Dal - Lentil Stew

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No, not dull. Dal. And it’s anything but. If you like lentils, you will love Dal. Why?, because Dal is lentils- a lentil stew.

I’ve made lentils before. Both as a soup and as a side dish. Both using mirepoix for the base. But, I have never made Dal before. I looked up what spices are traditionally used in making Dal and decided I would use my own version. Ballsy, I know, but what the hell.

If you read last week’s blog post, and I hope you did, you know I had an inspiration spurt propelling me to create a complete Indian meal for JC, my sis Jill and myself. It started with the rice. Then moved onto what will go with the rice.

That’s where the Dal came in.

I used a couple of items that might not be traditional Indian ones but they blended beautifully in the dish.

I had roasted tomatoes. Boy, did I have roasted tomatoes since I just finished making 100lbs. of tomatoes. No, that wasn’t a typo; 100 glorious pounds. JC thought I was nuts. (I must admit that after the first 25lbs, I thought I was nuts too!) So, with plenty of roasted tomatoes on hand, I figured why not use them in my Dal. I also had celery and long hot peppers and wanted to use those up. I always taste as I go, so when I cut into the peppers, which I thought were supposed to hot, they didn’t seem to have the heat I expected. So, I added a jalapeño, too. Believe it or not, the spice level ended up being perfect for my palate. Not so spicy that I couldn’t taste anything else or not be able to detect that my tongue was still attached to my mouth. Yet spicy enough to wake up the senses.

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Ingredients

3 c yellow lentils
1/2 c onion, small dice
2 T celery, small dice
1/3 c red & green long peppers hot, sliced
1/4 c jalapeño, minced
1.5 T crushed garlic
3 T oil
1 T turmeric
1 t cumin seeds
2.5 t curry powder
1 t salt
1 c roasted tomatoes + their juices
2.5 c water

The spice of life. Turmeric, salt, curry powder, cumin seeds.

The spice of life. Turmeric, salt, curry powder, cumin seeds.


Instructions

I chopped everything up into a small dice, slice and a fine mince. I wanted to create a sofrito, if you will. Then sautéd those in a pan with oil.

Fresh aromatics lightly sauteéd.

Fresh aromatics lightly sauteéd.

Once the fresh aromatics were softened, I added the dried spices and let them get all cozy together until they created a lusciously blended ‘sofrito’ base.

Dry spices in to truly spice things up.

Dry spices in to truly spice things up.

Cook down until it all becomes soften and luscious together.

Cook down until it all becomes soften and luscious together.

When you have homemade roasted tomatoes, then that is what you use. They were made with love, so…

(If you don’t have roasted, you can also use whole tomatoes in a can. And then add them in with love.) In went the tomatoes and lentils. Then I added water, covered the pan and let simmer until done.

Tomatoes and lentils finish off the main ingredients, as they wait for their water bath to gently cook them.

Tomatoes and lentils finish off the main ingredients, as they wait for their water bath to gently cook them.

And that is just how easy it was to make Dal. Again, boasting is not my style, yet two weeks in a row, it’s seems to becoming a trend. Here I am tooting my own horn again, because this Dal dish came out super tasty. I was worried about the spice level having added the jalapeño plus the long peppers, but it was quite on point. Again, I got the thumbs up for Jill and JC, both lovers of Indian food.

I served it with the Indian Spiced Rice, Spiced Cauliflower, Potato Pancakes and raita.

I served it with the Indian Spiced Rice, Spiced Cauliflower, Potato Pancakes and raita.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m some sort of expert, nor is this a traditional Indian Dal. But I am seriously happy at my first real foray into using Indian spices to create delicious dishes. I’m all for learning the traditional methods, staying true to a cultures cuisine. But I also believe that you have to just dive in and not be intimidated by it’s complexity. And that’s what I did here. Plus my style has always been, get a glimpse then make it my own.

Don’t forget to make the Indian Spiced Rice to go along with this. In the coming weeks, I will post the potato pancakes and cauliflower. Here’s to spicing up your life!

Indian Spiced Rice

It’s no secret I love Italian food, most notably – pasta. But that is just my go to comfort zone. I adore many other ethnic foods. I guess like most of us, when I don’t know what to cook, I lean into my sweet spot. So, in an attempt to not make pasta this particular day, I begged my tummy to give me a sign.

It answered back with a resounding gurgle for spice. And, as if the universe was conspiring with my stomach, forcing me to crawl out of my pasta coma, I just happened to tune into a cooking show where a rambunctious guy was making rice using star anise and a cinnamon stick. Now those are some fierce energy vibes working their magic in the universe; fast and furious. The craving turned into a rushing wave. I was now officially pining Indian flavors.

There was no time to waste, especially given that the day before was a total flop, food wise. The guilt from my lazy Monday of not making a stitch of grub, which left us grazing on some undressed arugula and a can of sardines, compelled me to make us a good meal. It was Tuesday, and no way was I going to let the week continue on this no cook trend. Plus my sister was coming. I seriously needed to get my butt into gear. Taking mental stock of what we had available, the first two items that popped up were string beans and potatoes. I could make Indian food with those.

Now for the spices. Sure, we keep a few interesting ones on hand, and some that land squarely in the Indian spice world. But we definitely didn’t have star anise or cinnamon sticks. Motivation was running sky high, so I hopped in the car and drove to our local market that specializes in Middle eastern spices and foods. I grabbed what looked interesting:

  • Cardamom seeds

  • Cinnamon sticks

  • Cumin Seeds

  • Fenugreek

  • Pepitas

  • Dried Currants

  • Curry powder

As soon as I got home I surveyed my new selections and very quickly realized I never got star anise. No biggie, this was going to be my version of Indian food anyway. Anyone who knows Indian food knows that the art of combining and blending spices is as masterful of a skill as being a Sushi Chef. So I wasn’t going to attempt a miracle on the Ganges. I just wanted some spice.

I knew I was going to make rice. That was a no brainer, since it is the basis for most Indian food. But I needed dishes to go with the rice. With my mind rattling off the different options, I came up with a long, and clearly over ambitious list in my zeal for making Indian food.

  1. Dal, a lentil stew

  2. Chana Masala - a chick pea stew

  3. Potato pancakes

  4. String Beans

  5. Cauliflower

In the end, I did accomplish 4 out the 6 machinations (including the rice) that whirled around in my head. The funny part is that one the food items that motivated me to make Indian food, the string beans, never got spiced up and served. I guess they couldn’t take the heat. So get out of the kitchen.

In order to keep this posting manageable, I will post the recipes for each of the other dishes separately in the next weeks. Otherwise, the photos alone will have you scrolling for days. For today, let’s focus on the rice, which quite frankly is where it all began.

Ingredients

3 c basmati rice
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom seeds
2 full T cumin seeds
1/2 c onion, sliced
1/2 c red onion, sliced
2 t salt
2 cloves
4.5 c water
4 T oil
scallions, thinly sliced, optional

I use olive oil for most everything. I don’t like using vegetable oil because it has soy in it. But you can use vegetable, canola or olive oil for this recipe.

Also, I was over ambitious and made 3 cups of rice. For two basic reasons. My husband loves rice like I love pasta. And my sister was coming for her every week trip, and she also loves Indian food. All the more reason to load up on this starchy grain. Make the amount you need and divide the amounts according. However, if it doesn’t divide evenly err on the side of using more.

Instructions

  1. First things first, soak the basmati in water for 15 minutes to take out some of the starch. This helps to make the rice fluffy and not sticky.

You only need enough water to cover the rice.

You only need enough water to cover the rice.

Then measure out all the spices. Since I was making this up as I went, I started out with less cumin seeds and then realized that I was making 3 cups of rice, so increased the amount to what I listed above.

Mise en place, get everything ready and in place. Salt, cardamon seeds, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cumin seeds.

Mise en place, get everything ready and in place. Salt, cardamon seeds, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cumin seeds.

2. Toast the dried spices in a large pot with oil.

3. Meanwhile, cut up red and yellow onion, then add them to the pot. Let them cook over medium low heat to allow the onions to cook down to right before the caramelized state.

Cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, cloves, cardamon seeds and salt.

Cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, cloves, cardamon seeds and salt.

Onions add a sweet flavor.

Onions add a sweet flavor.

In go the onions to cozy up with the spices.

In go the onions to cozy up with the spices.

Sauté the onions until just lightly browned.

Sauté the onions until just lightly browned.

4. Drain the rice, add it the onion/spice mixture and let the rice get coated with the all the oil, onions and spices. Just as you would making a risotto, or paella. (I like using this method of cooking rice whenever I am adding other ingredients to the cooking stage.)

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5. Add the water, bring to a boil, then cover and lower the heat. (I use a 1 to 1.5 ratio of rice to water.) Cook for 10-12 minutes. The rice should be light and fluffy and no water left.

You can add sliced scallions, or toasted chopped nuts. You could even roast up more of the cumin seeds and add it to the top. Let your mind and tastebuds be playful.

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The aromatics of this rice will make you want to spoon it right from the pot into your mouth, skipping the bowl. Which is exactly what JC did. He loves him some rice, and Indian rice at that.

I must admit that I wasn’t sure about how much of the spices to use, but not to be boastful, I was really proud of myself. I feel like I nailed the right amount of spice combo to create a flavorful rice to use as the base for my Dal.

The dinner plate we enjoyed and the lunch sample Lisa did, too.

The dinner plate we enjoyed and the lunch sample Lisa did, too.

Now, I know that anyone who is gifted at making Indian food will have plenty to say about my version. True chefs/cooks of Indian food have a magical hand at spice blending that creates a real depth and flavor adventure. My in-house taste testers and Indian food fans loved it. Getting a pretty dang good, two thumbs up from both JuanCarlos and Jill. Jill thought so much of it that she brought some into work to have one of her co-workers who is from India try it. I must admit I was nervous at the idea. Alas, he wasn’t in the office, so her co-worker, Lisa, got to enjoy a complete lunch. And good for her, because like me she has dietary restrictions. This was gluten free, dairy free and perfect for her.

Once I decided not to be intimidated about staying true to traditional Indian spices laws, I was free to create a dish that was good enough to eat. Try your hand at mixing different spices for your rice. The combinations are endless. If not, try this one. I think you’ll like it. Namaste.