One of the ways that we South Indian vegetarians get our protein and fresh vegetables AND manage to eat healthy at the same time - paruppu usili, made with two kinds of lentils or dals. I use a 50:50 mix of thuvar dal and chana dal for the usili, but it would be just as okay to to use only one or the other. Some people add shredded coconut to the lentil mixture, but all I can say to that is - YUK!
The soaked dals.
When my mother made this, she would ensure that the accompanying gravy dish (to be eaten with steamed rice) did not contain any lentils, to ensure that we didnt have TOO much protein in the diet. Paruppu usili would be a wonderful pairing with Mika's coconut sambar or Ammani's eri kolli, as neither item contains a major proportion of lentils in its recipe.
Usili can be made with green beans, cabbage, even banana flower (vazhaippoo) that I am aware of. I cant think of any other vegetable that would lend itself to such a method of cooking. This is not to say, of course, that there aren't any enterprising cooks who've used other vegetables to make usili, and very possibly with a great deal of success!
I used a combination of green cabbage and green beans because I didnt have enough of either vegetable, but the two together made just the right amount.
Recipe for: Cabbage and beans paruppu usili
1 cup thuvar dal or chana dal (or a mix of both in any proportion to make up one cup)
3-4 dry red chillies
a pinch of asafoetida powder (optional)
Salt to taste
Green beans (chopped)/green or white cabbage (shredded) - 3 generous cups
2 tsp urad dal
2 tsp black mustard seeds
4-5 curry leaves (optional)
2 tsp oil
1. Soak the dal(s) in hot water for 2 hours, then grind to a coarse paste along with the dry red chillies and salt. The paste should be thick.
2. Spread the paste on a shallow greased plate (or use idli steamer plates if you have them) and steam for 12 minutes or so. If using a pressure cooker to steam the paste, do not use the weight.
3. Let the steamed usili mix cool down. When it is cool, crumble the mix by hand so that there are no big lumps - it should look like bulgur grains, more or less.
4. Meanwhile, cook the cabbage/green beans in the microwave oven in a covered bowl, (usually takes 8-9 minutes) with a little water. (If using green beans AND cabbage, make sure the beans are at the bottom of the bowl - this is because they cook slower than cabbage.)
5. Heat one tsp oil in a wok or kadai, then put in the mustard seeds, urad dal and curry leaves (if using). Cover the wok and let the seeds splutter.
6. Add the crumbled usili and mix well, frying until the usili begins to acquire golden brown spots at the bottom. Turn out into a bowl and set aside.
7. In the same wok, heat the remaining tsp of oil and fry the cooked cabbage/beans for a couple of minutes on high heat, being careful that it doesnt begin to burn. Add salt to this, if required.
8. Finally, add the usili to the cabbage/beans and combine well.
Tadaaaaaa! The end product.