It’s that time again: time for another installment of the Indian Cooking Challenge hosted by Srivali of Spice Your Life. I had to take a couple months off to deal with the move and so forth, but I’m glad to be participating once again. This month’s recipe is Gujarati Dal (a lentil stew of the Gujarat-region of India) studded with vegetables and miles of flavor and was graciously offered by the authors of Sukham Ayu, an Ayurvedic Cookbook.
First skim of the ingredient list had me excited–I had almost all of the ingredients already, it was a more meal-oriented and not a snack (known as chaats, which are nice, but hard to make a meal out of sometimes) and I thought for one hot second that I was actually going to be able to use meat in this one! The tricky word drumstick had me looking forward to a lentil and chicken stew when I realized that the description of “4-5 pieces, 2 inches length” either meant really small birds or, most likely, that I had no idea what this ingredient was. Of course it was the latter. Drumstick is a common name for moringa, a vegetable with tough outsides but edible insides. More on that in a bit, but I did find it canned at the local Indian grocery store that has saved more than one of these experiments.
After doing the usual converting math, I doubled the recipe to make sure I’d have enough for both dinner as well as lunch the next day. Other alterations were the tamarind concentrate for pulp, cashews for groundnuts (which Todd doesn’t eat) and butter for the ghee called for in the tempering step (I hadn’t picked any up and it wasn’t as crucial for us to go to the trouble to clarify a pound of butter just to get a few tablespoons).
|1.25 cups Split red lentils
1.5 tsp Turmeric powder
4 cups water
2 Tbsp Tamarind Concentrate
2 Tbsp Butter
3/4 tsp Garam Masala
Putting it all together:
|Rinse and soak the lentils for 20-30 minutes. Rising helps you spot any small pebbles or other stuff that might have made it’s way into the bag of beans and the soaking helps speed the cooking time. Granted, lentils for dal have their outer husks removed which is why they cook so fast to begin with, but the soaking is still a good idea. Since I was making basmati rice to go with the dal, I went ahead and soaked both side-by-side while I chopped the rest of the ingredients. Drain each well before moving on to the next step (you don’t cook rice or beans in the water they were soaked in).
|The original recipe calls for pressure-cooking the dal but a) I don’t own a pressure cooker and b) lentils cook quickly enough as it is so I just put them on to boil with the water and turmeric (aids digestion, always a good thing) and cooked for 10-15 minutes. The original recipe also calls for churning the dal. I took that to mean stir, but I see from other participants that it means to mash them. The lentils were pretty cooked down into mush already so I really don’t see as this little translation “error” has any bearing on the finished dish, but now we know!
|The up-side to not using a pressure cooker is that we don’t have to switch pots when we add the next ingredients (tamarind through water) to the pot and simmer the mixture for 15-20 minutes, stirring as needed to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pot. The goal is to have the sweet potatoes tender before adding the tempering mixture, so if it takes a little more time, it’s okay.
|In a small saute pan, heat the ghee or butter until melted and then add the mustard seeds. Once they start to jump around in the pan, add the fenugreek seeds, lower the heat and, once the fenugreek starts to brown, add the rest of the tempering ingredients and cook until fragrant.
|Add the tempering mixture to the dal and simmer for another 5 minutes or so, just enough to left the flavors mingle. Turn off the head and stir in the garam masala and salt, if needed. Or, if your like me, forget to add the garam masala until after dinner is already on the plates and sprinkle a little on top of each portion to be stirred in just before eating–it works the same. I was also lacking coriander leaves (aka fresh cilantro) for garnish.
Remember I mentioned something about those mysterious drumsticks? Well, my research had forewarned me that the usual way to “eat” this was to chew the pieces and spit out the inedible husks. Well, that probably works wonders when you’re working with fresh, but the canned version disintegrated by the time the dal was finished and left us pulling the 2″ twiggy bits from the stew before we could comfortably dig in. While I’ll probably skip this (or substitute something like okra) next time, it certainly didn’t ruin the dish for us.
The flavor is both sweet and spicy and was wonderful over the basmati rice I’d prepared–the rice helped tone down some of the spice (could have held back a few of those red and green chillies). The lentils made a wonderful backdrop for the sweet potatoes, dates and nuts. We loved it and were very happy to try this month’s challenge.
Looking forward to the next one!