Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hello, dal

Red-lentil dal with fennel slaw and basmati rice.
"Dal," a.k.a. "Daal" or "Dahl," is a simple Indian dish, a soup or stew made of lentils and, most often, garlic, ginger, butter or oil and an array of spices.  Indian comfort food, it's easy to make and delicious to eat.  I like it best with red lentils, which cook up more quickly than green or brown to make a consoling mash that reminds me more than a little of the other side of the world's answer to Mexican frijoles.

Tonight I made a batch for dinner, and it was as simple as this:
  1. Rinse 1/2 cup red lentils very well, drain and set aside.  
  2. Cook about 1 cup chopped onion in a heavy sauce pan with 1 tablespoon each minced fresh garlic and fresh ginger in a little peanut oil (plus a dab of sesame oil) until the veggies start to brown.  
  3. Stir in an Indian spice mix: I used about 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin, turmeric, and Madras curry powder with good shots of dried red-pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper. Do not salt at this point. I've found lentils cook more tender and with a better flavor if you do not salt until the end.
  4. Add 2 cups of water (or, in any case, about four times the volume measure of lentils), bring to a gentle boil, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until the lentils are tender and most of the water is absorbed.
  5. At the end, stir in 1 tablespoon tomato paste and, finally, 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to blend, warm through, and serve with steaming basmati rice.
I also made a quick "slaw" of fresh fennel bulb and sweet onion, both sliced paper-thin and tossed with kosher salt and a simple dressing of lemon juice with a blend of peanut oil and sesame oil.