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Bean cuisine. June 25, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday our friend Ben and I were visiting our good friend Huma and her delightful 17-year-old twins, Rashu and Sasha, up in the Poconos. Huma treated us to some delicious dal, and I want to share the recipe, along with a few others she sent home with me that feature beans or other legumes in a starring role. (Rashu, already an accomplished baker, made a yummy pear-pecan pie, including a lattice crust, from scratch. But sadly, I didn’t get the recipe for that!)

First, though, a few words about dal. Dal is basically a sort of spicy porridge or soup that uses various types of lentils or split peas as the chief ingredient. There are probably thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of variations, so you have lots of leeway to vary the ingredients and thickness. (I, for example, prefer a thick texture, like a thick, chewy oatmeal or mashed potatoes or grits when they’re cooked right. But if I order dal in an Indian restaurant, it’s almost invariably thinner and runny, which makes me suspect that that’s the traditional texture.) I’ve always thought of dal as an Inidan dish, but Huma is from Pakistan, so perhaps it’s popular across the whole subcontinent. (Stupid me! I should have asked her while I was there. For all I know, she might have first encountered it in an Indian restaurant, too.)

I of course have my own dal recipe, too, and (of course) it’s my favorite. But let’s start with the one Huma gave me, which is not only yummy, but is a gorgeous golden color, unlike mine, which is a lentil brown. Incidentally, dal is traditionally eaten with bread, such as Indian naan or roti. But I often make a simple but satisfying meal of dal (remember, I like it mashed-potato thick, not soupy), rice, and plain yogurt (the simplest possible palate-cooling raita), with a few chutneys and other condiments on the side.

Huma makes a raita that’s only slightly less simple by bruising a tablespoon or so of whole cumin seeds with a mortar and pestle and then roasting them in a hot, dry pan over a burner for a minute or two, shaking constantly, before adding them to the yogurt with some ground cayenne and salt. There are tons of raita variations as well, the best-known incorporating finely minced cucumbers (sometimes with minced onion), and many adding green chilies and a variety of spices sauteed in ghee (clarified butter), butter, or oil. One of my favorite raitas is from Anna Thomas’s The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two, and features unsweetened coconut and bananas. But plain yogurt is just great as far as our friend Ben and I are concerned. It does its job well, which is cooling down the mouth in the wake of fiery Indian fare, and its simplicity is pleasing in the face of the complexity of so many Indian dishes. But of course, if I were cooking for company I’d dress it up a bit. 

Yikes, I can see that I’m getting carried away and drifting off point. So let’s get back to those recipes. You can find all the ingredients in Indian markets, and many in well-stocked supermarkets in the international aisle:

              Panchmel Dal

1 cup chana dal, washed

1/2 cup urad dal, washed 

1/4 cup moong dal, washed

1/2 cup masoor dal, washed

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp. turmeric

6 tsp. clarified butter (ghee; can substitute 1/2 stick regular butter)

2 onions, sliced

2 tsp. garlic paste (sold in tubes in produce aisle)

2 tsp. ginger paste (sold in tubes in produce aisle)

2 green chillies, finely chopped

3 tomatoes, sliced

1 1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds

1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 to 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

Cook all the types of dal (lentils) with the turmeric in water to cover over medium heat for abotu 30 minutes, adding more water as needed. Add salt to taste. Heat 2/3 of the the ghee or butter in a heavy saucepan and sautee the onion until light brown. Add the green chilli and the garlic and ginger pastes. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato and cook until soft. Pour this masala over the cooked dals and stir it in gently. In a separate pan, heat the remaining butter and saute the cumin seeds until they splutter. Add the cayenne and paprika and immediately add them to the dal, stirring well. Once the dal has thickened to the consistency you want, add most of the cilantro and stir well, reserving a bit to garnish each bowl. Serve with hot flat bread (such as naan) or steamed rice. Serves four. (Note from Silence: This reheats beautifully, and is better—in my opinion, anyway—the second day.) 

As you can see, dal isn’t the simplest dish to make. But it’s satisfying and delicious, and there’s almost always enough left for a second meal that just needs a quick reheating (and more bread or rice!). Here’s my own recipe:

              Silence’s Divine Dal

2 cups lentils (regular, French, tiny orange,or a mix)

1 or 2 large sweet onions (Vidalia, WallaWalla, or Candy type)

2/3 stick butter

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 heaping tablespoon black mustardseeds

1 heaping tablespoon whole cumin seeds

1 heaping tablespoon garam masala

1 heaping tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon ginger paste

1 tablespoon cilantro paste

1/2 to 1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1/2 cup raisins, preferably mixed

1 tablespoon marmalade or apricot jam

2 tablespoons chutney

hot sauce to taste (we like Pickapeppa)

salt to taste

Rinse lentils well in a sieve and cook them in enough water to cover, adding more as needed, until they are thoroughly soft and beginning to disintegrate. While they are cooking, melt butter in a heavy saucepan and add fresh ginger, black mustardseeds, and cumin. Add onion and cook until clarified. Add remaining spices, hot sauce, raisins, and ginger and cilantro pastes. When lentils are thoroughly cooked and water has evaporated, add the sauteed ingredients to the lentil pot, stirring to blend. Add marmalade/jam and chutney, stirring well. Add fresh cilantro. When dal is thoroughly hot, taste and add more salt, spice, hot sauce, etc. as needed. (It’s my experience that dal can take a lot of spice and salt.) When thick and luscious, serve as a side with other Indian dishes (like my vegetable curry—see my earlier post, Super Summer Squash Recipes, for that—and festive rice) or simply with rice and yogurt.

Yow! Ready for something easy now? If you use canned beans, the next dish will come together in a comparative flash. Of course, you can also soak your beans overnight and then rinse and simmer them in a pot of water until they’re completely cooked through. But I confess, we love the convenience of canned beans!

               “Baked” Beans Indian-Style

These beans aren’t baked or sweetened, so they won’t taste like American baked beans. But I called them that because they have the same consistency as baked beans and the finished dish looks a lot like ’em. Enjoy these beans as a side or as a main dish with rice or Indian flat bread (naan or roti).

2 cans red kidney beans, black-eyed peas, or pintos

3 onions, finely chopped

2 tomatoes, diced

2 tsp. each ginger and garlic pasts

2 tsp. each red chilli, coriander, turmeric and cumin powders

6 tsp. clarified butter (ghee) or 1/2 stick butter

Salt to taste

Heat butter in a Dutch oven or other heavy pan. Saute onion with garlic and ginger paste until golden brown. Add tomato, salt, and coriander, chilli, turmeric and cumin powders, stirring until tomato has softened and broken down. Add canned or cooked beans or black-eyed peas and cook until thoroughly hot and sauce is reduced.

I hope you enjoy all three recipes! And, as always, please feel free to share your own with us. We’d love to try them!

              ‘Til next time,




1. scm - June 26, 2008

Thanks to all. It’s entertaining to see how many dals there are in the world; I’m looking forward to trying these.

I think you’ll enjoy them!

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