Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hello, Dal-i!

Winter's back.

I knew it, even before I crawled out of bed this morning. I heard the wind howling around my window and could feel the chill seeping through the brick. And sure enough, when I looked out the window, I saw a fine swirl of white flakes driven horizontally into the face of the building. Brrr!

It's a good thing I had no real plans to head out today, because it's the kind of day when I just want to bundle into my coziest, warmest clothes, sip a big mug of hot tea, and start a pot of hot and spicy soup on the stove.

I'd had a fleeting thought the other day that I should make a pot of chili, and on the heels of that decision came the idea that I should make an Indian-spiced chili, more of a cross between a dal and chili. (You see where I'm going with this, don't you?)

So I rummaged through the pantry and the freezer and threw together a mostly local pot of savory spicy goodness: sautéing a frozen clump of onions, garlic, and hot pepper in ghee; adding a mix of Indian spices plus a dried Laotian chile; stirring in dried cabbage and red peppers; adding a pint of canned tomatoes, the remainder of the whey in the fridge, and some extra water; and tossing in a couple handfuls of (non-local) urad dal (split black gram) for good measure.

I let the mixture simmer for a couple of hours, wanting the dal to get well-cooked and enjoying the fragrance filling my loft. But once it had cooked sufficiently, I decided to add a little extra something.

I pulled out the besan (garbanzo) flour from the Indian grocery and mixed a quick little dumpling dough, adding kalonji seeds plus a chiffonade of small, tender kale leaves from the pot on the windowsill. I dropped dollops of the dough on top of the bubbling stew and let everything cook for another 15 minutes or so, and I rounded it all off by stirring in a couple big spoonfuls of ginger pickle, another delicious find from the Indian grocery.

The first spoonful of stew told me that I'd hit on just the right thing for such a cold day: lots of rich vegetable and legume flavor with the right amount of burn to warm me up inside and out. (Hot stuff! Yum!)

I spooned the leftovers into four small jars, and I think I'll have to take one jar with me to work tomorrow... maybe even eat it on the way, if it gets as cold tonight as they say it will!

Dal-i (Is It Chili? Is It Dal?)

This is one of those recipes that really isn't based on any other recipe: it just comes from what I have on hand. (The dumplings are based on a Betty Crocker classic, though.) That means it's totally open to interpretation and modification, so have fun with it!

1 small onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 small hot pepper, finely minced
1 1/2 T ghee or canola oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ajwain seeds*
1/2 tsp salt
1 dried hot chile pepper, poked with a knife in a few spots
3/4 c dried cabbage, crushed
2 T dried red peppers, crushed
1 pint canned tomatoes
2-3 c water
1 c urad dal (split black gram)*

1/2 c besan (garbanzo) flour*
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kalonji seeds*
1/4 tsp salt
1 T butter
1/4 c kale, finely shredded
1/4 c milk

(* Ingredients found at Indian grocery; omit spices if you don't have them or replace with others, and replace urad dal with lentils and besan flour with unbleached.)

In heavy saucepan over medium low heat, saute onion, garlic, and hot pepper in ghee or oil until translucent and golden. Add cumin, chili powder, coriander, ginger, ajwain seeds, salt, and dried chile pepper and saute another minute, until fragrant. Add cabbage, red peppers, tomatoes, water, and urad dal, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover pan, allowing stew to simmer about 2 hours, with occasional stirring.

When urad dal has softened and stew is about finished, make dumpling dough. Whisk together besan flour, baking powder, kalonji seeds, and salt. Cut butter into dry ingredients with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add kale and milk, and mix with a fork until evenly incorporated. Using fork, drop small dollops of dough onto stew until all dough is used. Allow stew to simmer another 15 minutes or so before serving.

If desired, add a couple spoonfuls of a spicy pickle relish (ginger is excellent) and stir to incorporate before serving.

Serves 4-6


At 2/11/2008 11:16 PM, Blogger Bri said...

Oooo, what warming comfort food. I just made a red lentil dal tonight with a saffron curry powder. I love your dumpling idea. There are so many tasty dumplings in vegetarian Indian food. I haven't worked with garbanzo flour before, I know Indians use it a lot. I should find me some. Yummy!

At 2/12/2008 7:12 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

It is definitely the perfect sort of stew for this week thus far, with the cold cold winds and the snow. And with a little dish of vanilla yogurt to follow, what could be better?

I keep thinking I might try pakore with the garbanzo flour, but I'm never all that crazy about frying things. Still, I should see what else my Indian cookbook recommends for it...

At 2/13/2008 3:46 PM, Anonymous Bri said...

I find that shallow pan frying is often a good option. You know, maybe 1/4 inch (or less) of oil, and flip them rather than submerging them. I made some yam, peas and cumin koftas like that once, and they came out great. That's how I often make falafel. I bet your pakoras would be super tasty.

At 2/13/2008 3:52 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Ooooh, yam koftas. Yam pakore. Now you're talking!!!


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