Saturday, March 9, 2013

Comfort Meets Fresh - Indian Style

Hey there! Time for more winter-themed fare (sort of)!

One of the advantages of cooking for a pregnant lady (fyi - Kari's expecting, YAY!) is that there's little in the way of food indecision.

"What do you want for dinner, honey?"

"I want something FRESH!!!"

"You want salad in January?"


"Um, OK..." (shivering inside) "Can we have something warming as well?"

"Sure! But, what...?" And then the bandying of ideas went back and forth until I remembered that Daal is supposed to be rather quick and easy to make. Luckily I was correct! I did a bit of looking around on the Internet and found several recipes and pretty much combined and adapted to my own wishes.

Daal (or Dal, or Dahl) is essentially a thick soup that originates from the India/Pakistan/Bangladesh/Sri Lanka area. It's made up of some sort of pulse (lentils, chickpeas, split peas, beans), usually served with rice or flatbread (or both) and, in my experiences at least, yogurt. It's really hearty and is a great vegetarian source of protein. And, if done right, really freakin' tasty!

I took the basics from but got inspired seasoning-wise at Simply Recipes. Specifically a spice blend called "Panch Poran" (aka Paanch Phoron aka Bengalese 5-spice) consisting of fennel seeds, nigella seeds, cumin, black mustard seeds and fenugreek. You can find it in pretty much any Indian grocery store.

Super-professional labelling 

OK, so let's get to the recipe!

Red Lentil Daal 


- 2 tsp olive oil (optional: 1 1/2 tsp olive oil and 1/2 tsp sesame oil)
- 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp Panch Poran spice blend
- 1 tsp coriander seed
- pinch cardamom seed
- pinch turmeric
- 2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 4 cups vegetable broth 
- 1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked
- juice of half a lime

To serve: 

- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, cleaned and roughly chopped
- 1 cup plain yogurt


- Heat a dry frying pan and toast Panch Poran, coriander and cardamom until fragrant. In a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind spices into powder. Set aside. 

Grinding spices the old-fashioned way

- In a large pot or saucepan, heat oil. Sauté onion, garlic and ginger for about 6 minutes, until onions turn translucent. 
- Stir in salt, Panch Poran, coriander, cardamom and turmeric. Cook for about a minute. Stir in tomatoes and cook for another 3-4 minutes. 
- Stir in vegetable broth and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover.Cook for about 20 minutes until lentils are tender. Stir in lime juice. Turn off heat and cover to keep hot. 

Bubbling away...

Next up is the salad, which was a mostly on-the-fly recipe using what was around the house. I had some apples and some yellow pepper and decided that would make a tasty, fresh salad as had been requested by my better half. So, I cobbled together some ingredients to get the salad going, but I also needed to figure out the dressing. One idea that came to me was to use coconut milk somehow, since it's a common ingredient in a lot of Indian cooking. It all came together to become what I call a Curried Apple Slaw with Coconut-Sesame Dressing.
Curried Apple Slaw with Coconut-Sesame Dressing
- 1-2 apples, rinsed
- 1 yellow pepper, julienned
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Using a box grater, grate apple (use larger holes) and squeeze out liquid from apple (put it into a glass for some of the tastiest apple juice ever!)
- Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate.

Grating the apple
- 1 small can coconut milk (400 ml)
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- juice of half a lime
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp cider vinegar
- pinch salt
- pinch coriander powder
- First, you want to reduce the coconut milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly (it might overflow if you don't stir it). Allow to reduce while stirring, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Mix remaining ingredients until well blended.
Reducing the coconut milk
Stir dressing into slaw, mix well and serve!

Simple but unique

To serve the whole meal:

- Warm some Naan bread in the oven and butter lightly. Or cook up some basmati rice and serve on the side.
- Ladle Daal into large soup bowls and serve with cilantro and yogurt on the side. Your diners can add as much of either as they see fit. If using rice, put a small portion at the bottom of the soup bowl and ladle Daal over top.
- Serve slaw on the side in smaller bowl.

Soup's on!

And that's that! Verdict? Wow, this Daal is really tasty! Earthy, filling, nourishing and absolutely comforting. The Panch Poran really helps give it an authentic flavour that you don't often find outside Indian restaurants. It's also dirt cheap to make and really easy. Easily one of my favourite vegetarian meals.

The Slaw was also quite tasty, with a fresh burst of tropical flavour and vitamins sorely needed in the bleak Winter months. The pregnant lady was happy with it...

And that's it for now! Enjoy!

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