Monday, July 03, 2006

Kanchan's Dal

Lentils are so good for you! They are a bit of a wonder food, really. I always knew this but only in general terms. The fact that the majority of the population of India lives on them was a good hint. I never knew just how nutritionally wonderful lentils are until I did some digging. While only 170 calories per serving (2 ounces, uncooked), lentils contain 27% of the daily recommended iron intake and 24% of the fiber intake. Not only that, but lentils have almost as much protein as beef with none of the fat (or prions :) ) : 14 grams of protein in 2 oz of beef; 11 grams of protein in 2 oz of lentils (!). Now, I fully realize that two ounces of lentils will never satisfy the same craving as a cheeseburger, but it’s just something to keep in mind for the non-craving days.

All of these nutrition facts are secondary to the fact that I love dal. Kanchan makes the best dal (a kind of lentil stew/soup) and was kind enough to share her recipe with me. There are so many different varieties of dal and so many different things that one can add to it (like spinach – that would be really good) that it becomes easy to see why it’s a diet staple of an entire continent. Kanchan also gave me a recipe for a slightly more involved moong and masoor dal (yellow and red lentil mix) that has ginger and tomatoes in it. That will be my next undertaking.

Dal is typically served with rice or bread. I had it with my new favorite (and slightly hippy) grain, quinoa. I can’t say that my dal was just like Kanchan’s (that may never happen) but it was pretty good in its own right. Maybe once I make it a dozen more times…

Yellow Moong Dal, courtesy of Kanchan (I only messed with the recipe a little. Did you think I wouldn’t?)

1 cup chana dal (yellow lentils)
5 cups water
½ tsp turmeric powder
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 or 2 green chillis, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp olive oil
big handful of freshly chopped cilantro

1) Wash the lentils thoroughly and soak in lukewarm water for a few hours in order to expedite the cooking process. I sort of forgot about my lentils (read : went to the Tavern instead of cooking) so they sat for a whole day. Oops.
2) Bring dal and 5 cups water to a boil, remove froth as it forms.
3) Add the turmeric. Lower heat to medium and simmer, partially covered until the lentils begin to dissolve (~40 minutes). If the dal starts to become too thick at this stage, add boiling water to adjust to desired consistency. I prefer my dal on the thicker side, although I have had in many different consistencies. It’s up to personal preference.
4) Once dal is dissolved, turn off heat and prepare the seasoning.
5) For the seasoning: Heat olive oil, add 1 tsp cumin seeds and toast while stirring until the seeds begin to turn pinkish brown but do not burn (Kanchan instructed me to use 2 tsp of cumin seeds but I found the dal to be too cumin-y for my taste).
6) Add the garlic and chillis (this will smell incredible), cook until light brown.
7) Add the cumin/garlic/chilli mixture to the dal and stir well.
8) Salt to taste, add cilantro.



michelle said...

Wow - I didn't realize that lentils were so high in iron and fiber! I've always loved lentils, but now I can share that info with a friend of mine who has low iron and is always trying to get it up (but doesn't like meat very much!). Thanks for sharing the details. Plus, dal is sooo good, and I've never made it before.

Anonymous said...

I lived in India with a local family for three months and utterly failed to learn how to make anything except chapathi. I've been craving dal since I returned, but all my attempts have been disastrous. Your post has given me hope!

I really want to try this recipe, in hopes of producing something edible. I have a couple questions though:

1. What kind of chilies do you use? Serrano? JalapeƱo? I've been leaving them out of the recipes I've tried since the ones I saw in India don't seem to be available here.

2. I guess it doesn't matter too much, but what kind of dal did you use? Surprisingly, moong dal, chana dal, and yellow lentils (toovar dal) are all different things. But generally interchangeable.

3. I seem to be quite capable of burning the cumin seeds without a trip to the tavern. Any spice-frying hints or recommendations of a good beer to serve with this dal?

Anna said...

Hi Alexan! Thanks for your comment.
In answer to your questions:
1. I used green chilies I bought at the Indian store. They were small, green chilies, like Thai bird chilies, but green. I don't see any reason you couldn't use jalapenos, but they are not as spicy.

2. Dal is so different! There are hundreds of different kinds, and they all cook differently. You can use channa dal, but it will take forever to 'melt,' or get to the point where the individual lentils dissolve. I used massoor dal, but you can use moong dal as well. You need the little kind that cooks quickly without the need for a pressure cooker.

3. Spice frying is tough. Don't walk away. Just stand there and stare at it like it's the most entertaining thing ever. If you hear it pop, or see it start to turn color (cumin will go slightly pink) then it's done. It goes from done to burnt in just a second, as you are well aware, so you really do have to stare at it. Another good way to tell if it's toasted is to wait for smell. The moment the fragrance of the spice hits you, it's done. And good beer... Kingfisher is a good Indian beer - very light. I would probably drink a Newcastle with dal, actually. Then again, I tend to drink Newcastle on many many occasions.

Hope this helped! Email me if you have more questions.