This curry has a special place in my heart because I associate it with my aji (grandma) in Bombay who makes a delicious vaalache bhirde. It is a truly exceptional dish because it captures five flavors of food in one single spoonful: the spicy heat from chillies, sweetness from jaggery, a tangy note from tamarind, a hint of bitterness that is natural to the vaal; all bound together with a touch of salt. Add to that the creamy deliciousness of coconut and you have yourself a winner!
To make the bhirde, you have to start a couple of days ahead to allow time for spouting. I had talked about the vaal-sprouting process in this post, but will repeat some of it here:
(a) Take dried vaal. These beans are often sold in Indian and international stores under the name "Surti Val" (I spell it "vaal" because I think that is a more accurate transliteration of the word).
(b) Soak vaal in plenty of warm water overnight (8-12 hours): they will swell up.
(c) Drain and place in a colander, covered with a damp cheesecloth. In 36-48 hours, the vaal will sprout.
(d) Peel the sprouts by placing them in warm water; the peel should pop right off. Discard any beans that are discolored.
Peeling the sprouts is a necessary step and can be a little labor-intensive. I personally don't mind doing this task when I am relaxing on the couch watching TV or chatting with friends. Putting the curry together is a snap once the sprouts are peeled and the result is worth all the time spent!
1. Take 1 and and half cups of vaal beans and soak, sprout and peel them as above. Set aside.
2. Soak 1 heaping tsp tamarind in 1/4 cup hot water to extract the juice (if you use tamarind paste, it does not need to be soaked).
2. Make a coconut paste as follows: In 1 tbsp oil, fry 1 large onion cut in large chunks until slightly browned. Add 2 cloves of garlic, chopped, and 1 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut and 1-3 (more or less, depending of hotness desired) fresh or frozen green or red chilies. Stir around until coconut is fragrant, then blend to a fine paste using a little water as required.
3. In a saucepan, heat 1 tbsp oil. Temper the oil with 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, pinch of asafoetida, 5-6 curry leaves. Add 1 small onion, minced finely and fry it for a few seconds. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp coriander powder and salt to taste.
4. Add the peeled sprouts and stir well. Add 1/2 cup water, cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are just tender.
5. Add the coconut paste, tamarind extract and 1 heaping tsp of jaggery. Add some water if the curry looks too thick. Simmer the curry for 10 minutes. Taste for the balance of flavors and add a little more tamarind/jaggery/salt if required.
6. Garnish with minced cilantro. Serve with steamed rice or rotis.
This curry really brings back the taste of home! To make a delicious pilaf with the same vaal beans, try making this dalimbay bhaat.