There’s no way to actually describe a Misal to you other than to say, you must eat this. You must, you must, you must.
Misal is — like most of Bombay’s hallowed street foods — an explosion of flavors and textures. It’s a spicy curry of sprouted beans topped with raw onions, boiled potatoes, crispy farsan (fried chickpea squiggles) and coriander leaves. Drizzle a few drops of lemon juice on all this goodness to add yet another flavor and tone down the heat (a bit), dunk in a crusty pav (an Indian-style roll), and you’re about to eat what some Bombayites would argue is the best breakfast food ever. Not that you have to have Misal for breakfast. For me, its spiciness and complexity — not to mention its healthfulness when you’re making it at home — makes it a perfect teatime snack, or even a great dinner. Misal is an intrinsically healthy food — c’mon, it’s main ingredient is bean sprouts — but surviving on the rough and rowdy city streets meant it has had to go through some tasty but not always healthy metamorphoses. The version of Misal you’ll find at food carts and restaurants in Bombay is usually too spicy and too oily. And eating it with a roll of white bread slathered with butter is probably not going to get you any health points either.
For the far healthier (and less spicy) version I am serving up today, I kept the sprouts, potatoes and onions and got rid of all but 2 teaspoons of oil. Because you absolutely gotta have something crunchy to top the misal, I added a neat substitute I use anytime I want some crunch in my other favorite street foods like Bhel — a handful of roasted sunflower seeds. I didn’t have a chance to make pav — you can find my Whole Wheat Laadi Pav recipe here — so we just scooped up our Misal with some crusty French bread I had made earlier. It was, in one word, amazing.
Did I say you absolutely MUST eat it? Well, take it from me — you must.
- 2 cups of dry matki or moth beans (these are little brown beans you can easily find at any Indian store. If you can't find them, use mung beans). Soak the matki in several inches of water overnight, then place in a colander, cover with a damp kitchen towel and let it sit until it sprouts. In summer, this should take no more than a day-- in fact, if you soak the matki tonight, you will very likely have sprouts ready to eat tomorrow night.
- 2 red onions, one sliced and other finely chopped.
- 2 heaping tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 5 cloves
- 5 peppercorns
- An inch-long piece of cinnamon
- ½ cup grated coconut
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- ½ tsp cayenne or paprika (less heat)
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- Salt to taste
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup finely chopped coriander leaves
- 3 potatoes, boiled, peeled and chopped fine
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds
- 2 lemons or limes, cut into fourths or sliced
- Heat the oil. Add the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon and peppercorns. Saute for a minute or two until the coriander is slightly darker and fragrant. Then the sliced onions and a pinch of salt and saute, stirring, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to saute.
- When the onions are beginning to get brown spots, remove the onions and spices to a blender.
- Add the coconut to the dry skillet and roast over a low heat until it starts to turn lightly golden. Add to the blender.
- Add enough water to make a smooth paste. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan, heat the other teaspoon of oil.
- Add the finely chopped onion and saute until it starts to brown. Add the turmeric and cayenne or paprika. Give everything a good stir.
- Add the ground masala and bring it to a boil. Let the masala cook five minutes on a simmer.
- Add the sprouts and stir them in.
- When the curry comes to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and let it simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until the beans are fully cooked but not mushy. Add salt to taste.
- Turn off the heat and serve hot with the toppings, sliced or quartered lemons on the side, and bread.