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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dhal: A Pot on the Stove for Most Occasions

It seems that every culture has some version of a pot on the stove. In our younger days, we all had friends whose mothers or grandmothers always had a pot of sustenance on the burner, simmering away for dinners all week.

In Mexico, it seems that every house has a pot of refried beans welcoming all into the home. In Tim's family home when he was young, the default pot was goulash, frequently ready for a hungry bunch of children. In some of his friends' homes in the summer, it was pork and beans.

Our current favorite is a pot of Indian dhal. It's basically an Indian version of beans. Some Indians cook and serve them very soupy to make them stretch farther, and others serve them very dry. Either way, they're often served over rice.

Dhal looks very much like yellow split peas, which can be substituted for actually dhal. Dhal comes in bags of pink or yellow or light brown dhal. Our favorite is something called Channa Dhal, and we like it finished with enough liquid to be absorbed by the rice underneath it when served.

Our favorite recipe is from The Little Book of Vegetarian Indian Cooking, one of a series of skinny 6-inch by 6-inch books that include little books on chicken, Thai, barbeque, Mexican, dessert, and Chinese recipes.

There's just a hint of heat because of dried red peppers, and a hint of sweetness due to shredded coconut and cinnamon.

Here's the recipe for Spicy Channa Dahl:
1 cup dhal or yellow split peas
3 T butter or clarified butter, called ghee
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 innamon sticks, broken
6 green cardamom pods, split open at the top
2-4 dried red chiles, coarsely chopped (or 1 teaspoon of dried chile flakes)
1/2 t. ground turmeric
1/4-1/2 t. chili powder
1-1/4 t. salt or more to taste
2-1/2 cups warm water
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or large can of diced tomatoes, drained)
2 T. chopped cilantro garnish

1. Clean and wash the dhal and soak for at least two hours. Drain well.
2. Melt the butter over a medium heat and fry the onion, cinnamon, cardamom, and red chiles for 6-7 minutes or until the onion is lightly browned.
3. Add the dhal, turmeric, chili powder, and salt. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and frythe dhal for a further 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Add the water, bay leaves, coconut, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, cover the pan, and simmer for 35-40 minutes (we let it go longer, and add water if necessary).
5. Stir in the chopped clantro, remove from the heat, and serve with rice.
The dhal can be frozen, so make a big pot and save some for later. The longer it cooks, the better it becomes.

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