"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Hello Dal-y

by Julie Tilsner on September 20, 2007

in Good Ideas Gone Bad, Breakfast, Vegetarian

Ohwell_2My day job involves writing and editing about business. On Tuesday the Federal Reserve cut interest rates by half a percentage point, far more than the quarter point cut Wall Street and other financial pundits were expecting.

I know you don’t care. But I get sucked in. It’s a byproduct of the gig.

I also want you to know that a newly lowered interest rate has no effect at all on my ability to cook.

To wit: Last night I took it into my head to make a nice chana dal, using lentils I bought in Little India over the weekend (I also bought some bindi. And some burfi. Say the latter with a little roll of the tongue when you get to the middle of the word. Now, try channeling Homer Simpson: “Mmmmm. Burfi….”)

Back in the day, when I lived in New York City and worked long into the night, I would run out at dinnertime and get me a big tub of chana dal from the Indian take-out place down the street. Oh, those chickpeas in a masala sauce, dumped over a bowl of saffron bashmati rice, oh, how they sustained me.

I have never been able to replicate that taste, of course. But that has never stopped me from trying, repeatedly, over the years.

This chana dal was not from chickpeas, but small yellow lentils. The recipe in Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking says that of all the dals, this one has perhaps the “meatiest” taste, and that at its best, it also has a gentle sweetness. Given my level of ability, I couldn’t hope for any sweetness, but I figured I could go for meaty.

Here’s the recipe, (Indian Cooking, page 127)

1 1/2 cups chana dal (you really can only find these in Indian stores. Otherwise, yellow lentils will do, but they will break down differently.

5 cups water

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

2 thin slices of un-peeled ginger (whoops, I peeled them. No matter.)

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp garam masala

3 tbspns ghee or veggie oil

1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds

1 or 2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4-1/2 tsp red chili powder

Wash the dal and pick through it until the water runs clear. Put it and 5 cups of water into a heavy pot and bring to a boil.  Remove any surface scum with a small sieve. Add the ginger and turmeric and cover, leaving the lid just slightly ajar, and boil gently for a little more than an hour or until the dal is tender.

Stir every five minutes or so during the last half hour of cooking to prevent sticking. The water will cook/absorb away. Remove the ginger slices. Add the salt and the garam masala.Stir to mix.

Heat the ghee or veggie oil in a small frying pan. When hot, put in the cumin seeds. A few seconds later, throw in the garlic. Stir and fry until the garlic pieces are lightly browned – just a moment, really. Put the chili powder in and immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the contents into the pot with the dal. Stir.

Serve over bashmati rice.

Meaty? If you like your meat on the dryish, chalky side, sure. Probably through my inattention, too much liquid was boiled off/absorbed, and my chana dal was pretty dry. I might add a cup more water next time, just because I prefer my dal on the soupy side.  Also, I accidentally dumped half a teaspoon of garam masala into the mix when the recipe calls for a fourth of a teaspoon. So my chana dal was kinda spicy, too.

But it was edible. And as faithful readers of this blog know, that is a benchmark I am only too happy to reach, when I can. The kids were asleep in any case, and there was no one to feed but myself. I even finished up the leftovers the next day.

Perhaps I’ll try this again when the Fed next cut the rate, sometime in October, they’re saying. Unless the greenback is completely worthless by then in which case maybe I’ll relocate to an ashram and learn how to make dal from the masters.

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