Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dal Makhani (Creamy Black Lentils)

I have been thinking a lot lately about our food supply, the quantity of food that we eat and why we eat what we do. It's my daily job to think about food and talk to people about it, but the issue of supply and demand has been coming up a lot lately in some of the podcasts that I listen to (The Splendid Table, Good Food, Edible Radio). One of the major concerns is the amount of meat that we eat and the demand this takes on our land, environment, and pocketbooks in order to feed the animals that we want to eat. I am definitely a supporter of meat and of having a balanced meal. I tell people how to do that all day long, but I also know that plants can also provide us with a good source of protein for a fraction of the cost. My new resolve is focus a little more on these plant proteins and to have a plant based meal at least once or twice per week or more.
One of the surprises of our trip to Cambodia was having really good Indian food. One night in Phnom Penh we went to a Napoli/Indian restaurant with our friends and some of their friends who are also living in Cambodia. I really do not have much experience with Indian food was not sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised how delicious all of the food was! A number of dishes were ordered and we all sampled off of each of them. I am not sure what all we had but I particularly remember a garlicy, black lentil dish and that was spicy yet creamy and was wonderful with the fresh naan bread. To me lentils are usually not very flavorful and something to have in a soup, but these were so flavorful that they really stood out. I actually thought about this dish our whole trip. I looked it up as soon as I could after we got home, and I discovered that it is called dal makhani. Soon, I was on the hunt for black lentils. They were a little trickier to find than I thought they would be, but Whole Foods saved the day. I combined three recipes that I found from Hooked on Heat, A Life Time of Cooking, and Good Veg which also has a whole list of other sites with recipes for dal makhani. I kind of just eliminated the ingredients that I had no idea what they were, and it still came out tasting pretty close to how I remembered it from Cambodia.  I even made naan using this recipe and we had an Indian feast. It was so good- hearty, healthy, and full of flavor. My comment to Aaron was "I wish my stomach was twice as big so that I could eat all of this again right now!" I can't wait for leftovers tomorrow! Enjoy!

Dal Makhani 
Serves 4
*If you have a pressure cooker than use one of the recipes above. Otherwise, this is a good weekend or day off of work dish since lentils/beans take a while to cook.

1/2 cup black lentils and 1/4 cup red kidney beans, soaked in water overnight
1/2 large onion, finely diced
1 medium tomato, diced
6 garlic cloves. finely diced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
1-2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tsp tumeric powder
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup 1/2 and 1/2 or cream
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 tablespoon of cumin powder
handful fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Rinse soaked lentils/beans and set aside. In a large pot or dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of oil. Add onion, 3 cloves of garlic and ginger and cook for several minutes until tender and onion is beginning to soften. Add tomato paste, chili powder and tumeric and cook until combined. Add lentils/beans and diced tomato. Cover with water (about 2 cups). Allow to cook until beans and lentils are tender, about 30-40 minutes.
2. Drain excess liquid from lentil mixture. Return to heat and add yogurt and cream. Stir to combine and simmer for about 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat butter, garlic and cumin. Cook for several minutes until butter is melted and fragrant. Add pan contents to lentils and stir to combine. Allow to simmer for about 5-10 more minutes.
4. Garnish with cilantro and serve over rice or with fresh naan

*Excellent as leftovers as well!

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