everday dal with caramelized rice

One of the first ethnic foods I remember making was a brown lentil dal over a rice pilaf, spiced with cinnamon & cloves, and studded with raisins.  Growing up, my mom’s cooking did not tend towards any ethnic cuisines, and so when I was living on my own and had my own kitchen, I was greatly intrigued by the new world of curries and Indian cooking.  (Of course, this enthusiasm was a bit curbed by the lack of a good grocery store within 100 miles!)

So, I was happy to find the dal recipe, which called mostly for ingredients I could scrape together from my little rural Alaskan kitchen.  I loved the results, and made it repeatedly as I worked up the courage to try other “exotic” dishes.  Unfortunately, somewhere along the way I lost that original recipe, and, despite fond remembrances here and there, I never got around to recreating it.

Inspiration finally came in the form of My Bombay Kitchen, by Niloufer Ichaporia King.  I loved her description of a simple, “everday” dal that was enjoyed by her culture for all occasions; it was the standard meal for almost every special occasion, as a reminder of the goodness in simplicity, and the importance of consistency.  I worked off her initial recipe, changing it very little.  For the pilaf, I also adapted a recipe of hers for caramelized fried rice; definitely different from what I used to make, but I think even yummier!

The results are wonderful.  King says that the everday dal is usually served over plain basmati rice, but since I wanted the pilaf, that’s what I made.  I’m sure the dal over simple rice would also be wonderful, comforting, and even easier than what I made.  But as I made it, this meal was very simple anyways, and the pilaf made it feel just a bit more special.

Note: I call for soaking both the rice and lentils, which can easily be done the morning you want to cook dal.  This step is not essential, but does help make the rice & lentils easier for your body to digest.  I was a bit disappointed yesterday when I heard Mark Bitteman on the radio saying that it wasn’t really all that important to soak your beans before cooking.  True, if you’re short on time and forgot about soaking, you can still cook beans, but they are much harder for your body to digest, and the health benefits of beans (and grains!) are greatly increased by soaking.

Everyday Dal
adapted from My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King
serves 4-6

2 cups brown lentils, soaked at least 7 hours in water with 1/4 cup whey or vinegar
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp salt, to taste
2 onions, quartered
2 dried chilis
2-3 tsp grated ginger
6-8 cups water or broth
2-3 Tbsp ghee or olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped onion

Drain lentils and place in medium size saucepan.  Add tumeric, salt, onion, chilies, and ginger, along with at least 6 cups of water/broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until dal is tender.  When soft, mash until thick and smooth (or run through a food processor/blender); taste for salt.

To finish, make the vaghar: heat ghee or oil over medium heat.  Add seeds, garlic and onion, and sizzle  until garlic begins to brown and seeds start to crackle.  Tip the vaghar into the dal and stir.  Dal can be made thick or thin according to your preference.

Caramelized Fried Rice
adapted from My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King
serves 4-6

2 cups brown basmati rice, soaked at least 7 hours in water with 1/4 cup whey or vinegar
2 Tbsp ghee or olive oil
1-2 tsp cumin seeds
6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cardamom pods
12 black peppercorns
1 onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp sucanat or cane sugar
1-2 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 cup raisins, optional

Drain rice.  Heat ghee or oil over medium heat in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid.   Add spices and sizzle for a minute to release aromas.  Add onion and cook until it begins to brown.  Sprinkle in sugar and keep stirring until it begins to get brown and bubbly; be careful not to burn!  Add salt, then add rice.  Add enough water “to come up to the 1st joint of your index finger when resting on rice” (these are King’s instructions – they work!).  Add raisins, stir quickly, bring to a boil, cover and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until rice is tender.  Let rice rest about 10-15 minutes before gently fluffing.

Enjoy!!! :-)

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4 Responses to everday dal with caramelized rice

  1. I don’t soak lentils or black-eyed peas, but everything else I soak! This looks great.

  2. Shira says:

    I have only just heard about soaking grains in whey…..do you find it drastically improves digestibility? I’ve never had an issue digesting grains (that I am aware of) but I might like to try cooking them this way – thanks for the tip! Def. agree that beans should be soaked if possible!

    • I had also never had any issues that I had noticed with digesting grains, but as I’ve learned more about grains, it seems like traditional cultures usually soaked, sprouted or in some way partially fermented their grains before eating. Even though I haven’t had noticeable negative effects from unsoaked grains, I can say that when I eat grains that have been soaked or sprouted, I do at some level inside feel “better” and more energized. I’ve read that unsoaked grains (any seeds!) are hard for your body to digest because of enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid, which reduce absorption of minerals, and when you soak/sprout them, you’re able to get a lot more good stuff. So I happily soak my seeds as long as I remember to!

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