Paruppu Usili

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My adventures in not using rice continue with today's offering, Paruppu Usili. This is a SUPER typical South Indian Tamil Brahmin dish. We're talking old grannies all have their own recipes for it. Unfortunately, because of the expense (lentils cost way more than grains), people don't often make it. So it's like a special treat.

It's extremely healthy, because it's not so heavily starchy and carby like most South Indian food tends to be. It's also very simple to make, if you have a food processor. There ARE versions out there where you leave the split peas whole, and go from there. However, I find those take too long to cook, and don't come out as nice as the ground ones do.

So. To start, let's cover the ingredients.


  • 4 cups split daal of your choice (tuvar daal, chana daal, moong daal, split yellow peas)
  • 12 cups cold water
  • 2 heads broccoli, cut into small pieces (you can use any other vegetable you like; lots of people use green beans or cabbage)
  • 1 cup cashews (optional)
  • 1 cup grated coconut (optional)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced finely (optional)
  • 2 poblano peppers, diced finely (it's what I had on hand; you can use any chile pepper you like, or leave it out)
  • 3 TB canola or peanut oil
  • 1 tsp black mustard seed
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 3 tsp sesame seed (optional)
  • Salt, to taste


In 12 cups of water, soak the daal overnight. This won't work so well with a hot soak, because you don't want the daal to cook yet at all. Please use cold water. The next day, drain and rinse the daal well. In the bowl of a food processor, add about 2 cups of the soaked daal at a time, and pulse until the texture resembles couscous.


This is the texture you're aiming for. You want it to be crumbly. Then, find a way to steam the lentils. I used a microwave. I microwaved it on full power (covered) for 10 minutes. They were done to perfection. What's going to happen is that the whole thing will form a lump. THIS IS OK! This is supposed to happen. Don't worry about this.

If you own a steamer, this is a good time to use it. If you only have idli plates, that works too. Whatever method you use, get the ground daal steamed. Let the lumpy mass cool completely. Then, place it by handfuls into the food processor, and re-pulse until you get the crumbly texture again. Like magic, it goes right back to that perfect, fluffy texture.

When that's done, chop your vegetables finely. You want them in small pieces.


These are the chopped peppers, cashews and coconut. I didn't have fresh coconut, so I used the dried stuff. You can too if you like.

Once all your veggies are chopped, and your ingredients are lined up in front of you (especially the spices), go ahead and get your pot on the stove with the fat, and let the fat get hot. When it gets hot, add the mustard seeds:


They will pop and splutter. Please give the mustard seeds time to pop. If they do not pop, they will be horrible tasting and bitter. Once they do pop, they become super fragrant, and smell vaguely of popcorn. When the popping has subsided, add your cumin seeds:


They too will pop like mad. Once they've settled down, add the sesame seeds, the cashews, and the coconut. The reason you add the cashews and coconut now is because you want the coconut to actually taste like coconut, and the cashew to get roasted. You don't pop the sesame seeds, because they don't need that much heat to pop. They'll keep popping as you stir the nuts and coconut together. Once the whole house smells of amazing coconut and roasted cashews, add the broccoli.

I chose to steam my broccoli before adding it, because I have the luxury of a hot water machine at work, and I was happy to do it. If you don't have that around, don't bother steaming it. The broccoli will cook just fine if you add it raw. Stir around the broccoli into the fat and spices until it's mostly cooked. Then, dump in the peppers.


Sautee everything around well until it gets tender. When the veggies are cooked, add the ground steamed daal, and stir well.


Cook the daal in the pot until it starts sticking a bit to the bottom. This makes sure that you've driven off any excess moisture from the dish. Serve piping hot, with a side of stewed greens or other vegetables of your choice. Some people even like to eat usili with dosa or idli or rice.

It really is a special treat to have, and I hope you'll try it out.