May 15, 2013

Kali Dal (Curried Black Lentils)

You can use a variety of different lentils to make this - the version shown here is made using whole urad dal (aka black gram), which is traditional, but you can also use black beluga lentils, and even mung beans. You can also make it with or without rajma (red kidney beans). I enjoy including the rajma for the contrast in size, texture, and colour.

You can add melted butter and/or cream or yoghurt to finish this dish (making it, in effect, a Dal Makhani), but it is delicious as is - and vegan, to boot. Perfect for entertaining your vegetarian friends. Make lots - it freezes well and reheats wonderfully for a future lunch or dinner. It thickens slightly once it cools, so if you like a wet dal, you may wish to add a little bit of water to loosen it up (wait until it is reheated before adding any water, as warming it up will also loosen it a bit). You can also make this very wet (simply by adding more water) and serving in small bowls as part of a thali, or as a first course.

Be sure to wash your urad dal very well, in lots of fresh water. A bit of grit will make the whole pot disappointing.

Kali Dal

Serves 8 (with rice or bread)

1 cup black lentils (urad dal or similar)
1/2 cup red kidney beans
6 cups water
1 thumbs-length fresh ginger, minced (divided)
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
2 teaspoon garam masala

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely diced
8 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Pick over lentils and kidney beans to remove misshapen, discoloured or otherwise irregular lentils and any foreign matter (little rocks, plant stems, stray bits of grain, etc). Rinse thoroughly, with several changes of water to remove any grit or dust.

Place lentils in a heavy pot with the water and the cayenne and half the minced ginger, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a medium-low simmer, and skim any foam from the top. Allow the lentils to simmer gently, covered, until kidney beans and lentils are tender – 45 minutes or a bit more, if you have older lentils. You can do this ahead, and let it sit overnight or for a couple of days in the fridge, before proceeding to the next step. At this stage, the lentils look pretty unappealing (and kind of grey-ish), but their appearance will improve greatly with the next step.

In a medium-sized skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds, giving the pan a shake to distribute. As soon as the cumin starts to pop, add the onions and garlic and the rest of the ginger, and fry gently until the onions have softened and started to brown. If you like your food very spicy, you can add extra cayenne to taste at this point. Next, add the diced tomatoes and salt, and stir until they give up their liquid - often they turn the onions a pretty golden colour - and scrape the mixture into the lentil pottage. Use a spatula to get every last bit. Simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add garam masala powder and simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes. If you are adding dairy, add up to half a cup of half-and-half (or plain yogurt) and let simmer for another five minutes (or until heated through). You can keep this warm, on the heat, for a long time, as long as you stir it once in a while to make sure it doesn't scorch on the bottom.

Taste and adjust for salt to your preference.

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