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dhal makhani

January 14th, 2012 | 5 Comments »

The cuisine of India is one of my favorites, almost hands down. I love the vibrant flavors and colors, the spice and aroma and the endless variations. I love the lentils, the vegetables, the breads and condiments. All of it.

I’m not alone in my love for this aromatic and delicious foods, and recently a group of my closest friends and I decided to get together one evening for Curry Night. We’d spent a talkative morning over coffee chatting endlessly about food ¬†and hit upon the topic of Indian food, each sighing in joy, rolling our eyes and declaring it’s lofty place in our lives. Paired with an intense desire to get our husbands in the same room together, we planned, plotted and perfected our recipes, and on an unseasonably warm January night, we carried fragrant dishes to Amanda and Brian‘s beautiful brownstone apartment in St Paul and gathered, loudly, to enjoy this amazing food, and some well deserved face time. The holidays, with their obligations and frenetic pace had kept us apart far too long and we needed a night together of food, wine, chatter and fun. The entire evening was a wonderful and delicious, with much needed laughter and camaraderie.

Dhal Makhani is one of my most favorite lentil dishes to order when I go out for Indian food, but I’d never attempted it at home, mostly due to the absence of an easy place to buy the requisite black beluga lentils required. But when a shipment from Marx Foods landed on my doorstep, with 8 2-lb containers holding a rainbow of colored lentils, all I needed was a good recipe. And an excuse.

Thankfully, I found both.

Lentils, as a food, don’t win many beauty contests. What they are beyond their rather homely end result is a quick-cooking, nutritional little powerhouse. This dish was deliciously fragrant and hearty; black lentils hold their shape beautifully after cooking, and with the right amount of garlic, ginger and onion, along with the heady blend of spices that make up many Indian dishes, this recipe was glamorous with flavor and it smelled simply amazing. A thin drizzle of cream gives it a wonderful rich taste, and it evolves over time and a day in your fridge to gain in taste what it lacks in eye appeal.

This recipe can easily be made vegan by eliminating the heavy cream, substituting an alternate of choice. It has no meat in it at all.

 

Dhal Makhani

1 cup black lentils, washed and picked over
2 large onions, minced
2 green chilies, sliced (remove seeds and inner membrane for less heat, if desired. I used jalapenos)
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
2″ piece of ginger, chopped
1 T. garlic, minced
2 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. red chili powder
1/4 c. heavy cream
2 T. cooking oil of choice (i use grapeseed)
2 T. ghee
1 t. cumin seeds

In a small bowl, mix ground coriander, ground cumin and chili powder together. Set aside.

Place rinsed lentils in a medium pot and cover with 3 cups of cold water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmering, and cook until lentils are tender, about 25-40 minutes. You can leave just a bit of bite to them, as they will cook more in the finished product.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat oil and add onions. Stir to coat and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are beginning to brown. Add green chiles, ginger, garlic and the ground spice mix and stir to coat completely. Continue to cook and stir until the vegetables are tender and deeply browned, about 20-25 minutes. Keep heat regulated to avoid burning them, and stir often.

When the lentils are tender, transfer them to the skillet, reserving some of the cooking water. Stir the lentils to mix with the vegetables, and add the cooking water, 1/3 cup at a time until a smooth gravy forms. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and season with salt. Cook for a few more minutes and taste for salt. Turn off heat and wait for the simmering to stop. Drizzle the heavy cream over the top and stir to incorporate.

For an authentic finish, heat ghee (or clarified butter) in a small skillet until very hot. Add the cumin seeds and quickly cover the pan. Shake the pan while the seeds pop, and when they stop, scrape the butter and seeds on to the Dhal Makhani and stir together. This mixture is very hot and will sputter so be careful.

making lentils lovely

February 22nd, 2010 | 8 Comments »

There are certain foods that are superstars of nutritional value, simple to prepare and easy on the pocketbook yet are really kind of ugly ducklings in terms of aesthetics. If we eat with our eyes first and foremost, and if we didn’t know that these foods were not only powerhouses in being good for us AND very tasty as well, we would take one look at them and likely turn away in scorn. Take lentils for example. These tiny legumes are so rich in the good things we need for our bodies. But I imagine there’s a huge population of people simply turned off by their unfortunate lot in the food world beauty contest. Cooked to perfection and placed in a bowl, they resemble more a pile of mud than something amazing you want to eat.

Now doesn’t that sound delicious?! Can’t wait to dig in!

I do get it. Really, I do. If it wasn’t for the copious amounts of fragrant dhals and mounds of aromatic Indian food that I’ve come to adore in my life, I might not exactly be in the Lentil Fan Club. But I am. And I think that everyone should. As legumes go, the lentil is one that you can take from dried form to beautifully cooked with hardly a second thought. Even the largest brown lentils will cook up nicely in about 20-30 minutes, the smaller pink and red ones turn delightfully smooth even faster, making the lentil a smart choice to keep on hand for a hearty meal. With added vegetables, it turns into a perfect soup. Served over rice, maybe with a salad and you’ve got a complete meal. Add in one of the heady fragrant spices of Indian cuisine, such as fenugreek or cumin -or in this case, both- and you’ve got a delicious creamy, slightly spicy and overall compelling meal with little more than boiling some water and a measuring spoon or two.

By far and away my favorite lentil is the French Puy, also known as the French Green lentil. It’s smaller than the brown, larger than the more colorful red and pink and will also cook up easily, all the while retaining it’s shape more without turning mushy. While the mushy lentil does have it’s place, I really prefer some texture to them. The Puy has a somewhat higher price tag than the brown, but I think it’s worth it. The flavor too, is deep and earthy, a bit more intense over the somewhat gritty taste I’ve come across in the brown.

My first exposure to lentils was as a wee lass in elementary school. Our schooling, up until I was in 5th grade, centered mostly around a loosely defined cooperative that rented space in an old Catholic school building. We had some pretty progressive education, I guess these days it ties in best with home schooling, and one year we did volunteer work at the Renaissance Festival in a soup booth, making both Beet Borscht and Lentil Soup. I did not like the lentil soup much, but I was a kid. Forgive me for thinking it was odd among my usual repertoire of fish sticks and Rice-a-Roni.

Then in college, I had a roommate for a time who was a vegetarian and loved to cook. On occasion I would tag along with her on her trips to The Wedge Co-Op, back in the long ago days when it was so tiny that barely two people could stand in any aisle. I often had no clue about the foods she would buy but I asked her endless questions and when she cooked she would share some of her meals with me. One meal was lentils, and although I didn’t fall down in love with them, I had a better idea of them than what my childhood memories had given me. Still, it took cementing my love of Indian food for me to begin actually making them at home. Once I did discover how good they could be, really there’s no stopping me now. If only I could convince The Teen to try them.

One of these days, maybe.

Dhal with Green Lentils
adapted slightly from The Curry Book by Nancy McDermott

1 c. french puy green lentils, rinsed and sorted
4-5 c. water
1 t. ground turmeric
1 t. fenugreek seeds, crushed
1/2 t. ground cayenne
2 t. cumin seeds
3 cloves finely minced garlic
2 T. finely minced fresh ginger
1 medium onion, finely minced
1 medium tomato, chopped

In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups of the water and lentils to a boil. Skim off any foam that may form. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the turmeric, fenugreek and cayenne. Allow to simmer, uncovered, until lentils are tender- approximately 25-35 minutes. You may need to add more water as the lentils cook to prevent them from sticking.

When lentils are tender, heat a small skillet over medium heat with oil of choice. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they become dark and fragrant, and begin to pop. Add in the onion, garlic and ginger and reduce the heat, sauteing gently and stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft, about 5-7 minutes. Stir the mixture into the lentils and blend well. If the lentils are soupy, you can raise the heat and simmer the mixture to reduce the liquid. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn and stir it to keep blended. When cooked to your desired consistency, stir in the tomato. It will thicken slightly as it stands. Season with salt if desired.

NOTE: It’s unlikely you can find fenugreek in anything other than seed form. To crush them, use a dedicated spice grinder if you have one, or place them in a sealed plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin, a meat tenderizer or other hard implement. The seeds are pretty solid. Don’t be surprised if doing it by hand requires slight effort. It’s totally worth it for the flavor.

This dish definitely gets better with some time to sit in the fridge. It can be made with the smaller colored lentils but keep in mind that the cooking time will be much quicker, and it will have a different texture. One cup of red lentils will need less water, about 3-4 cups.