Easy, very satisfying, and full of colorful vegetables, this is a recipe combination that gets replayed at our house at least once a month. Gather all your spices ahead of time, and after you've made this a couple of times, the method will become easy. If you like to cook Indian food, you might think about investing in a Masala Dabba, a steel Indian spice tin. With your main spices in your tin, you can easily scoop out what you need, instead of opening many little jars. It saves time.
We often will serve this with a little plain yogurt, or a raita, made with yogurt, chopped cucumber, a little toasted cumin and a dash of salt. We also keep papadums on hand. They are very thin gluten-free flatbreads made from lentils and spices, available at Indian groceries. They can be quickly fried in a little oil and will puff up in about a minute. I like to put them in a microwave for ninety seconds, where they will also puff and crisp. Serve with your choice of a prepared chutney.
This Punjabi recipe was given to me by a friend's mother. Mrs. Singh was a lifelong vegetarian. It's a very flavorful dal, perfect with Indian mixed vegetables - Milli Julli Kadhi - and a Cucumber Raita.
Mrs. Singh's Red Lentils
Makes 6 servings
1c. red lentils
1/2 c. minced onion
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. peeled, finely minced or grated fresh ginger
2 Tbs. vegetable oil or ghee
1/2 c. chopped tomatoes
1 tsp. sea salt
3/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. garam masala*
1 tsp. turmeric
4 c. water
2 Tbs. chopped cilantro as garnish
Wash lentils well: soak in water to cover for a couple of minutes, drain, and rinse. Repeat 2 more times; drain and set aside.
In a 3 or 4 qt. heavy saucepan, heat the oil or ghee over medium heat until it is hot but not smoking. Add onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook, stirring often, until onions and garlic are lightly golden, about 5-7 minutes. Add tomatoes, spices, water, and the washed lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, and cook, uncovered, about 1-1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally and add a little more water if necessary. When done, lentils will be almost completely dissolved; a thin liquid will form on top (the “dal”), while a thick puree settles at the bottom. Stir more often towards the end of cooking and keep heat very low to prevent sticking. Garnish with fresh cilantro, and a fresh pinch of garam masala, and serve.
*Garam Masala is the name for an Indian spice mixture. It can be purchased at a good spice store or Indian grocery, or make your own.
Recipes vary, but the blend I use I learned from my Indian cooking teacher, cookbook author Neelam Batra.
You will need equal amounts by weight of:
Black cardamom seeds, or regular green cardamom seeds (if in pods, remove and discard pods, then weigh seeds only)
You can use a postage scale to weigh spices - 1/4 - 1/2 oz. of each spice will make a small batch. Grind in a spice or coffee grinder until a fine powder is formed. Store in cool, dark place. Keeps for 6-8 months.
Adapted from a recipe in the Follow Your Heart Cookbook, by Janice Cook Knight
And now, for the vegetables...
Milli-Julli Kadhi (Stir-fried Seasonal Vegetables)
Makes 6 servings
1 1/2 lb. cauliflower (1 large head) - or- one small head cauliflower plus 1 large potato, diced into 1” pieces
½ lb. carrots, cut thinly on the diagonal
½ lb. green beans or asparagus, cut into 1 ½” pieces on the diagonal, or substitute 4 oz. sugar snap peas or snow peas, halved
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil or ghee
¼ tsp. whole fenugreek seeds
1 tsp. whole fennel seeds
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1-2 whole dried hot red peppers, such as pequin
¾ tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1 tsp. sea salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. garam masala
Discard leaves and coarse stem of cauliflower. Break head into 2” long flowerets. Cut each floweret lengthwise into very slim flowerets, with the heads never wider than ½ inch.
Prepare carrots and beans or other green vegetable, and set aside.
If vegetables are damp from washing, dry them in a dishtowel. Heat oil in a large 12-14 inch skillet over high heat. When the oil is smoking, scatter in the fenugreek seeds, the fennel seeds, the cumin seeds, and the dried red peppers. Stir once and quickly add the cauliflower, potato if using, carrots and beans or asparagus (if using peas, you'll add them later). Stir again and turn the heat to medium.
Sprinkle the turmeric, coriander, salt and pepper over the vegetables and sauté them for about 8 to 10 minutes. Now add ¼ c. water and cover immediately. Turn heat to very low and steam vegetables gently about 7 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. If using peas, add them during last 5 minutes of cooking. Sprinkle the garam masala over the vegetables, stir once, and serve.