No experience necessary

[Recipe: Simplest Dal]

Do you realize what fun it is to shop for cardamom pods? Plucking what I I needed for a recipe, along with some extra for good measure, from the bin and placing them in the provided tiny plastic bag gave me none other than a little thrill. Oh, to be rescued by a recipe, by a spice, from an otherwise average existence.

It’s what I live for really. Or one of the things I live for, at least.

I’m trying my hand at this riff on Indian food. For all my claim to mostly vegetarianism (I eat fish), you’d think I’d be big on the stuff, well experienced with it. I’ve heard time and again that Indian cuisine has lovely vegetarian dishes, and though I can recount many an epiphany involving ethnic eating experiences, Indian cuisine isn’t one I’ve delved into. Yet (key word, that one).

I thought Mark Bittman’s Simplest Dal (“How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”) would be a rightful initiation, both for its technique (“largely unattended,” he describes it) and its flavors.

I can’t speak for other dals (or dhals, an alternate spelling) but this one was red lentils and spices simmered into creaminess, exuberant with flavor. We spread it on some roti I had hanging around (serendipity does strike, it would seem) and nibbled some accompanying carrots with dates and raisins, another Bittman recipe.

Up next: something with curry.

Simplest Dal

adapted from Mark Bittman

Bittman says this is the classic lentil staple of India. It was amazing served hot, and I’ve since eaten the leftovers cold, spread on a simple wrap with sliced tomatoes.

1 C dried red lentils, washed and picked over

2 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger

1 tbsp minced garlic

4 cardamom pods

1 tbsp mustard seeds

2 cloves

1 tsp ancho chile powder

1 tsp cracked black pepper

kosher salt

chopped cilantro

Combine lentils, ginger, garlic, cardamom, mustard, cloves, chile powder and pepper in a saucepan and add water to cover by about 1 inch. Cook at a steady simmer until the lentils are very soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Salt the lentils as they soften.

Remove the cloves and cardamom pods (you can eat the cardamom pods if you want). Adjust seasoning to taste, then stir in cilantro.

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6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Millsbaker said,

    I absolutely love dhals! They’re a nice intro to preparing Indian food. Be sure to try dhals with other legumes, too!

  2. 2

    sarah said,

    That Mr. Bittman is a genius. I was the coolest person on the planet after bringing his cheesecake to a family function.

    I’m going to have to check out the vegetarian cookbook because his How To Cook Everything is like the ultimate kitchen bible.

  3. 3

    Jude said,

    Dals are so satisfying… Perfect at the end of a meal. I just hope I don’t leave a clove in and bite into it if I ever make this!

  4. 4

    Trisha said,

    Millsbaker: Thanks! I’ll definitely be trying more dalls in the future.

    Sarah: Do check out the veg cookbook — it’s a formidable resource, even for meat eaters.

    Jude: Luckily there are only a few cloves in this recipe, so if you’ve missed one, you’ll know it before serving!

  5. 5

    drcorner said,

    Hey Trisha, from what we discussed in an earlier post, I’m glad you gave cooking Dhal a shot…I’m also glad you enjoyed it. Great Post!

    You might want to try adding some ‘Gira’ to your Dhal next time, with a dash of Curry Powder (not to much to overwhelm the flavors), they give it a nicer flavor…especially when it’s a day old.

    Hope you don’t mind, but some suggestions for Seafood Curries include Shrimp (Jumbo Prongs work well here), Catfish (Check Caribbean stores). For vegatables, Eggplant, Okra (especially with chicken or small shrimp), are all great too.

  6. 6

    Trisha said,

    drcorner: Thanks for the suggestions! Can’t wait to check out this gira. I love that cooking is a perpetual learning experience. No matter how long I cook, there will always be something new to conquer.

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