The weather here in Northern California has started to turn. Sure, it might reach into the mid-70s this weekend, and we’ll drive to beach to jump in the waves, but now there’s a distinct chill to the air every morning and evening. It’s been creeping up on us slowly, but I notice it most when I leave just before 8:00am to walk the kids to school. My son used to protest putting on a jacket, but now he welcomes it and keeps his hands shoved deep in his pockets while we walk.
The cold weather makes me crave warmer, heartier meals. I’ve started making a lot of simple curry dishes (which I’ll post soon), as well as some Indian favorites, like saag and masala. I also like cooking Indian food regularly now that the cold and flu season has started. All the turmeric, onions, chilies and ginger are great for boosting immunity.
This recipe is adapted from Julie Sahni from a New York Times Magazine article last December. She shared her recipes for four different dal dishes, all of which are delicious, incredibly nutritious and easy to prepare. Part of what makes them so good are the corresponding tadkas — heated ghee or oil with spices. You add the tadka at the end, and it imparts even greater flavor and warmth to the dish.
1 cup split green mung beans*
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced and seeded hot green chili (I use serrano)
3/4 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped tomatoes (I use canned)
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp sunflower or other neutral oil or ghee (clarified butter) if you have it
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
12 curry leaves (optional, and if you can find them)
Drain the dal and comine it with the turmeric, garlic, chili, onions, tomatoes, brown sugar, salt and 4 cups water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently, and cook covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Partly uncover and continue cooking for another 15 minutes, until the dal is tender. Turn off the heat. Here, Julie recommends using an Indian mathani (wooden beater) or whisk to puree the dal for a minute. However, I skip this step and prefer the somewhat chunkier consistency.
To make the tadka, heat the oil in a small saucepan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and cover the pan. Listen for the seeds to pop and sizzle. When the popping begins to subside, add the ginger and cook until lightly browned, about 15 seconds. Add the curry leaves if you’re using them. Turn off the heat and stir in the cumin.
Pour the tadka over the dal and stir gently to combine. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately over basmati rice or with naan. Note: I love Indian raita, but I’m usually too lazy to make it, so I simply stir in a little plain yogurt.
*If you can’t find split green mung beans, you can use the whole beans. Just soak them for 12 hours or overnight covered in water to which you’ve added a little apple cider vinegar. Drain them before starting to prepare the recipe.