Yes We Did!
Sophie Grigson's Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup with Mint

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Two Lentil Stew

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I have three minutes to write this post before I fall asleep on the couch and I don't want to break NaBloPoMo right in the very first week, for Pete's sake. Give me seven days at least. The emotion and the nerves from the past few weeks, wait, months, wait, oh hell, years seem to have finally caught up with me and I am staggeringly tired. Plus, do you know what I discovered today? My Very First Gray Hair, growing impudently out of my right temple. Didn't it know I had an agenda of reaching my 31st birthday proudly sporting the same hair color I had on my 30th birthday?

It's all a little much.

So before I nod off with my laptop humming away on the tops of my thighs, let me tell you quickly about the first thing I cooked with the sack of chana dal that my dad brought when he came to visit a few weeks ago. I found a recipe in this brilliant cookbook that has you combine a whole rainbow of Indian dals into a spicy stew.

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I didn't have all those dals in my pantry, so I made do with some red lentils and the aforementioned chana dal (the recipe is originally called five-lentil stew) and it was simply lovely. I simmered the lentils until tender in spiced water, dyed yellow from turmeric, then cooked tomatoes and onions with garam masala and cumin until thick and sticky.

The tender legumes are folded into the spiced tomatoes and what results is comforting and homey and spicy without being painful and nutritious and wonderful. The kind of thing that becomes a meal staple also because the sum total of all the ingredients in this stew probably equaled $0.78. We ate the stew in wide bowls for lunch along with - wait for it - homemade chapatti. Homemade by me! A high point of the weekend, for sure, because I am a dork and the dough arts fascinate me.

Oh, you want to see one of those chapattis? But then I'm going to have to tell you all about how to make them and how cool they are and how easy, too, and like I said, I'm falling asleep, but okay, here you go:

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Two Lentil Stew
Serves 4

Dal:
3/4 cup chana dal
1/2 cup red lentils
5 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Spice blend:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped (about 2 large cloves)
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 large tomatoes, chopped, or 3/4 can diced tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1. Rinse the dal.

2. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the dal and lentils, stir, and bring back to a boil. Then remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for 2 hours.

3. Add the turmeric and cayenne to the legumes and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer until tender, approximately 35 minutes.

4. 15 minutes before the dal is ready, begin cooking the spice mixture: heat the oil in a heavy skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add onion and garlic and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add cumin and garam masala and cook another minute. Add the tomatoes and salt, and cook until the tomatoes have been reduced, approximately 10 minutes.

5. Add the tomato mixture to the dal, stir well and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more to blend the flavors. Taste for salt and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve hot in one large bowl or in individual-sized bowls with chapatti.

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