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Gujarati Thali with Lentil & Basmati
Indians eat a lot of lentils. More than anyone else. They’re the biggest consumer on the planet so they grow a lot of lentils too. Since they’re the biggest consumer on the planet, they grow a lot of lentils and are one of the worlds largest producers. Whew. That’s a lot of lentils! Especially in the historically vegetarian state of Gujarat where they’re part of every meal usually in Thali. This classic vegetarian meal always includes basmati rice, whole grain bread, curried vegetables and sweet, tangy, spicy curried lentil dal. This staple is part of every home’s traditional food so naturally every cook creates their own signature version!
Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish with basmati rice.
Here’s everything you’ll need for the Thali
Indian roti bread or pita bread
A pot of freshly cooked basic basmati
A pot of your favourite curried vegetables
The lentil dal below
Here’s what you’ll need for the lentil dal
2 cups of Canadian split red lentils
6 cups of water
1 tablespoon of jaggery cane sugar, other raw cane sugar or brown sugar
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of ginger powder
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder
2 or 3 small fresh green chilies, chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
2 ripe tomatoes
Here’s the tadka, the finishing flavours for the lentil dal
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder (optional, see note below)
a handful or so of tender cilantro leaves and stems, lightly chopped
2 limes cut into wedges
Here’s What To Do
• Begin by tossing the lentils, water, sugar, turmeric, ginger, chili powder and fresh chilies into a soup pot, everything but the salt. Over medium high heat, while stirring gently, bring the works to a full furious boil. Adjust the heat lowering the pace to a slow steady simmer. Cover and continue cooking until the lentils soften and dissolve, another 10 minutes or so. Stir occasionally. Switch to a vigorous whisk which will break the lentils down even further into a smooth puree.
• After the lentils have softened stir in the salt and tomato, both ingredients slow down tenderizing. Use the coarse holes of a standard box grater to grate in the tomato, you’ll end up with its skin in your hand which you can discard.
• Finish with the tadka. Splash the oil into your favourite sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it just begins to smoke take the pan off the heat and add the cumin, mustard and fennel seeds. Shake gently as they snap and crackle a bit. If they don’t, return the pan to the heat until they do. The intense heat will fully release their aromatic oils and flavours. Add the asafoetida powder stirring briefly. Pour and stir the hot oil directly into the lentil dal.
• Ladle the lentil dal into festive bowls. Sprinkle with cilantro and freshly squeezed lime juice. Serve and share with your choice of thali accompaniments!
• This dal is usually part of the classic vegetarian meal thali but feel free to serve it with just a pot of plain basmati rice. It’s also tasty served solo as a simple soup or as a dip for bread.
• India is a very big country with many distinct regional cooking styles but wherever you go spices play a starring role and are added throughout the cooking process. Very often they’re toasted and used as finishing flavours but interestingly all over India cooks use different terms for this same tempering step. Tadka, baghar, vagharne, chonk or phodn all refer to the ‘wow’ factor of crackling spices in hot oil to fully release their essential oils and flavours.
• Asafoetida Powder is a common Indian spice made by drying the gum that oozes from the tap root of the Ferula herb. It’s a digestive aid and anti-flatulent. It’s also a flavour enhancer so it adds a savoury Umami-like dimension to the dish. It’s widely available from main-stream grocery stores or Indian specialty grocers and is usually sold mixed with wheat powder. If you can’t find some though don’t despair, just leave it out and your dal will still be delicious!
Courtesy of Lentil Hunter, Recipes from Around the Globe with Chef Michael Smith. Check out the web series at: lentilhunter.ca