The jar of randhuni (ajmod/ajmoda in Hindi) had been sitting in the pantry for many months. The contents had been refreshed a couple of times - old and stale randhuni thrown away and fresh stock emptied into the washed jar. I needed to break this cycle but I really had no idea what randhuni was used in apart from sukto. Not that I had got around to making even sukto, but then I don't particularly like sukto so I am sort of justified. But that randhuni was still there, waiting and watching.
The obvious thing to do was to look in the myriad cookbooks I own. Laziness coupled with the fact that though I read Bengali, I'm not all that proficient, ensured that I didn't look. Ultimately I turned to Google one day to see if I could find anything interesting. And that's where I found mention of randhuni diye musuri'r daal among a few other preparations. Bengalis love masoor daal and have a huge variety of recipes involving delicate tempering and this particular version was so incredibly frugal I was intrigued but not very confident about how it would turn out.
Around the same time my friend Bhavna was going to be visiting Mumbai from Australia and I would be meeting her for the first time. She expressed a desire to eat a Bengali meal and I promptly volunteered to cook it for her. I added randhuni diye musuri'r daal to my menu. Though I cooked a lot of other dishes for that meal, this fragrant and supremely delicate daal was my top pick of the meal.
1 cup masoor daal, washed well
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp randhuni
1 generous tbsp ghee
2 green chillies, not a hot variety
Pressure cook the washed daal with turmeric and enough water. Don't cook it till the daal grains disintegrate completely - Bengalis like their daal to retain is shape and have texture. Lightly stir the cooked daal to integrate the water and daal grains (or flakes, since they look like flakes).
Heat ghee in a tempering pan if you have one, or just use a kadai. Once the ghee is hot drop in the green chillies and then the randhuni seeds. Once the seeds are sizzling uniformly chuck the whole lot into the daal. Add salt as required and bring it all to a nice boil.
Remove to a serving bowl and serve with plain hot rice. You can add a simple vegetable stir fry alongside, or a slice of fried fish too. Simple is the key here.
Traditionally the tempering is done in mustard oil though I used home made buffalo milk ghee instead. The use of randhuni is not restricted to just the Bengalis in India, but it is restricted to the eastern states of Bihar, Assam and U.P., as far as I know. This spice has a strong unique flavour and must be used in small quantities so it doesn't over power. Used correctly randhuni is quite magical!