Just because it’s a weeknight meal and it’s cold, and – let’s face it – you’re a little bit miserable, doesn’t mean that you have to compromise.
We always hear the world is getting smaller. Things that we once thought were inaccessible, foreign and exotic, even five years ago, are now within easy reach of the home chef of today. As South Asian food and culture continues to entice new followers, why not adopt these beautiful, time-tested and spice-kissed flavors as your own, even if just for one night? You might just fall in love with the fragrances and techniques and make them a part of your cooking repertoire and perhaps, your family’s traditions.
Tonight’s recipe is for a dal that adds root vegetables. Made with a base of quick cooking split red lentils, I added some onions, carrots, parsnips and potatoes. The pleasure of a dish like this is that if you manage the base technique, you can change up the ingredients, and even spices to make it just to your taste. Like cumin seeds, but don’t have the black cardamom? Fine. Use what you like and have. PK tip: The basic trick to getting the flavor right in this dish is heating the oil very hot and frying the whole spices until they are very brown. This makes a perfectly balanced vegetarian dinner if you serve this with basmati rice that’s been cooked with a cinnamon stick, four whole cloves and a few crushed cardamom pods. Or if you’re in the mood for meat, serve this, like I did, with garam masala dusted lamb loin chops and homemade naan bread with cumin seeds.
2 T vegetable oil
1 bay leaf
1 T whole corriander seeds
1 T whole cumin seeds
1 T whole mustard seeds
4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 black cardamom pod, lightly crushed
1 small onion, diced
1 T garam masala
1/2 t tumeric
1/2 curry powder
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 c split red lentils
Vegetable stock or water to cover (3 to 4 cups) PK tip 2: This was a quick stock made on a back burner from the carrot tops and a carrot, the onion peels and a bit of onion, the trimmings from the parsnips and any little odds and ends veg I had in the fridge. I added a generous pinch of coriander seeds and a bay leaf. This was the first thing I put in a pot on a simmer when I started dinner. I had enough homemade vegetable stock for this meal from the trimmings, plus some left over for later in the week. It really is that simple.
Salt and pepper
In a large pan, heat the oil to just below smoking on medium high heat. Add in the whole spices bay through black cardamom. If you have one, place a spatter screen on top of the pan. The mustard seeds really pop, be careful. Cook for two minutes, spices will be very brown. Add in the onion and saute until just beginning to brown. Add in the ground spices and cook for one minute. Add in the carrots, parsnips, potatoes and lentils, season with salt and pepper, stir well to combine and add in the vegetable stock or water to cover. Put a lid on the pan and let it cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and continue to cook until the mixture is a consistency you like. I kind of prefer a substantial mix, although brothier is nice with the homemade naan that’s been slathered in butter that’s cooked caramelized onions.
Playlist included Beware, Panjabi MC feat. Jay-Z