Monday, January 18, 2010

Simple Lentil Dal with Whole Cinnamon, Cardamom, and Cloves

Today I want to feature my new favorite cookbook author. Suvir Saran is the chef of Michelin starred restaurant Devi and author of Indian Home Cooking and American Masala. Both cookbooks make using exotic spices and preparing Indian food straightforward and absolutely perfect every time and are a great learning experience for the novice home cook-- even for those who feel intimidated by exotic recipes

Indian Home Cooking is filled with authentic recipes that one may find in the kitchen of an Indian grandmother. Truly, everything I have tried out of this book has put the cuisine of most Indian restaurants to shame. I don't know whether his techniques are his own or a regional Indian style, but I was surprised at how little oil he uses. He doesn't use much ghee at all. In most recipes, there is just a few tablespoons of canola oil. His recipes' flavors come from the frying of the spices and layering them with skill, not by dolloping extra ghee into the pot. The result is fragrant, rich, and contains "the aromas of the ages", as stated by one of my clients. He takes the mystery of out the layered spices and fragrances of this richly woven cuisine and makes the flavors accessible to all.

American Masala is an equally fantastic book that offers recipes of Indian food altered for the American palette, American-inspired Indian food, and Indian-inspired American food (if you can believe that!). A few examples from this book are Spicy-Sweet Chicken Wings that use honey and garam masala, Tamarind-glazed Meatloaf, and Stir fried Carrot Salad which has cilantro, lime, coriander, and cumin.

An important thing to note for both cookbooks is the importance of "gathering your mise". The recipes are simple and easy to follow, but you MUST have your ingredients ready/measured/chopped/pureed. I like to take a few prep bowls and prep each grouping of ingredients together before I start cooking anything, so when the recipe says to quickly add seven ingredients (or something like that), they are ready to go. This prevents most mishaps such as burning your spices and makes the preparation virtually fool-proof.

Check your supermarket for the spices and even for things like tamarind paste and mango powder(although for some things he suggests easier to find substitutions, if needed). It's really not that hard to find this stuff. There are some great spice stores online, too. If you live in NYC, head to little India in Jackson Heights, Queens (E, V, R to Roosevelt Ave.). Patel Bros. is amazing. In Manhattan, there is Spice Corner and Kaluystans.

I will keep cooking my way through these books and when I'm done, I will most likely start over and do it again. This food is just that good. Well, here is a teaser recipe. Get ready. Before long, you, too, will be totally immersed in this guy's food.

Simple Lentil Dal with Whole Cinnamon, Cardamom, and Cloves
from Indian Home Cooking, by Suvir Saran

1 1/2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods
1 cup pink lentils, picked over, washed and drained
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
4 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Tempering Oil
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 fresh hot green chile, minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime

Heat the oil with the cinnamon stick in a large saucepan or kadai over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the cinnamon unfurls, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the cumin, cloves, and cardamom and cook, stirring, until the cumin turns a golden brown color, about 1 more minute. Add the lentils, turmeric, water, and salt. Bring to a boil and skim well, Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Add more water during cooking, if necessary. Taste for salt and add more if you need to.

Ladle about 1/2 cup of the lentils into a small bowl and mash them with a spoon. Return the mashed lentils to the pot and give the dal a stir. Continue cooking at a simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes to thicken. If you like a thicker dal, use a whisk to break up the lentils into a puree. If you like a thinner dal, add water. Remove the cinnamon stick.

For the tempering oil, heat the oil in a small saucepan or kadai over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it just begins to brown around the edges, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic paste, ginger, and minced chile and cook just to mellow the raw taste of the garlic, 10 to 15 seconds.

Stir half of the tempering oil into the dal along with half of the cilantro and all of the lemon or lime juice. Simmer very gently for 5 minutes Transfer the dal to a serving bowl, pour the remaining tempering oil over the top, and sprinkle with the remaining cilantro. Serve hot.


Deborah said...

It's great to know about these two cookbooks. I will definitely keep an eye out for them. Thanks!

Suvir Saran said...

Deborah - how kind of you to feature my books and share this recipe.
Hope you continue to enjoy the books, and eat well and share with love and pride.
I am humbled by your having chosen one of my recipes to post.
Suvir Saran

Anonymous said...

this is not only the best dal i've ever made, but the best i've ever tasted! thank you SO much!! will now look for suvir's cookbook, because this is a ridiculously good recipe.