Friday, 11 November 2011

dhal chawal (lentils and rice)

dhal with a garnish of coriander and green chillies
i don’t know what it is about dhal chawal that comforts so much. it could be its cheerful yellow spruced with fresh coriander. oil warmed with cumin and garlic stirred through it brings a breathe of spice. dhal adjusts to the mood so when i want heat i add thinly sliced green chilli as a garnish. on early winter evenings i like to a squirt of lemon juice. i often make dhal on a sunday in anticipation of the busy week ahead. if nothing else, o can boil some rice scented with cumin and cinnamon on thursday night when i am at yoga late.
the easiest dhal to make is red lentil. this is a small fine lentil that lends itself to a quick simmer. other lentils can be stubborn needing a soak and longer simmer. red lentils cook in around half an hour. i usually make a very simple version which involves boiling the washed and picked lentils in plenty of water with some turmeric, salt and chili flakes finishing it with a spiced oil tarka of cumin seeds and garlic. but sometimes i like to add some more spices so here’s that version.

2 cups red lentils, washed under cold running water
6 cups water
two tablespoons sunflower oil
1 medium white onion finely chopped into half moons
3 cloves of garlic and a thumb sized knob of ginger whizzed to a paste in the food processor with a bit of water
a bay leaf
half teaspoon turmeric
half teaspoon cumin
half teaspoon fennel seeds
half teaspoon mustard seeds
half teaspoon brown mustard seeds
half teaspoon black onion seeds
3 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped fine

put the lentils and the water to boil. reduce the heat and let the lentils simmer for ten to twelve minutes.

heat the oil in a separate saucepan and gently fry the onions until soft and translucent. add the garlic and ginger paste. it will sizzle and splatter a bit. let the paste fry of thirty seconds or so and then add the rest of the spices and tomatoes. fry the mixture for a couple of minutes so that the spices toast in the oil and release their aromas.

now add the boiled lentils to the pan with the onion and tomato spice mix and stir. bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for fifteen minutes.

o and i like our dhal to be a thick consistency. if you prefer it on the lines of a soup then adjust the water accordingly. serve it with a boiled rice made fragrant with cardamom or cumin seeds. i sometimes like to have preserved lemons on the side whose brine softened skins taste wonderful with the mellow dhal. if you want a sweeter element a tart mango or aloo bukharay ki chutney (plum chutney) gives a nice contrast. when i was little we often ate thandi dhal ka sandwich (literally cold dhal on soft white toast). it is only channa dhal (yellow split peas) that taste good this way as the dhal is quite sturdy and sits well on the toast. the toast we’d use was dawn bread which was slightly sweet, a bit like a milk bread and it would soften the sometimes chilli channa dhal.

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