I traveled to Canada in 2010 to attend technical training and prepare for a class that I was scheduled to teach that year. While I was there, I met so many interesting people and became fascinated with the Canadian culture, landscape, diversity, architecture, language and its amazing food. Canada, did you know you are the reason I discovered another of my first loves?
Well, one day the instructors all went out for lunch and we arrived at what appeared to be an underground mall. It stretches miles as an underworld of commerce and you got it- FOOD! So I lined up behind one of the instructors at a food stand that was selling some odoriffic food and I saw rice. I love rice. I know rice, ok? Puerto Ricans know about rice. (hand on hip, neck swivel and index finger wave). So I ordered the only thing I could pronounce and that was “Butter Chicken”. Okay why not? I love butter and I’ll try anything once. Well, can I just say that “Butter Chicken” did not have “butter” but it was magical and we did THE DANCE and made memories that have lasted a lifetime. I’m sitting there, in the midst of a group of other instructors but for a moment I was alone. And in that singular moment it was just my taste buds experiencing spices and layers and layers of rich, exotic flavors that rocked my world.
Where has this food been all my life????
Then it was served on this fluffy, delicate, aromatic rice. Dude, this was my new favorite food, fer sure.
When I got back to Boca, I raved about this new “Butter Chicken” discovery to my hubby who apparently had discovered Indian food before but never shared the love. Hmmf! Anyway, I Yelped the closest Indian restaurant and found this cute little quaint restaurant in East Boca called Curries and More where we got our Indian on! That was our date night spot and we tried naan bread, masalas, curries, mango lassi, chutneys. It was truly a new foodie love affair that we both got to experience. This food is so rich, flavorful and diverse. The layers of flavor in each dish slayed me every time. Just picture a spoonful of Chicken Tikka Masala going in my mouth, whereupon I immediately close my eyes tightly and take a deep sigh, then let out a grunt shamelessly. MMmmm. Mhmmm. The food was served in these cute little pots. There wasn’t anything I didn’t love about that place.
…..They closed down though (sobs..sniffle..wipe) but that’s ok cause earlier this year I finally got the courage to start cooking this amazing stuff instead of buying the Butter Chicken in a jar. I mean really, the layers of flavor in this simple meal seemed to me impossible to achieve, right? I’d think you’d need to have a heritage level culinary skill set that was passed down from 10 generations, or a cherished family handed-down antique chest of exotic Indian spices and recipes to be able to cook this magically. Right?
All you need is passion. Passion and the desire to create the most delicious, warm your soul, curl your feet, tickle your stomach kind of food. Which apparently I have P-L-E-N-T-Y of. After overcoming my baking fears last year (look out for a future post on this), nothing really scares me in the kitchen. I’ll tackle anything and Master it. Booyah!
So what did I do to achieve this mastery level of Indian cookmanship, if you will?
Google of course! Oh, did you think I flew to India and enrolled in a culinary institute? I wish, but Google did me good.
I did the research found several amazing recipes which I nipped and tucked and my Indian culinary journey got a jumpstart.
So I’ve made naan breads, Chicken Korma, Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala and Dal Fry. <–That right there is my favorite. Dal is a type of lentil that you cook and it breaks down into a bit of a mushy consistency. The British could consider it “mushy peas” of sorts.
The first time I attempted the Dal Fry, my overeager self didn’t have all of the spices so I improvised. (I’m good at that!) And..it still came out amazing. But after Randy took me to see The Hundred Foot Journey (<–go see this movie asap!!)3 weeks ago, I decided to take this thing to a whole ‘notha level. (Side note: my hubby knows what I like Or does he know me soo well that he predicted I would go ham and buy up all the spices I needed to keep the Indian food comin’?? Hmm. Whatever!) Heeheee. I went to the Little India Grocery in East Boca and did just that. Went ham! I even bought a pressure cooker which I swoon over whenever I use it. If you’re really serious about cooking Indian food you’re gonna need one of those and the following spices and stuff:
- Ghee (Indian type of clarified butter)
- Kasoori methi
- chora and moong dal (yellow and green lentils)
- basmati rice (aromatic rice)
- garam masala
- kalonji seeds (onion seeds)
- cumin seeds
- black mustard seeds
- ginger paste
- garlic paste
- pressure cooker
- tandoori masala (a wonderful mix of spices)
- coriander seeds
- chili powder
And I’m sure there’s a lot more to be added but this is what I started with. When making the Dal Fry you can use any type of lentil, and I’ve even used split peas so it’s pretty versatile. To add an extra layer of flavor I added 16 oz of pumpkin. You can use canned pumpkin or cut up your pumpkin in chunks and roast in the oven until tender and mash.
After I pressure cooked the lentils for 15 minutes I warmed up some ghee and fried the cumin and black mustard seeds. Then I sautéed the onion, added the garlic/ginger paste and tomatoes. Once these are cooked then you add the Dal (lentils) and pumpkin with more motherloving spices- turmeric, coriander, asafoetida! It just keeps getting better and better!
The fantastic odors that permeate your house can only be eclipsed by the actual taste of these rich, silky, complex flavored lentils. Split pea soup was my favorite but this Dal Fry is now the top runner. This is the like the Michael Jackson of split pea soups- if you will..lol..It has this distinctive fried, smoky taste and all the complex layers of spices.
I made it with Chicken Tikka Masala and homemade naan bread. Might as well go all the way. Cooking Indian food is quite a commitment and I really respect the love, patience and attention given to each recipe. If you can cook Indian food – you can cook! So on with it but be forewarned you will make a huge mess of your kitchen. I used over 22 ingredients in my Chicken Tikka Masala alone! And if you choose to boil your Dal in a saucepan be careful because it will boil over if there’s too much water in the pot. The first time I made the Dal in a regular 6-quart stock pot it took almost 4 hours for them to get to the right consistency (I didn’t soak them overnight) and it boiled over so bad that it spilled inside the vents of my oven door and I had to get Randy to take the whole door apart so I could clean 3 layers of glass! No bueno. Go the pressure cooker route, please, for me and enjoy some of the most aromatic, palette-pleasing food you can have. This recipe takes patience and time- you can’t rush it. You have to make sure the seeds have fried and the onions are cooked and make sure the tomatoes are tender. This is the perfect Sunday afternoon/evening dish. I can just hear your tastebuds begging me for this.
- 3 cups of lentils/dal
- 16 oz of roasted pumpkin
- 2 – 3 cups water (for pressure cooker)
- 2-3 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste
- 2 medium sized tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tsp of turmeric powder
- 1 tsp of asafetida
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 2 tsp funugreek/kasuri methi leaves
- 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
- salt to taste
- 11/2 cups of water
- Soak the lentils overnight then add the lentils to the pressure cook and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. You can also boil in large heavy-bottom pot but may take 1-2 hours.
- Once the lentils are ready they should be mushy and well blended where they have no shape.
- Bring a pan to medium heat and add the butter or ghee. Once the butter/ghee has melted, add the cumin and mustard seeds until they start popping.
- Add the onions and cook until transparent.
- Add the ginger-garlic paste and the turmeric, asafoetida and fry for 60 seconds.
- Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes are tender and breaking down.
- Add the lentils and pumpkin and stir to incorporate them thoroughly.
- Add the water and continue to simmer for another 3 minutes.
- Consistency should be thick and creamy.
- Add the fenugreek leaves and stir.
- Garnish with cilantro leaves.