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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.

undoing the paralysis

June 27th, 2011 | 6 Comments »

I stopped eating meat with every meal on May 2. And I love how I feel nowadays, but I didn’t expect that I’d enter in to a time of total culinary paralysis when faced with re-working a lifelong habit of making meat the center of my meals.

We haven’t wasted away, thank goodness, and we never will. We’ve made some delicious foods but I haven’t stretched myself a whole lot. I’m grilling a lot of veggies, sticking them on amazing breads or tying them up in delicious pilafs. I made this fragrant and savory Red Lentil Dhal that we’ve loved since the first time it crossed our stove and landed in our bowls. We’ve enjoyed plenty of legumes, super fresh salads topped with a wide array of ingredients and terrific grilled cheese sandwiches. But I’m not content to play it safe, to stick with what I know will be wonderful. I want to expand, to grow and to embrace fully this new method of eating and not just end up a Junk Food Vegetarian.

So I’m scouring the ‘net for inspiration, grabbing books with gusto from library shelves, from Half Price Books and from friends hands (not really, but I would if the opportunity came up) just to get my mind rolling into this new territory. And it is new territory. It’s a new and totally different way of life and even being as good a cook as I am, I’ve had moments of sheer panic in thinking ‘What the hell do I make now?’, hence the aforementioned grilled cheese.

The worst part was finding the time. I had to stop over-scheduling all my time away from work into activities that were taking me away from home, away from time to experiment and work up some of these new options. I think, subconsciously, I was avoiding it. No more. It’s time to start applying tabs to the cookbook pages, plot out a few weeks worth of meals and get back on track. The nicest part of being meat-free is how much it frees up in our budget. I knew we spent a lot on meat, but folks, it’s outrageous what we have to work with now that this aspect of our eating is gone.

So I started with chickpeas. But not just any chickpeas. This is a kick in the mouth, heady and WOW recipe that will just plain knock you on your tush.

And they look so innocent, don’t they?!

We do love our chickpeas around here, and Mike has taken to making some pretty tasty hummus for us to snack on. Then I discovered Roasted Chickpeas and my life suddenly seemed more complete. But really, that was just the tip of the iceberg because I found a recipe for this Indian Spiced Chickpea salad and now I’ve got something going with this handy and nutritious little legume. It’s called love. Luuuuurrrrrve, people. Straight up legume love.

With no cholesterol, no sodium, no saturated fat; an excellent source of protein and fiber, as well as minerals like folate, calcium, magnesium and potassium, it’s a super-duper powerhouse for the meatless maniac such as myself. And when paired with toasted mustard, fennel and cumin seeds with a nice shake of crushed red pepper, plus smooth creamy greek yogurt to soften the flavorful blow to your tongue, it a cool little force to be reckoned with. Like my resolve. This is just a few steps for me, this quick jaunt out of the starting gate. The gun has sounded. And there’s a lot of road to cover up ahead so hang on, all right? Here we go.

Note: This recipe is ridiculously simple to make, but the flavor improves over time as it sits. Make it up and allow an hour, or even more if you can, for sitting, stirring regularly. If you like less of a crunchy seed factor, grind the fennel and cumin seed before adding it to the oil. You’ll still get a load of flavor without the crunch. Don’t grind the mustard seeds. Those soften really well.

Indian Spiced Chickpeas

Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas—rinsed, drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped mint
1 teaspoon kosher salt


Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl. In a small skillet, heat the peanut oil until shimmering. Add the mustard seeds, partially cover the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until the mustard seeds stop popping, about 1 minute. Add the cumin and fennel seeds and the crushed red pepper and cook until the mixture is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the hot oil and spices over the chickpeas. Stir in the yogurt, lemon juice, sliced scallions, chopped cilantro and mint and salt. Serve the chickpea salad at room temperature.

Recipe Credit: Food and Wine magazine


Curried Lentils w/Sweet Potato and Chard

January 3rd, 2008 | 5 Comments »

Curried Lentils With Sweet Potatoes and Swiss Chard

Yield: 8 to 10 side-dish servings; 6 main-course servings.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded if desired, then minced
4 to 5 cups vegetable broth as needed
2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into
1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups dried lentils
1 bay leaf
1 pound Swiss chard, center ribs removed, leaves thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/3 cup finely chopped tamari almonds, for garnish (optional), available in health food stores
1/4 cup chopped scallions, for garnish.

1. In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, garam masala, curry powder and jalapeño. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

2. Stir in 4 cups broth, sweet potatoes, lentils and bay leaf. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. (If lentils seem dry, add up to 1 cup stock, as needed.) Stir in chard and salt and pepper, and continue cooking until lentils are tender and chard is cooked, about 30 to 45 minutes total.

3. Just before serving, stir in cilantro, lime zest and juice. Spoon into a large, shallow serving dish. Garnish with almonds if desired and scallions.

RECIPE NOTES: I am not a fan of swiss chard, so I used spinach instead. I added several diced carrots to the dish as well as the potato and that was delicious. At the end of the cooking time I dumped in a cup of cooked wheat berries (i keep them in the freezer). It adds more nutritional value to the dish and a nice nutty and chewy texture.
I cooked this for at least an hour and I think it could have cooked much more as the lentils still seemed a tad chewy. It’s hard to determine how much time is needed, but the potato was getting mushy and I didn’t want to cook it too much longer for fear they would fall apart. The spinach, if used, can be stirred in just a few minutes prior to serving; it won’t need much to make it wilt. It can be eaten alone, no doubt; we love the rice; so for us that was perfect. We did not top it with almonds.

Carne Adovada

May 14th, 2007 | 12 Comments »


I could perhaps subtitle this post “The Wait Coulda Killed Me” to get the point across that this dish takes time, people. The particular recipe I followed said to marinate the meat for 48 hours. That’s one heckuva long time to wait for something so good.

But it was worth it. Woweeee…. was it worth it.

Other recipes call for a 24 hour marinating period. The next time (heavy emphasis on ‘next time’ because it was THAT good!) I will only allow it to languish in its spicy and nose numbing marinade for a day before sending it off to the slow cooker. I can’t wait that long again for this delight.

Carne Adovada is described as ‘traditional New Mexicao pork in adobo sauce’. I found the recipe in a long forgotten cookbook that Mike had when we married called ‘Sante Fe Hot and Spicy- Hot New Recipes from Santa Fe Chefs’. On the back of the book it says “Attention Chile lovers, if you like fiery food, here’s the book for you, Kate and Mike.” All right, no, it doesn’t have our names on it, but it seems to be geared towards our culinary tastes so I took a generous creative leap there. This multi step recipe first has you create a simply eye watering concoction of dried chile peppers with various and sundry other items that you simmer in a pot and then put through a food processor, turning it into a rich, thick sauce that you pour over cubed pork shoulder and allow it sit for two days. Once it has sufficiently soaked up all that capsaicin, you cook it slowly until it is meltingly tender and so aromatic that it drives you just plain mad in your quest to stuff it shamelessly into your mouth; rich sauce dripping down your chin.

I admit that, yes, I did this. No apologies either. No one saw me so it doesn’t count.

I expected that the finished product would be blazingly hot, but what I tasted was a pleasant zing that left my mouth tingly but still with all its nerve endings intact. The meat….oh, that meat was so achingly tender that it simply broke into great slivers in my mouth as easily as an empty egg shell cracks under pressure. One could just push an errant finger into a large chunk and it would break apart; no knife, no fork or even a spoon was needed. With our homemade tortillas, some cheese and shredded lettuce, it was a meal that caused us all to swoon in delight. My sweet little carnivore had salivated over it all afternoon and was joyously rewarded with an intense protein high after two good sized burritos. Feed him meat and he’s all yours. He even mowed the lawn and whacked the weeds around the whole house without any complaint because HE KNEW what was for dinner. Meat+Mom= Griffin Love.

I followed the chile sauce recipe fairly closely, using Ancho and New Mexico dried chiles. The processing of the solids is very messy…..don’t wear good clothes and go in batches. You will need to strain out all the chile skins and any seeds that get into it. I had my meat all cut up and strained the sauce right into the pan with the meat. Still, I made an all encompassing mess, splattering my counter tops with red splotches that made my dish rag look like it had been used to clean up a murder scene. Thank goodness for bleach. I actually had the bright idea of putting the meat into a crockpot liner to marinate, which then went seamlessly into the crockpot to cook when it was ready. Sometimes my brilliancy amazes me. When it came time to put it all together, I left out the extras to go in the marinade as I wanted it to be mild enough for Griffin to eat. Follow the recipe, or sub in what amounts you are comfortable with, but if this is something you think you would love to death, please do yourself a favor and make it. You will not be disappointed at all.

Red Chile Sauce
3/4# dried chile peppers; ancho, New Mexico, guajillo…..you pick your heat level.
1 large onion, chopped
8 cloves fresh garlic, smashed with skins removed
2 t. dried oregano
2 t. ground cumin
2 t. kosher salt

De-stem and de-seed chile peppers; place in large stock pot and cover with hot water. Soak for 30 minutes. Add remaining ingredients to pot, bring to a boil then simmer over low heat for half an hour. Drain off solids, reserve liquid. Allow to cool slightly, then process solids in batches in a food processor using reserve liquid for proper consistency. Strain through a wire sieve, pressing on the solids to extract the liquids. This should make about a quart.

Carne Adovada
3-4 pounds pork shoulder or butt, cut into 1/2″ cubes and trimmed of most fat.
4 c. Red Chile Sauce (just use the amount a batch would make)
2 New Mexico dried chile peppers, destemmed, deseeded and crumbled
4 t. red pepper flakes
2 sticks cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in glass bowl and stir to mix. Cover and chill for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove cinnamon before cooking. Cooking method: This can be done in a crockpot on medium for about 4 hours or low for longer; it also can be brought to a boil on the stove then transferred to a 350 degree oven and baked, covered, for 2 hours.

NOTE: When the meat is done, plenty of liquid will be in the pot with any fat that cooked off. Allow the meat to sit and cool, then pour off the thin liquid that has accumulated, leaving the solids in with the meat. If you chill it thoroughly, the fat will be easier to remove. This step is entirely optional if the fat content does not bother you.

Serve with tortillas, avocado, shredded lettuce, cheese etc…… or simply grab a spoon and shovel it in.