mmmmmmmm. Indian food.
It is winter. Winter is a time when I feel utterly drained of life force, as though it has been washed away by the incessant rain pummeling my life every second of every minute of every day for the last as many days as I can remember. It is a time when I find myself lying on the floor staring at the ceiling wondering earnestly what is the point of life, anyway. (I do, of course, have a long list of splendid and inspired answers to this question- so don't call the men in the white coats just yet- rest assured I am fine). It is also a time when I like to cook and eat spicy food. Not that there is a season when I don't- I love spicy foods any month of the year. But in winter, I really must have them.
Enter Anupy Singla. THE Goddess of Indian Food, as far as I'm concerned. She is the author of probably my favorite cookbook in the world (which is SO hard for me to say, as I don't want to offend the many many beautiful and glorious cookbooks in the room- partly because I truly adore them all and partly because I fear they will organize, retaliate, and throw themselves off their shelves and onto my head- which, given their numbers and collective heft, would most likely result in severe injury). The book to which I refer is of course The Indian Slow Cooker. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it revolutionized how I cook, eat, and think about Indian food. It made my life approximately one millions times better. Many of you reading this have likely received this book from me as a gift at some point, as I have been buying and giving away copies of this book for years and with gusto. Everyone needs to have it.
Go ahead, go buy it right now. I'll wait. You'll probably want at least five copies so you can share with your loved ones. Trust me on this.
Anywho. I now own all three of her amazing books, though I am just beginning to explore her second two. And that brings us to today's recipe. It's the first recipe I have tried out of her newest book, Indian for Everyone. When my boyfriend heard the title of this one, he immediately made a joke about how I was going to buy this for everyone I know, as I did (/am still doing...) with the first one. I try to contain my enthusiasm, but when it comes to Anupy, it sure is hard.
The recipe I decided to try first is for Sookhi Dal, or Dry, Spiced Lentils for us non-Indians. The recipe calls for the lentils to be cooked only until al dente... which totally made me anxious. Al dente in general makes me anxious. I prefer my pasta to be softer, and all too often end up over cooking it. I wasn't sure how to feel about al dente lentils. I fussed over them way too much- got freaked out about excess water in the pot, drained it, added more back, took it off the heat, turned the heat back on- and generally acted like an insane maniac. I want encourage you to refrain from any such madness and just trust. Trust the lentils. They will turn out amazing and you will love the toothsome texture. You may or may not find yourself eating them cold, straight out of the tupperware, in the kitchen, in the middle of the night, in the dark. Not that I know anything about that.
These lentils are amazing eaten hot with green chutney and yogurt, eaten cold with green chutney and yogurt, or eaten as a filling for a wrap or a pita (with green chutney and yogurt, duh). I made Indian burritos with spinach, tomatoes, and the aforementioned condiments, and they were quite delightful. There really is no wrong way to eat these lentils. Except without chutney.
So. I will now impart to you the chutney recipe that will transform your life and enlighten all your meals from now until the end of time. I found it on the very last page of Anupy's first book, and boy oh boy am I glad I did. Though it is perhaps the most precious recipe in the entire book, it is included sort of as an end note, on what “essential sides” you should serve with your Indian food. I won't quote it verbatim, but will give you my version, how I make this magical chutney (and I have made it more times then I can count). Ahem. Put in a blender: a bunch of mint (no tough stems), a bunch of cilantro (no tough stems), a peeled knob of ginger, a clove or two of garlic, a chunk of red onion (maybe half a small onion or a quarter to a third of a larger one), a small serrano chili, kosher salt, red chili powder, a good glug of lemon juice. Blitz. Add water (just a splash!) if needed to get your blender going. It will be bright brilliant green and sooooo delicious. Kept in a jar in the refrigerator, it will keep for a surprisingly long time- though it will lose it's brilliant hue and will look a less appealing, brownish green color. Eat it anyway. If it even lasts that long. I have also omitted the chili (when I didn't have one handy) and it was just as tasty, if not so hot. Your choice.
One last note on this recipe: you most likely won't have the specific lentils called for, and some of the spices, in your pantry (unless you regularly cook Indian food, in which case you are awesome and we should definitely be best friends). They are readily available online, or if you happen to live near an Indian grocery, I strongly suggest you check it out. Fresh curry leaves are a revelation. But that's a whole different post. I'll save that topic for later. In the mean time, enjoy this amazing recipe, and next time you are lying on the floor staring at the ceiling wondering what's the point of living, remember that it is to eat Indian food with green chutney.
Love and curry to you all!
Dry, Spiced Lentils
by Anupy Singla
2 cups duhli moong dal (dried, split, and skinned green lentils- they look yellow)
3 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole dried red chiles (I used chiles de arbol)
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
3 cups water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pinch hing (asafetida)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium onion, diced
2 teaspoons plus 1 pinch salt, divided
1 tablespoon grated or minced ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled and grated or minced
4 fresh serrano chilies, stems removed and chopped
1 teaspoon dried mango powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon red chili powder
juice of ½ a lemon
½ fresh cilantro, chopped
green chutney, for serving
greek yogurt, for serving
whatever else you want, for serving
throw the lentils, bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, dried chiles, turmeric, and water in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook, partially covered, for 11 minutes. If a frothy film forms, feel free to skim it off. Cover the pot completely and remove from heat. Set aside for 5 minutes while the lentils continue to soften and absorb water. Remove the whole spices and stir gently. The lentils should be al dente. Do not have a panic attack at this point- remain calm. Cover again and set aside, the lentils will cool and do their thing while you prep the rest of the stuff.
Heat the oil in an 8in (or so) frying pan, over medium-high. Add the hing and cumin seeds and cook for 40 seconds, until the cumin seeds sizzle and turn red-brown. Add the onion and pinch of salt to the pan. Cook about 2 minutes, until slightly browned. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the fresh chilies, mango powder, garam masala, coriander, and red chili powder, cook about 10 seconds and remove from heat.
Empty the frying pan into the pot with the lentils. Add the 2 teaspoons of salt, the lemon juice, and the cilantro. Stir everything through, gently- you don't want the lentils to break down too much. They should be firm enough to hold their shape fairly well.
Get your hands on a giant spoon and eat as many spoonfuls as you can get away with before your boyfriend asks when dinner will be ready... then serve it up with chutney, yogurt, naan or whole wheat tortillas- or make it a wrap. Or get it in your face any way you like. You can't go wrong.