Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spinach Dhal

My little one is slowly transitioning into table foods and these days frowns upon simple pureed veggies and baby cereal, but give her some flavorful dhal and she's all for it. I made this recipe the other day and before adding in the spicier ingredients I took out some dhal on the side for her. Finally I am getting to the stage where I don't need to cook separate meals for different family members or put up with blander tasting food if I choose to cook just one meal. 

You will need a pressure cooker or another method to cook the lentils. This is a good recipe to try out with the old slow cooker too. If you are going to cook lentils using a saucepan and water over the stove it could take a while for the lentils to get really soft.

I am obsessed with my whistling pressure cooker, I can't function without it.
Apart from that, this recipe is pretty simple and quick. Lentils are a great source of protein and iron which is great for the whole family.

Toor Dhal
  1. 1 cup of uncooked Toor Dhal ( Split, plain yellow pigeon peas), thoroughly washed
  2. 3 cups of chopped spinach (Either fresh or frozen)
  3. 1 onion finely chopped
  4. 1/3 cup tamarind paste (You can use ready made paste or make your own by using dry tamarind the size of a small lime, soak it in warm water for a minute and then squeeze the pulp)
I use dried tamarind; add 1/4 cup water, heat in microwave for 30 seconds, let it stand till it cools down, then squeeze away!!

After straining the pulp, i'm left with tamarind paste which I add to the dhal 

  1. 4 cloves of garlic
  2. 1 tbsp sambar powder
  3. 1 tbsp wheat flower or rice flower
  4. red chilli powder - as per taste
  5. salt - as per taste
  6. 1 tbsp turmeric
  7. 1 green chilli finely chopped (leave this out if you want to make this for your baby/toddler)
Ingredients for tempering/seasoning:

  1. 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  2. 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  3. 1/4 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds
  4. 1/2 tsp asafoetida powder (also called "hing". Don't get turned off by its odd smell, I promise it smells a lot more pleasing after it hits the heat! Hing is great for digestion and is said to help fight the flu)
  5. curry leaves (not necessary but if they are lying around in your fridge then you may as well use them as they provide a nice aroma to the dish)
  6. 4 tbsp of cooking oil
  1. Cook the lentils in a pressure cooker for 3 whistles, using a 1:2 ratio, so cook 1 cup of lentils in 2 cups of water. This ratio can be used to cook lentils on a stove-top or slow cooker as well.
  2. Heat the oil in a pot on a high flame
  3. Add the mustard seeds and let them sit until you hear the first "pop"
  4. Add the cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds and drop the flame to medium
  5. Add the asafoetida and mix well
  6. Mix in the green chilli, onions, curry leaves and garlic and let the onions cook until they are golden brown. Make sure you have enough oil to coat the onions, adding a little more if necessary.                                                                                                                              side note: If your seasoning and onions are sticking to the bottom of the pot, you need to stir it more        often, drop the heat and possibly add more oil. The key to good tasting Indian food is tempering the seeds correctly without it burning.
  7. Mix in the spinach, cooked dhal and 1/2 cup water, cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes on a medium flame.
  8. If you want to separate some non spicy dhal then add only the turmeric and salt at this stage, bring the pot to a boil, uncovered, once a nice thick consistency is reached, you can take out a portion of the dhal. Otherwise, you may also add the sambar powder and red chilli powder.
  9. pour in the tamarind pulp according to your taste preference. Tamarind will add a sour taste to the dhal which South Indians love.
  10. Mix the dhal and let it boil, uncovered for about 8 minutes.
  11. Add wheat/rice flour, this acts as a thickening agent and prevents the spinach 'separating' from the dhal.
  12. Continue to cook until your dhal reaches a nice, thick consistency. 
There you have it, Indian dhal demystified. This recipe is pretty much the base for all the dhal's out there. Feel free to experiment with different veggies, I sometimes throw in some broccoli or zucchini to the mix.

Enjoy with steamed rice or quinoa!

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