Sunday, April 10, 2011

my new go-to dal recipe.

lately, my stomach won't stop reminding me of my indian roots. all it wants is spicy vegetarian cuisine. while i suppose i shouldn't be surprised that its set its mind on something - that "something" is normally pizza, which i could easily consume 5 nights/week and be sad the 6th and 7th night that i have to "mix it up" - it's still a strange feeling waking up and wanting to immediately consume a bowl of spicy lentils.

that said, i'm not one to argue with my tummy, so i decided to channel this urge for good and in the interest of mankind/my blog. and with this declaration of altruism, today i can offer you an undeniably delicious recipe for one indian staple: dal!

dal, which derives from the sanskrit word, "to split", is a stew prepared from any of dozens (dozens! meaning you'll never run out of new dal types!) of different kinds of dried split peas. not only is it a vegan's dream come true - packed to the brim with nutrients and vitamins and not a hint of dairy if you go it sans butter - but it's also incredibly flavorful.

so far, i've been cooking mainly with masoor lentils, which are red when uncooked but lose their color almost completely when you cook them long enough to make dal. they fall apart after about a half hour, and it's the plethora of spices, like turmeric and curry, that give this dish its beautiful color.

a few things:

1. i can only highly recommend soaking the lentils for at least a half hour before cooking. this not only expedites the process once you get them in water, but also makes digestion a breeze :)

2. a few recipes i've found recommend frying all of the spices together before adding them to the cooked lentils at the last minute. i've never been able to do this without slightly burning them, so my approach involves frying the cumin and mustard seeds briefly, but then just adding the other spices straight to the large pot and letting them soak in for a bit before serving. feel free to do it either way.

3. err. there is nothing better than leftover dal. if you're particularly lazy, i'm also a (very ashamed) fan of it cold.

masoor lentil dal

1 cup masoor dal red lentils, picked through
2 cups water
1 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 (2 cm) piece ginger, minced
2 tomatoes, diced
½ zucchini, chopped

tempering oil:
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
3/4 teaspoon curry
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 - 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
handful chopped fresh cilantro

put the lentils in a strainer and rinse them under running water. add them to a bowl, cover with water and let soak for 30 minutes. drain and set aside.

in a large pot, throw in the 2 cups of water, onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, zucchini, and the lentils. bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and skim any foam off the surface.

note: don’t add the salt until the end as it will toughen the lentils and make it take longer to cook them. lower the heat, partially cover the pot with a lid and gently simmer until the lentils are tender and almost falling apart. this normally takes around 45 minutes.

now, here comes the fun part. in a small bowl, combine the cumin and mustard seeds. in another bowl, combine the spice powders.

in a small skillet, over a medium-high flame, warm 1 – 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. to check if the oil is hot enough, throw in a cumin seed and see if it “dances” – then you’ll know it’s ready! add cumin and mustard seeds and immediately cover so you don't get covered in spluttering oil and seeds. they should sizzle and bubble a little. let them do that for about 10 seconds, shaking the skillet around. make sure to remove before it burns (this happens more quickly than you can imagine!).

pour the oil mixture into the lentils, standing back so you don't get hurt when the mixture splutters again. stir to combine. at this point, i add the other spices, in bits to make sure not to overdo it. when you have the right degree of spiciness, salt and pepper to taste. transfer the lentils to a serving dish and garnish with cilantro.