Yikes! Earlier in the day, rushing to finish this post before joining my sister-in-law for a much-anticipated Peruvian lunch, I accidentally hit "publish" instead of "save." Some of you may have received a half-written post. Apologies! Such is my enthusiasm for good food, I fear. It clouds my judgment...
Dal Makhani and a Curry Pot Luck
by Victoria Challancin
When my friend Luci called me after Christmas about having a curry pot luck fiesta for some of the 20-somethings who were gathered in San Miguel for the holidays, I smiled, knowing I was in my element. Indian food is, after all, one of my favorite cuisines and one which I can produce many dishes practically with my eyes shut, given that my cupboard of spices is well-stocked. I also was looking forward to a relaxing day by the lake in the country at the new home of Luci and her Belgian husband Chris.
When the kids gather, my heart warms. Having known most of them all their lives, I am constantly fascinated at how they are managing their lives. From law school to dance school to music school to film to you name it--they are a diverse bunch of multi-national wonders. I counted up the nationalities: Mexican, Belgian, Dominican, Colombian, French, American. A lively mix of about 15 kids and 5 adults. A typical San Miguel gathering, but with a decidedly Latin flair.
Luci asked me to prepare something for the vegetarians, which is easy enough with an Indian theme. So many possibilites crowded my mind, but I knew rather quickly that I was just in the mood for some makhani, and if I couldn't make it chicken , then I could certainly make it with dal. While I would have preferred at least red dal or black, I settled for standard green lentils, which worked just fine.
What is Dal Makhani?
Simply put, dal makhani is a rich lentil dish which originated in the Punjab region of India, which is heavily influenced by the cooking of the imperial Mogul (spellings vary) kitchens (see my article on the history of Mogul cooking here). Murgh Makhani, or Butter Chicken, is its non-vegetarian cousin. In fact, the word makhani itself, means "with butter" in Hindi. And yes, it is a vegan's nightmare, enriched as it is with both cream and butter...but oh so heavenly.
After eating countless orders of murgh makhani from a local Indian food purveyor in Bahrain, which happily was located not far from the flat where I was living, I finally decided to learn to make it. Subsequent trips to India further underscored my love of this dish, especially when I was in the north, where this dish originated. In the Punjab, I ate it made purely with various pulses, specifically black urad dal and red kidney beans combined. I often make it with red lentils as well. However you choose to approach this dish, vegetarian or not, you will be dazzled by the buttery-rich, spice-laced flavors.
The Indian Potluck
Cook's Notes: I make no claims to the absolute authenticity of this dish, as I have most often eaten it in India made with black urad dal and kidney beans. I also don't claim that this is the healthiest dish around, as it does contain butter and cream, though you could at least substitute yogurt at the end of the cooking time. But I can claim the deliciousness of this rich dish--the aromatic smells just knock you over when you take the top off the pot. Truly yummy and oh so addictively morish.
Recipe: Punjabi-Style Dal Makhani
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)
2 cups red or green lentils, (or use chickpeas, kidney beans, urad dal, etc--soaked overnight if necessary)
1/4 cup chopped garlic
1 to 4 serrano chiles
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped ginger
1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons ghee or butter
5 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1 can chopped tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup finely chopped red onion
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon chile powder (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup cream (you could substitute plain yogurt added at the end of the cooking time)
2 tablespoons butter or ghee
Lime juice, as needed
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Chopped fresh tomato, seeded, for garnish
Make a paste in a food processor with garlic, chiles, ginger, and onions. Set aside.
Heat the ghee and add the cumin seeds. When the seeds sizzle, add the red onion and ginger-garlic-chile paste. Fry over medium heat until brown around the edges, stirring constantly, for 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the tomatoes, salt, chile powder (if using), garam masala, and turmeric. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, add lentils and cook for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on the type of lentils used), adding a bit of water as needed if the lentils seem dry. When the lentils are soft, check and adjust the seasoning.
Add the cream and butter or ghee. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes more. Add a bit of lime juice, if you like a slightly tart edge to the flavors. Let sit for a minimum of one hour to allow flavors to develop. Serve garnished with cilantro and chopped tomatoes.
Serve with rice and freshly-cooked chapatis or naan.
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
Like life and love, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using text or photos. Thanks!