Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Slashfood D Day - D is for Dal

D is for Dal, a word that encompasses lentils, beans and peas on the Indian subcontinent. Countless varieties are probably used across the enormous land. Off the top of my head I can think of (only) 13 varieties and variations: three kinds of mung dal (whole, unpeeled split, and peeled split), two types of chickpea (whole and peeled split), three types of urad dal (whole, unpeeled split and peeled split), moth dal, masoor dal, vatana, and toor dal (whole, split, and coated with oil).

Just as there are numerous varieties of dal, there are numerous uses across the whole menu: snack mixes, desserts, breakfast, as a element of crunch and flavor in dishes like lemon rice, and, of course, as the base of a range of soup-like or stew-like creations.

The process for preparing dal dishes is roughly as follows:
  • Collect the ingredients
  • Wash and cook the lentils, sometimes with flavorings like tumeric, ginger, green chile.
  • Prepare the vegetables and other flavorings (e.g., tomatoes, pumpkin).
  • Fry some spices and other flavorings (e.g., curry leaves, dried red chiles) in oil and pour over the lentils
  • Serve with garnishes like chopped cilantro and pickles.
In the remainder of this post, I will explain the steps in more detail.

Collect the Ingredients
The photo to the left shows most of the ingredients for a dal called "amti" in the cookbook I'm using (Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking). The back row shows split moong (Vigna mungo) on the left and masoor (Lens culinaris) on the right. The plate in the middle row has a ball of tamarind paste, pieces of jaggery (a raw sugar from India), and some grated coconut. The front row has some of the spices: turmeric, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, and black mustard seeds (not shown are garam masala, salt and ground red pepper)

Cook the lentils
Pick through the dal for sticks, stones and other foreign objects, then wash the lentils in several changes of water. Drain, and pour them into a deep sauce pan and add the required amount of water (dal:water ratio is usually 1:4 or 1:3). In this treatment, some turmeric is added to the lentils at the beginning. The dal are first brought to a boil (they like to foam, so be careful that they don't boil over!), then the heat reduced to low and the dal cooked with the lid partially offset until the dal are tender. For a thicker texture, the mixture can be stirred with a whisk to thicken it.


Prepare the other flavorings
This dal has tamarind to provide sourness and flavor. Tamarind comes in at least three forms: unprocessed (lower left in the photo above), as a block of paste with seeds and fiber (lower right), and as a concentrated paste (not shown). The unprocessed form requires a lot of work just to remove the shell, and I'm don't know what I was thinking when I bought it. The blocks of pre-skinned pulp are what I use, and are available at Indian, Thai, Chinese and other Asian groceries (and possibly Latin American shops too). To separate the fruit from the seeds and fiber, soak the tamarind pulp in boiling water for about 30 minutes (shown in the photo above). It can help to stir it now and then to increase contact between the water and fruit. Pour the water and tamarind into a medium mesh strainer set on top of a bowl, and press as much of the pump through the mesh as practicable.

Add the tamarind water, along with the jaggery, to the lentils and stir. Let it cook for a few more minutes while you prepare the spiced oil.

Fry the spices
Put the spices in small bowls next to the stove and have a pot lid ready before you turn on the heat (mustard seeds have a tendency to pop and fly all over the place). Place a small skillet over high heat, then pour in some oil or ghee. When it is hot but not smoking, add the spices in the order specified by the recipe. Whole spices like cumin seed or mustard seed go in at the beginning and cook for a 30 seconds or so, then ground spices and leaves are added for a few more seconds, and finally the hot spice oil is carefully poured over the lentil mixture. Stir a few times and then let it cook over very low heat for a few minutes to settle the flavors.

Serve, and experience the Deliciousness of Dal.


Postscript - D in the Archives
D foods have appeared quite a few times in my blog: five previous posts on Dal (Masoor, Urad 1, Urad 2, Moong, and Toor---it was December, after all), Durian and Dark Chocolate Cupcakes.

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1 comment:

vkn said...

Great post Marc. Good-read. Thank you for the link.

Received your message on missing permalink at My Dhaba; somehow I got overlooked and deleted it from the template; now it is there. I am sorry for the incovenience casued and thank you for notifying that to me. It would definitely help others too.