Thursday, March 25, 2010

"I said Pet, I said Love, I said DHAL..."*

A post on utterly gorgeous food blog The Spice Spoon piqued my interest – I know my way around a biryani and could eat pappadums and customised relish (aka from the shop with extra bits and pieces) every day of my life, but Indian dhal is one thing I’ve never really fancied. I figure only boring hippies or really broke dinner party hosts would ever whip up a batch of what is basically porridge with dried peas, right? The Spice Spoon's post on Afghan/Pakistan dal (not "dhal", evidently) as the ultimate comfort food sounded like an easy peasy vegan challenge.
A tutorial in lentil/pea variation will have to wait for another time. Buying the lentils proved confusing – there were at least three types of dried yellow thingies at my local Indian grocers (I jokingly commented they “they probably all taste the same, right?!” which was met with aghast silence – humour FAIL).

Cook’s notes:
I started with best intentions but predictably got a bit haphazard with quantities and flavouring, as is the case whenever I cook anything remotely Asian (that covers Middle East to Japan, FYI): if in doubt, chuck in a tonne of fresh chilli, coriander and salt (it’s slightly more cosmopolitan that eating tomato sauce on everything, ya know?). So yeah – probably as authentically Afghani as a KFC zinger burger, but it was pretty bloody moorish. God knows the possibilities from adding onion, root veggies and tarka into the mix. Tarka, I’ve recently learnt, is a spice-infused oil that you drizzle on top for a real sense of occasion… Western equivalent being a blue cheese sauce over pumpkin soup, perhaps?

Ingredients - admittedly vague, but just as long as you use the same cup for measuring, it's all cool:
2 cups red lentils
1 cup yellow mung dhal lentil thingies. Look for "yellow" and "mung". It worked for me with the Indian grocers (actually, it was far more comically complicated than that, but here's not the time nor place).
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (ok so I used paprika and chilli powder -but what the hey, it's all red and spicy, right?)
1 fat tbsp of tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, smooshed
1 big red chilli, finely sliced (don't bother removing the seeds, it'll give extra spice)
8 cups boiling water
1 handful of fresh coriander, chopped stalks and all

Method (hold onto your hats, kids):
1. Chuck everything (EXCEPT THE CORIANDER) into a big pot, bring to the boil, then simmer with the lid slightly off for 40 mins or so.
2. You'll know it's ready when all the lentils have pureed into the water.
3. Add some boiling water or let it boil away to your preferred consistency.
4. Mix in the coriander just before serving.

Cook's postscript:
If you're confident enough with Indian and middle eastern spices, follow your nose and put together a flavour base that suits your tastes. Even with a laissez faire approach, you can't really go wrong, unless you completely over season the dhal... in which case, turf it, and start again. You'll have probably wasted a whole 40 cents in ingredients (not that we condone food wastage, but seriously - it's not like we're dealing with grain-fed fillet steak...). I'm starting to understand why half the world's population subsists on this stuff.

* Give it up for some old-school Sharon Strzelecki

1 comment:

  1. OK kids, so we ate the rest of the dhal the other night, and for some reason the lovely fresh coriander seasoning totally evaporated during the freezing process. DEFINITELY season again with fresh cori and chilli before serving, if you've defrosted it.