Winter in the San Francisco area is mild and rainy, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s F and two or three day rainstorms passing through weekly. Not as bad as North Dakota, to be sure, but because I keep the temperature in my (poorly insulated) house on the cool side, stews and soups are frequently on my menu.
Legumes make a perfect base for a hearty winter stew or soup, and this month I wrote about four different legumes (known as "dal" in Indian cooking): split masoor, whole urad, split moong, and toor. The cooking method is simple and allows countless variations:
- Cook the dal with water, turmeric and possibly some other flavorings like bay leaf or ginger.
- Prepare vegetables like onion, tomato or greens in a skillet or saucepan.
- Prepare the tempering (a.k.a. tadka) by frying whole spices or spice powder in oil or ghee.
- Mix everything together.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro, pickles or other chopped herb.
Vegetables can provide additional flavor and nutrition to a dal soup or stew. In the Bay Area, the farmers' markets are full of freshly dug potatoes, brassicas like cauliflower and broccoli, citrus, a variety of squash, and leafy greens ranging from tender lettuces to kale so rugged you could use it to build shelter. Although not as exciting as summer's bounty, they provide extensive possibilities for flavor, color and texture. Squash and kale, for example, bring sweetness and sharpness to a spicy soup base. Lightly cooked cauliflower and diced carrots offer textural interest. The possibilities are endless within the Indian-style of spicing, and I can imagine other ethnic spicing styles, such as a Mexican-inspired combination of masoor dal with freshly made ancho chile powder, cilantro, white onions, and pumpkin.