was many days later that I somehow was able to communicate what I ate and my SIL told nammamma that it must have been her aunt's famous "unde huli (unde~round, huli~general term for the sauce)" and nammamma also acknowledged that she hadn't made that in years at home.

Since nammamma never got interested in making this at home, I went after my SIL and pestered her to make it for me and discovered that she makes them as good as her aunt. I have even been sneaky enough to soak the lentils when my brother & SIL made a trip to my home so she wouldn't have a choice but to actually prepare it for me the moment she landed here. So in that sense, it is handed down to me from SIL and her aunt.

So here is the mystery dish, it is called Unde Huli and is made with ingredients similar to those in nuchinunde but the look, texture and taste are vastly different. I strongly believe that there are 2 kinds of people in this world, one that live to eat and the second one that eat to live. If you belong to the latter category (which I also refer to as the 'non-foodies'), then you might just feel that unde huli and nuchinunde dipped in majjige huli taste very close but I am the former category person or the foodie and to me the two are miles apart and both take you on a gastronomical journey that is superlative. Unde huli is not steamed but simmered in liquid/broth until cooked which gives it a glistening coating on top and makes every bite soaked in the yogurt sauce. The sauce is not served on the side rather is part of the dish itself.
I can eat this by itself in bowls without making it a side dish. This dish is like taking proteins intravenous instead of swallowing small tablets, so plan accordingly as it will cover your protein needs for the entire day. It is totally filling and you can skip cooking anything else once you have made this. If you like lentils and looking for a one pot, concentrated dose of proteins, this dish is for you. Enjoy!

What do you need to make Unde Huli? 
1 cup Togari bele/Toor Dal
1/4 cup kadle bele/chana dal
4-6 green chilies
1-2 red chilies
1 inch piece of ginger
1 Tbsp salt (adjust to taste)
2.5 cups water
1 Tbsp rice flour
2 Tbsp grated coconut (optional but recommended)
1/2 cup yogurt
2-3 sprigs of cilantro
Seasoning: 
1 Tbsp oil
1/2 Tsp mustard
1/4 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 Tsp cumin
pinch of turmeric powder
1-2 pieces of dry red chilies (skip if you do not like it)
1/8 Tsp asafoetida

How do you make Unde Huli? 
  • Wash, pick any dirt and soak the lentils in plenty of water for 2-3 hours along with red chilies
  • Wash & remove the stalk ends of green chilies and chop them or break them into pieces. 
  • Wash, peel and slice ginger. 
  • Once the lentils are soaked (they look bigger and feel softer to touch), drain all the water and take them to the blender along with the chilies, ginger and coconut and grind into a coarse paste. Do not add water, use blender on pulse mode. 
  • Take the mixture into a bowl, add salt and rice flour and mix well. 
  • Take small lime sized mixture in hand and make them into a ball. Keep them aside in a plate. 
  • Heat water in a deep and wide vessel with a pinch of salt until it comes to a gentle boil. 
  • Turn down the heat to lowest on your stove and drop just one of the balls into the water. 
  • If the lentil ball disintegrates immediately, then you need to add more rice flour to the mixture and make them into balls.  
  • If the ball holds shape (a little bit of disintegration is fine and actually needed. 
  • Drop the balls one by one (do not crowd them in the vessel, you can do this in batches if needed) and let them come to the surface on their own, takes about 7-9 minutes. 
  • Once the balls surface to the top, gently flip them over and continue to cook for another 6-8 minutes. 
  • The liquid would have thickened up a little with the lentil mixture and got the taste of the mixture - This is what makes the dish delicious overall. 
  • Whisk the yogurt with a spoon and add it to the sauce. 
  • Add chopped cilantro, let the mixture boil for a few minutes before taking it off.  
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard, fenugreek and cumin. Let the seeds pop, add red chilies, and asafoetida. 
  • Pour the seasoning into the pot, cover it add let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Notes: 
  • If you are in a hurry or forgotten to soak the lentils, you can put them in hot water to gain some time. They will plump up in about 30 minutes. 
  • Adjust the amount of chilies (between green & red) depending on the spice level you are comfortable with. Soak dry red chilies along with lentils if you are using them. 
  • If you are cooking the lentil balls in batches, remove the cooked balls onto a plate before adding new ones. Add them all back to the pot before adding yogurt.
  • Once cooked the balls will have a shiny texture all around and will not break unless you cut them with a spoon. 
  • Seasoning the curry is essential to give it that extra flavor, don't skip it.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The balls tend to break and disintegrate in the water for 2 reasons - 
1. If the water is too hot, reduce the heat to lowest, make sure the bubbles have died away before you place the balls in the water.
2. If your mixture is watery, adding rice flour helps to absorb some of this moisture but don't use a lot of rice flour as the taste changes and the balls tend to become harder after cooking.