I’m cold and I have a cold so I want soup. Fresh local dill is easy to find right now and I bought a large, lush frondly bunch from Finca Pura Vida at the fledgling HOPE market on Sunday. If it snows today, and it might, I’ll transport myself to Shangri-la via Kashmir with a warming bowl of hot dal and rice. Keeping things simple and utilizing the pressure cooker to speedy up my fantasy.
Potentially exotic ingredients are called for here: chana dal, garam masala (you can make this yourself—see bonus below), and asafetida. Down south (Austin), you’ll score the best buys on harder-to-find Indian staples at Fiesta (Stassney and I-35). Up on the north side, I patronize MGM. Those folks are nice and the selection is great. Sometimes you can even find little potted curry bushes. You can keep them in a (bigger) pot to bring inside for the winter, or you can transplant them outside. They’ll freeze to the ground, even covered up (although we haven’t tried Christmas lighting them for warmth). But when the weather heats up again, and you know how it will, your curry bush will greenly resurrect and once again you’ll be wondering when you’ll ever get a chance to make up a large batch of curry leaf-based curry powder to share with your friends. Happens every year.
DILLY DAL makes a big potful
- heaping 1 cup of chana dal, picked through, soaked for 5 hours and rinsed.
- 6 ½ cups water
- 1 bay leaf–We’ve been growing for years, so we use ’em fresh.
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt. I use Real Salt.
- 1 or more cloves of garlic, smashed. Local garlic not synchronizing with local dill this time of year, you can omit this ingredient. Or use domestic organic.
- 1 heaping teaspoon turmeric
- ½ cup chopped fresh locally-grown dill. Easy to find right now. Maybe in your own yard! I save the stems for stock.
- ½ teaspoon garam masala. See Bonus recipe below.
- 1 Tablespoon plus 2 Tablespoons ghee (divided use), preferably homemade from organic butter. See my simple instructions.
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 to 6 dried whole red chiles. You can crush these up a bit if you want to feel the burn.
- ¼ to ½ teapsoon powdered asafetida. Click the link to read about this odiferous spice’s potential for combatting H1N1 as well as other respiratory afflictions. I wouldn’t omit this unless you use plenty of garlic. Then I still wouldn’t leave it out. I love that stank!
- ½ a small to medium local or organic onion, chopped
- 3 whole organic canned tomatoes (use fresh when in season), crushed with your fingers or chopped with a knife
- fresh lemon, if desired—Local Meyers or regulars are great—otherwise go for organic.
- cooked basmati or Lowell Farms Texas-grown organic jasmine rice, optional but complementary
- toasted Margarita’s (outta Manchaca) organic whole wheat flour tortillas or chapatis, optional but appreciated
If using a pressure cooker, place dal and the next seven ingredients, plus the 1 Tablespoon of ghee in the pot. Lock the lid on and bring to high pressure over high heat. Turn the heat down to maintain consistent pressure and cook for about 20 minutes. The cooking time for softening your dal will depend on the age of the beans. If the chana dal has been sitting in your pantry for a while, or languished at the store for too long (less likely at an Indian foods market), expect a lengthier cooking time. At any rate, check the dal after 20 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and let the pressure drop for 10 minutes. Release the rest of the pressure by flipping the quick-pressure release switch (however that works on your appliance). Be sure to open the lid AWAY from your face and arms to avoid steam burns. The dal should be soft and broken down. If it’s undercooked, give it another five minutes or so. If you’re not in a hurry you can finish cooking the dal without pressure. If you’re really trying to kill some time, you can do all the bean boiling in your regular soup pot. It’ll probably take at least an hour.
Using an old-fashioned egg beater or a whisk, agitate the dal into a rough puree and correct the salt, if necessary. Now for the chaunk (or tarka or bagar or a number of other similar terms). Heat the 2 Tablespoons ghee in a small skillet over medium-high heat. As soon as it melts add the cumin seeds and chiles. Monitor the spices as they fry and toast and when they look and smell just right to you—as browned and roasty as you please—quickly dump in the asafetida and give the pan a swirl before adding the onions. Get ’em browned a bit then add the tomatoes and fry the mixture until the tomatoes break down and glisten with ghee. Pour the chaunk into the dal pot and let the flavors get acquainted for a couple minutes before serving.
Ladle over rice, or not, and brighten with a little lemon juice if you think it needs it. No one minds a flatbread on the side, either.
BONUS RECIPE: GARAM MASALA makes about ½ cup
- 2 Tablespoons coriander seeds
- 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 Tablespoon cumin seeds
- 9 cloves
- 5 cardamom pods
- 1 ½ to 2 inch cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Place all the spices in a medium skillet over medium heat. Toast, shaking the skillet occasionally, until the coriander seeds have browned a shade or two darker and the spices smell righteously roasty to you. This is YOUR garam masala, so trust your senses, especially your smeller. When the spices have finished blooming, transfer them to a shallow baking pan, preferably aluminum or other thinner metal, to cool. When fully cooled, decorticate (remove the pods from) the cardamom and grind all the spices together in a spice grinder. I use a Krups coffee grinder from the thrift store (of course). Stir the ground mixture to blend well and store in a jar in the refrigerator for greatest shelf life.