Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dal Palak (Lentils and Spinach)

Lentils don't sound very exciting.  Sous Chef Brian has an anti-lentil thing that goes back to long before he had ever had lentils, so it's not really their fault.  But if we call it dal, lentils can get a bit more exciting. You know that I don't claim to have a clue about how to make Indian food. I should really have called this, "Spiced lentils and spinach," and then I wouldn't even be pretending. This is simplified.   Whole seeds are subbed for ground.  I only used things I had in the house.  

I started by cooking some lentils.  About a cup and a half. Cover the lentils in water or stock (I used a mix of veg stock and water) and bring to a boil.  Cook until tender.   I had standard brown lentils, and they take longer to cook than some other types, like yellow/orange/red/green lentils.  If you don't want to bite into lentils at all at the end, go ahead and get yourself some more tender lentils.  These work for me, they still mush into a paste a bit, but I can still bite into them. 

Add a teaspoon of turmeric to the boiling lentils. These need half an hour of cooking before we look back at them.  Plan accordingly.

Meanwhile, I made some some ghee.   Ghee is pretty much clarified butter, and the point is that if you take the solids out, the smoke point goes up, so you can cook it longer/hotter without worrying about it burning.   I started with 2 ounces of unsalted butter from the buying club

I melted that in a pot.

And watched it froth.

And skimmed off anything that wasn't clear.

Until I had clear golden liquid.  Keep skimming around those edges there.

I cut up a red onion.

And pressed in a chunk of ginger.

And two dried chilis.

And a half tablespoon each of cumin and curry powder.

As well as three cloves of unphotographed garlic, chopped.    All of that goes into the simmering ghee to fry up a bit.  Stir occasionally.

When everything is fragrant and golden, maybe 10 minutes in, you're all set. I just turned this off, since my lentils weren't ready yet.

Once my lentils were ready, I chopped up some spinach.

Like this much, but it's not science.  If you want more spinach, do that. 

Using a wooden spoon, I mashed some of the lentils against the side of the pot.  If your lentils don't mash, you need to cook them a bit longer.  It's your call here, make it into a paste, like refried beans, or just mash some of them.   I like the texture of the lentils, so I don't go too far with it.  Add your spinach and turn down to a simmer. 

Add the ghee/onion/ginger/garlic mixture.  Stir. 

At this point, I thought I was being clever.  This is the time when we brighten up these mashed legumes with some citrus (lemon, lime juice) and instead I had this mango powder I bought on impulse, so I added a bit of that. 

And I tasted it, and added a bit more, and a bit more.  It must be easier just to squirt half a lime in there, because I was getting nowhere with the mango powder.  To continue brightening, I added some salt (note that this is the first use of salt in the dish) and a bit of garam masala.

I had some rice with peas on hand, basically this recipe, but just peas, and that worked nicely with the dal. Smoky from the cumin, a bit spicy from the dried peppers, not just lentils.  

Dal Palak (Lentils and Spinach)
A simplified and pantry-friendly version of dal palak, for smoky, spicy lentils.
  • 1.5 cups lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons dried chilis, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
  • 3 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 3 cloves chopped garlic
Bring lentils, water or stock, and turmeric to a boil. Stir occasionally for about half an hour.Melt butter and skim off froth until clarified. Fry onions, garlic, ginger and chilis in butter until golden.Mash lentils against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon. Cook longer if not mashable. Mash to desired consistency (I like some texture left).Add spinach to lentils. Turn down to a simmer. Add butter (ghee) mixture to the lentils. Stir. Simmer for a few minutes. Add the juice of half a lemon or lime and the garam masala. Stir. Serve hot, with rice or bread.
Cook time: Yield: 4 servings

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