Tuesday, October 26, 2010

tomato and lentil dal with tadka

indian food from my italian kitchen!

I've been feeling a bit uninspired in the kitchen yet, but I do have a bit of a backlog of yummy things that I just need to work up the enthusiasm to tell you about. Here it goes:

OMG, I made Indian food! I know I'm being silly, but for me this was so exciting. As we all know, my culinary comfort zone is largely Italian, with a bit of (largely-Americanized) French, Chinese and Mexican thrown in to mix it up a bit. I don't cook Indian food. Period. Until I tried making this tomato and lentil dal with tadka.

Though I was initially intimidated, I learned that just because you don't know the first thing cooking a particular regional cuisine doesn't mean that you can't pick it right up. In fact, part of what moved me to try my hand at this particular dish was the recipe's assertion that it was something that anyone could make whether or not they were familiar with Indian spices. In other words, perfect for someone like me!

Now, despite the success of this dish, I can hardly claim to be an expert of Indian cuisine. So, feel free to correct me if I say something egregiously wrong as I attempt to explain what I made. To the best of my knowledge, dal is a very common Indian dish made from stewed lentils. The lentils are boiled, and then to serve you add the tadka, which is basically Indian spices fried in ghee. (If you're me and your supply of clarified butter has run dry, you can also use oil.)

The recipe was pretty basic. Lentils, water, tomatoes, salt and tumeric are brought up to a boil and then left to simmer until cooked through. As that finishes, a variety of exotic Indian spices, garlic and small cherry tomatoes are cooked in hot oil. I assume this releases the fragrance and essential oils of the spices. You mix the tadka into the lentils before serving.

I used some beautiful tomatoes from the food co-op, and the rest of my French green lentils from that sad orzo salad. I also decided to add chives to the tadka in addition to the garlic. This probably wasn't at all authentic, but I had some left over from my fantastic corn and tomato pie, and I figured they would give the dish a needed splash of green color.

The preparation of this dish was very easy, and everything came together effortlessly. Unfortunately, I did have to make some concessions to the bareness of my pantry, which is seriously lacking in the cool spices department... I didn't have asafoetida, I didn't have tumeric, I had curry powder, but not curry leaves, and only regular mustard powder where it called for black mustard seeds... Fortunately, I did have cumin seeds and cayenne pepper, so I just used those and curry powder and hoped for the best.

Considering that I was working with a limited range of spices and that this was my very first foray into preparing Indian food, I am sure it was only a weak imitation of the real thing. However, I've gone to quite a few Indian restaurants, and I thought it tasted like it was in the right ballpark! Even though I didn't have of the more exotic spices, the combination of cumin, curry and cayenne was definitely very different than my normal flavor profile of garlic, onion and cheese. Haha. I really enjoyed the slight spiciness of the dish, and as I ate it I couldn't get over the fact that I had prepared something that tasted so foreign. It's kind of pathetic, but for me, this dal counted not only as a success, but as a minor triumph!

I enjoyed cooking this meal, and writing about it reminds me how much I enjoy the creative process both in the kitchen and in writing about it later for garlicus maximus. Hopefully this will help get me back in the groove in the kitchen and on my blog.

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