Feb 18, 2008

The Dal House

I just love dal. All kinds, all recipes. I want to try them all. OK, so dal isn't nearly as photogenic as it is delicious.

Dal refers to pulses which have been split. A pulse is a leguminous crop which is harvested for the dry grain. Think lentils, though lentils are only one of many dals. A dal can also be a bean, like kidney and pinto. Dal is also a term for the dish made with dal. It's a thick, hearty, flavorful dish.

There are many varieties of dal with some of the common ones being toor dal, chana dal, mung dal, urad dal, and masoor dal. Dals are widely used in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Each country has its own name for each of these dals and then each region in those countries has its own name and then each region has its favorite recipes and so on. I haven't even mentioned how many ways you can spell it. I love the variety of name, type and recipe. I think dal is delicious and I love to experiment with flavors and textures.

You know, there are also dals which are not split but that's a whole other entry.

Moving on. Dal is easy to prepare and basically consists of boiling the dal to the consistency you desire. Often a recipe will instruct you to soak the dal first, sometimes overnight. To the cooked dal you add a mixture of spices, seeds, and often onion and garlic that has been fried in a little oil. This mixture is called a tadka, a tarka, a chaunk or baghar, according to Wikipedia and some of the Indian cookbooks I've read. I'm betting there are more references out there.

The seasonings vary with the type of dal and the regional preference but common ingredients include combinations of cumin seed, mustard seed, tumeric, garlic, ginger, asafoetida, chili, cilantro, and garam masala. This particular dal I made included the spices I was in the mood for and that I thought would taste good together. I was right.

I used 1 cup of chana dal, which is split chick pea. I had soaked it overnight and changed the water a few times. I brought this to a boil in 3 cups of water then turned down the heat and simmered, covered until the dal was soft with a slight "tooth" to it. Once the dall is cooked you can leave it moister or continue to slowly cook off some of the liquid. I leave mine in an in between state. Besides, the dall will absorb plenty of moisture as it sits overnight in the refrigerator.

For spices I had some
panch phoron spice mix already combined so I toasted it in a dry skillet until it released its aroma. Panch phoron is a 5-spice mix of nigella seeds, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, and cumin seeds. I have all of these spices separately but using up the already proportionately mixed spices saved me time. By the way, the proportion is simply equal parts of all. After the spices cooled, I ground them in a spice/coffe grinder. What an amazing smell. Layers of licorice (fennel) and nuttiness (I think from the mustard and fenugreek).

As my dal was cooking, I dropped mustard seeds, cumin seeds, dried curry leaves in some hot oil . Once these sputtered I added diced onion and minced jalapeno (seeded and deveined). After a couple minutes I added a paste of equal parts ginger and garlic. I then turned down the heat and slowly let this all mingle while onions got soft and sweet. To this I added a healthy tablespoon of the toasted and ground panch phoron and a teaspoon of homemade garam masala.

Now that the dal is the consistency I like (thicker than thinner), I added the spice mixture, some chopped cilantro and a good squeeze of lime. The lime might sound like an odd ingredient but wow it just gives it that little zing and actually, I think, brings out the sweetness and nutiness of the dal.

Don't be put off by what seems like a long ingredient list when you look at dal recipes. It really couldn't be easier. Add as many or as few ingredients as you like. Just try it.

1 comment:

evolvingtastes said...

Agnes, first of all, thanks for the link love. Dal is so comforting that it manages to cross all cultures and boundaries effortlessly. And I totally agree that it is not photogenic, making it difficult to express on a food blog how delicious it truly is.


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