Sunday, 30 August 2015

bengali chana dhal

Grey skies, hard rain, soft rain, intermittent sing-song rain. I think we've witnessed the full range of rain this past week. At times it sounds sad, and at times playful. And on occasion it's a bitter entity, relishing in pushing aside the happiness of summertime. That’s probably why I'm having one of those weeks. You know when you want to curl up in bed and not do anything except eat crisps and biscuits and catch up on your favourite TV shows? (in case you're wondering, I'm currently watching Orange is the New Black.) I listened to the rain pouring down outside practically the whole of last week and my heart sank. And with this plaintive rain-song arose the need for comfort food. To me there are few things more comforting than thick tempered dhal with some steaming hot basmati rice. It's simple, filling and not too spicy which also makes this meal perfect for lazy days as you can cook up a large batch.

Dhal is one of the first dishes a Bengali girl (or boy) learns to cook. You prepare a few ingredients, throw everything in and slowly simmer, finishing off with an aromatic temper. My mum always uses blackened dried chillies, which add flavour but not heat – unless you want heat of course. The most delicious way to do this is to crumble the blackened chili with your fingers when you eat dhal and rice with your hand. Each culture has its own unique dining etiquette and language and for South Asians it’s eating with the hand. This custom of scooping up stews and curries with rice or bread truly does make certain food taste better. Of course I don’t advocate eating a Sunday roast with your hand. But you can if you want to! 

Ingredients (serves 4)
200g chana dhal (yellow split peas) preferably soaked overnight or a few hours
800ml water
1 tsp salt (adjust to taste) 
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp panch phoron
1 tbs finely chopped coriander
3 cardamom
3 cloves
1 bay leaf
1/2 stick cinnamon                       
3 tbs oil
1 small onion finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 dried red chillies

Heat 2 tbs oil in a pan on medium heat and lightly fry onions. Add salt, dry spices, bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Cook for 1-2 minutes.

Rinse the soaked dhal and drain before adding to the pan. Stir well before adding water. Bring to the boil and reduce heat to a low simmer, covered partially with a lid so that there is about an inch gap to let out the steam and prevent boiling over.

Cook for 40-45 mins until lentils have split, stirring every 10 minutes or so. If the dhal becomes too dry add another 50-100ml of water. 

Add the chopped coriander before tempering.

In a frying pan heat 1 tbs oil and add the dried red chillies and cook – turning over once or twice until almost blackened. Add the chopped garlic and panch phoron and stir until the garlic is browned and the seeds start popping.

Temper the dhal with the fried garlic, blackened chillies and panch phoron. Stir and cover completely and cook for a further 5 minutes on low heat. 

Serve with boiled basmati rice.

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