Monday, October 19, 2009

Tarka Dal

Food chain weekends are a total change in routine. The kitchen we use is based in Tooting, south east London, home to a large Indian community and a fabulous high street and market selling largely Indian and Pakistani foodstuffs and a string of restaurants doing the same. It's a real treat once our kitchen is sorted on a Saturday to try out some of the myriad of delights on offer. Often I go to Lahore and buy a few of their bhaji and samosa and kebab and the man and I sit in the garden of the community centre in the sun and have ourselves a fine picnic. When the weather is less welcoming we try out one of the multitude of restaurants.
And so it was a few months ago that we found ourselves in a small but busy restaurant on Tooting High Street. I ordered a few random things, including tarka dal. All the food that arrived was good - fresh and spicy and hot. But it only took one mouthful of the dal to fall in love. Rich and complex and much more textured than the dal I normally make, it wowoed me with it's fabulousness. Besotted, instantly.

So then I was on a mission to find a recipe so I could have some whenever I wanted. Miss Greedy Pants that I am. I tried a couple of versions for nothing but disappointment. Then, browsing an Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine, which I can buy round the corner for 75pence, I came across a reader request for tarka dal eaten somewhere in Melbourne. Quick perusal of the recipe and it sounded plausible. Had to give it a go.

Bought a packet of the required dried chana dal, which looks for all the world like yellow split peas but they are in fact much more closely related to the chick pea. Chana dal is younger, smaller, split, sweeter and has a much lower glycemic index than chick peas but otherwise similar. It is not another version of yellow split peas. This is crucial information - only I didn't know it at the time!

When I normally make dal I use red split peas and they cook down to a lovely porridgey sludge in about 30-40 minutes without soaking. When I cook with chickpeas I soak them and then cook them for an hour or so till they are tender, but still resolutely whole. With this dish, and the instructions given, I was expecting the former but was quite distressed to find it was much closer to the latter. I had no other plan for supper Thusday night and nothing much to rustle up in an emergency. So when the chana dal was softened but still whole like crushed gravel after more than an hour I let it simmer away for another half hour. Nothing much changed except we'd gone beyond hunger to that place where it seems easier to wait till breakfast.

Stuck a lid on the pan and let it cool down overnight and fridged it next morning. Did a little investigating on the web next day to discover the above, previously unknown, information. Most versions of cooking tarka dal process the chana once they are tender but still whole, about 40 minutes in. Then they add the additional elements before serving. My way worked out okay too - the residual heat had collapsed the chana down more in the night and heating it through next day before adding the cream was enough to make a really brilliant supper.
And only one day late.

Tarka Dal

400 gm chana split lentils
60 ml vegetable oil
1½ tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cm piece ginger (10gm), finely grated
10 curry leaves, fresh if you can find them
2 onions, finely chopped
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, finely chopped
35 gm (¼ cup) raw cashews, finely ground
1½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp each garam masala and ground chilli
½ tsp ground coriander
45 gm ghee
125 ml pouring cream
3 long green chillies, halved lengthways (optional)
To serve coarsely chopped coriander

Rinse lentils in cold water till it rins clear then soak them for 30 minutes. Drain.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add half the mustard seeds and half the cumin seeds and stir for a minute until they start to pop.
Add garlic, ginger, curry leaves and half the onion, stir occasionally until soft (7-10 minutes).

Add tomato, cashews, turmeric, garam marsala, ground chilli, coriander and 125ml water and stir occasionally until thick (3-5 minutes).

Add lentils and enough water to cover (about 1.6 litres), bring to the boil, reduce heat to low and stir occasionally for 40-45 minutes. When the lentils are tender to bite into, process briefly with an electric blender stick.

Heat ghee in a frying pan over medium-high heat, add remaining spices and stir occasionally until fragrant. Add remaining onion, stir occasionally until golden (15-20 minutes).

Stir onion mixture through lentils, add cream and chilli if using, bring to the boil, season to taste and serve immediately scattered with coriander.

My way was to add the extra onions and spices and let it all cool down together, and then it had all softened sufficiently to be fabulous next day. This recipe made a lot - we had it with paratha one night then as spiced accompaniment to roast lamb and cold in lunchboxes with the rest of the lamb.

Seriously recommend it.

1 comment:

charlie shaw said...

hey Bron check out my meat blog, only at the opening stages!thanks Charlie Ginger Pig