Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Yellow Dal, Spinich Salad with Yogurt Pistachio Dressing, and Marinated Cherry Tomatoes

Indian inspiration is the name of the game tonight.  In order to get my head in the right space, I popped open a Denogginizer India Pale Ale and put on some bhangra music.  That definitely did the trick.  I'll explain the salad and the tomatoes in a moment, but for now let's talk about dal.  Dal (also spelled dahl, daal or dhal) refers to a preparation of pulses (dried lentils, peas or beans) which have been stripped of their outer hulls and split, or also to the thick stew prepared from these.  Dal is a mainstay of Indian, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi cuisine as it is a great source of protein for a balanced diet containing little or no meat.  Most dal recipes are simple to prepare. The standard preparation of dal begins with boiling a variety of dal (or a mix) in water with some turmeric and salt, and then adding a tarka towards the end of the cooking process.  Tarka is a technique whereby whole spices (and sometimes other ingredients such as ginger or sugar) are briefly fried in oil or ghee.
In this case I used yellow dal, simmered in salted water with a couple dashes of curry powder (I was out of turmeric).  My tarka consisted of cumin and fennel seed, ginger and garlic.

Rinse 1 cup of dal until the water runs clear, then place in a large saucepan. Add 3 cups of water, 1 tbsp salt and 2 tsp curry and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until lentils are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Keep warm over low heat.  I wanted a very thick end-product, so I cooked almost all of the water off,  but you can keep the heat very low or add more water if you want a more stew-like consistency.

Next, heat 1/4 C of oil or ghee in a medium skillet over high heat.  Once hot, add the cumin seeds and fennel seeds until they pop, then add the garlic and ginger and saute another minute or so.  Pour mixture over the dal. Taste for salt, and garnish with cilantro.  I used two spoons to make little quenelles.

My marinated tomatoes were extremely simple.  I halved a basket of cherry tomatoes, tossed them in a couple of tablespoons of red chile oil and salt, and let them chill in the fridge until dinner was ready.  They provided some heat and also some acid that really helped balance the meal.

My salad was quite simple as well.  I tossed spinach, thinly sliced red onion, and sliced and seeded cucumber in a lovely pistachio yogurt dressing.  For the dressing, I began by lightly toasting my pistachios on a baking sheet in a 350° oven for 5-10 minutes (making sure to keep an eye and a nose on them so they don't burn).  I then ground them in the food processor with 1 clove of garlic.  I added the juice from 1 lemon, 2 teaspoons of ground coriander, 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, 1 cup of plain yogurt, and stirred to combine.  I then drizzled in 1/2 C of sunflower oil while the motor was running, added salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and tossed with my salad.  It was a lovely meal, and one that resulted in some fabulous leftovers (post to follow).  Namaste India, for all of your wonderful culinary contributions to our world!