Thursday, December 24, 2015

Week 33 - Indian

Finally... The last overdue post before I'm finally up to date on 2015 cooking challenge recaps! Just in time for the final week...

It was tough choosing what to make for the Indian cooking challenge. The most logical thing to do was to make something with this giant bag of chana dal that I had bought a long time ago from the Indian grocery store. I love dal and for some reason thought that a supersized bag of dal, when I had never cooked it before, was a wise purchase. It sat in the pantry for months and months and months until I finally cracked it open for the challenge (and luckily it was still fresh).

I decided to make a multi-part Indian meal for the cooking challenge dinner (although the naan part of that was going to be store-bought, because I just really didn't have time for that). For the dal, I adapted this recipe I found for easy chana dal, and on the side, chose to make a salad based on this recipe for kachumber salad. Unfortunately I made all this about 4 months ago so it was pretty hard to write a post about what I did. So that this post wasn't completely unhelpful and just full of "I don't remember how I did XYZ," I decided to make the dal again now and then do the write-up while it was fresh in my mind.

The first step for the chana dal was to prepare the dal itself, which needed to soak overnight. I doubled the original recipe and used 1 cup of dal instead. As it soaked, I just kept hoping that the dal wasn't so old that it would screw up the recipe. (I haven't always had the best of luck starting with dried ingredients that needed to be soaked.) When it was time to make dinner the next day, I started out by draining and rinsing the dal, and then adding it to a saucepan with a little over 4 cups of water, and cooking it covered for about 30 minutes over medium heat.

The first time I made this, while the dal was cooking, I worked on the tomato mixture, using the following ingredients (although beware, the spice amounts were estimated by sight):

- 2 tomatoes, finely chopped [or 1 can of diced tomatoes, which is what I used the second time]
- 1/2 head of garlic, minced
- about 1 inch of ginger, minced
- a couple tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne
- pinch of salt

When I made it the second time, I didn't bother putting together the tomato mixture, but just prepped the ingredients and added them in one by one to the pot of dal after the 30 minute cooking mark.

The instructions in the original recipe noted that all of this should be blended until smooth. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I absolutely hate breaking out the food processor or the blender unless absolutely necessary. (Maybe we should invest in an immersion blender...) Our kitchen is tiny, we have very minimal counter space (barely enough room for a cutting board on the prep side), and dishes pile up very quickly. If I don't have to lug out an appliance, I'm not going to. Would this have been better blended? Maybe. Instead I just chose to chop everything finely, mix it all together well, and then let it cook. If our dal had more "texture," then so be it. I could live with that just fine. Since it worked well the first time, I didn't even bother mixing it the second time. It would all mix with the dal anyway when stirred. Why make more work for myself and waste another bowl?

Once the tomato mixture was done, it got added to the dal, and then I let it cook some more. I don't remember exactly how long. The recipe said 15 minutes, but I'm thinking it was longer than that, because I thought the dal wasn't as soft as I wanted it to be. Basically you're supposed to cook it (covered) until the dal is tender enough to be mashed up a little bit (and then mash up some of it), and then simmer it until it's the consistency you want it to be. I don't know how long that took exactly.

If I were smarter, I would have watched the clock the second time I did this to see how long I let it cook, but I didn't. I just know I cooked it on medium low to low heat for a while since I was prepping herbs for a salad and also cilantro for the dal. I'd like to say 30 minutes, but it might have been longer than that. At one point, I added about 1/2 cup of hot water since most of the water had evaporated/been soaked up already, and I wanted it to be softer. I forgot to mash it up, but it didn't need it anyway. The more I cook, the more I realize that I cook based on texture and taste (and sound and smell) instead of measuring and timing things precisely. Even though that's not helpful for the blog, I think that's probably a good thing for developing my cooking skills.

While the dal was simmering, the last thing to do was to work on the "tempering." This was a new concept to me. I did this completely differently each time I made this, primarily because the first time I made this I didn't have asafoetida. We bought some in London and I couldn't wait to break it open and try it since it is supposed to make such a difference. I had always heard that asafoetida smelled horrible but tasted good. I didn't think it was that bad when we opened the container. It's not fragrant like sage or rosemary, but it wasn't that awful.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure (but not 100% sure) that the first time I did this, I followed the oil-free option in the recipe since I didn't have asafoetida. I just dry roasted the cumin seeds until they were fragrant and then added them to the dal. This time, I heated up a small spoonful of coconut oil, added about a tsp of cumin seeds, cooked them until they changed color, and then added a pinch of asafoetida and let it cook in the oil for a little bit. Then I added the entire thing to the dal while splashing some of the oil on my shirt (don't do that).

For the tempering, in addition to the cumin seeds/asafoetida, you add about 1 tsp of garam masala and 1/2 tsp of cayenne to the dal as it's simmering. Since I didn't have asafoetida the first time, I added garlic powder and onion powder at this point. Not the same thing, but the best I could do at the time. Once it all mixes together well, you turn off the heat and stir in about 1/2 cup of cilantro (or as I did the second time I made it, a couple of handfuls of chopped cilantro).

The first time I made this, I think (if I remember correctly) that we thought it lacked flavor, so I kept adding more spices to it, maybe during the process of cooking before tempering and then maybe more after. I don't really remember. But the second time I made it, I didn't have to change anything from what I wrote above and it seemed to have so much more flavor. Is that really all because of the asafoetida and doing the tempering with the coconut oil instead of dry? I didn't have to do any seasoning to taste after it cooked for a little bit to meld the flavors. I'm an asafoetida newbie, so maybe someone can tell me if this stuff really has that much awesomeness or if I just cooked this better this time.

I also made the kachumber salad while the dal was simmering (the first time only; the second time I made a chickpea salad - post coming soon). The ingredients I used, adapted from the original recipe, were (to the best of my 4 month old memory):

- 1 onion
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 hothouse cucumber
- 1/2 bunch of mint leaves
- 1/2 bunch of cilantro
- a couple tsp of lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne

Since this was a salad, the only real steps were to prep and then mix. For prep, I chopped the onion, tomatoes, cucumber, mint leaves, and cilantro leaves, and then I mixed them all in a large bowl with the lemon juice, cumin powder, and cayenne. After that, all that was left was just tasting and adjusting the seasoning (which I don't remember if I had to do any).

It was a very simple salad but I wanted something fresh and clean to go alongside the dal. This definitely fit the bill, and I found myself snacking on it until dinner was ready.

The last part of dinner the first time was this paneer masala naan from the frozen section at Trader Joe's. This wasn't the first time we had gotten the frozen naan from TJ's, but it was the first time we ever tried this version. I don't remember if the paneer masala was new or just new to us, but we were excited to try it.

This naan was "stuffed" with paneer cheese, but that wasn't really that obvious when eating it. It just seemed like regular naan but a little bit chewier due to the paneer filling. The texture was pretty nice that way. The naan also seemed to have some onion and garlic flavors, if I'm remembering it correctly. We did like it, but didn't find it as different as we had expected from the other naan types we've had before. At least I remembered to make the naan for this meal unlike the garlic naan I bought and forgot about (until days later!) for a different challenge meal. To make up for that time, I made the garlic naan with the dal the second time. It was good, but not as garlicky as I thought it would be.

Overall, it was a really good and very complete dinner. We put the dal over basmati rice (brown rice the second time) and served it with sides of salad and naan. We don't remember as much about the flavor of the dal the first time, but the second time, it was quite good. The spices were vibrant, there was a mild zing to it from the cayenne, and it was hearty and comforting. It would be a relatively easy dish to make again as long as we had ginger, garlic, and cilantro on hand. I didn't price this out because we made it so long ago the first time, but by my estimation, it would be pretty affordable. Maybe dal will become part of our regular rotation. We certainly have a big enough bag of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment