February 16, 2011

Chana Dal with Carrots and Potatoes

I wanted to make a lentil dish to go with the Indian-spiced pork riblets I had planned for a dinner last weekend.  I had recently made a lentil dish that hadn't turned out as well as I'd liked, but I had some ideas what might make it better, and had been given other ideas by one of our readers, Das.  However, when it came time to pull my ingredients together, I discovered that I didn't have enough of any of the various sorts of lentils I usually keep in stock. 

I did have quite a bit of chana dal, so I decided to go with that.  Chana dal is a type of split chickpea, made from an Indian variety of chickpea (bengal gram).  Chana dal is close enough to a lentil that I figured the substitution wouldn't be a problem.  Thankfully, it turned out I was right. 

This is a pretty basic dish to prepare.  First you heat up some oil, cook some onion and garlic, and add and cook some seasonings,  Next you add some liquid and the chana dal (or lentils), bring the pot to a boil and let everything cook for awhile.  After adding some vegetables, you cook awhile longer, then add some more seasonings at the very end and garnish with chopped cilantro. 

Though simple to make, this dish has a complex mix of flavors, and is quite good.  Typical Indian spices and chicken broth make for a rich gravy, while a bit of lemon juice added at the end brightens up the flavors nicely.  That was one of Das' suggestions, and it made all the difference. 

This dish is a great choice to accompany a meat dish, but it is also good enough to stand alone as a meal in its own right.   On this occasion, I served it with the slow-cooked riblets.   Those two dishes, along with some basmati rice and naan, made for an excellent meal.

Chana Dal with Carrots and Potatoes

yield = 6 servings

1         tablespoon vegetable oil
1         onion, chopped
2         teaspoons garlic, minced
2         tablespoons madras curry powder
2         tablespoons all-purpose flour
2         tablespoons fresh, peeled and grated ginger
1 1/4   teaspoon ground fennel seed
1         teaspoon ground cumin
1/4      teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/2   cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2   cup water
1 1/4   cup chana dal
1/2      teaspoon salt
1         pinch asafoetida
2         medium carrots, peeled and diced
2         potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2         tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1         teaspoon garam masala
2         tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro, as garnish

Add oil to a Dutch oven over medium heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add the onion.  Cook, stirring often, until the onion has just started to brown, then stir in the garlic, ginger, flour, curry powder, cumin and fennel and cook, stirring often, for one minute.  Add chicken broth, water, chana dal, salt and asafoetida.  Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes.

Add the carrots and potatoes.  Simmer an additional 15-20 minutes, uncovered, until the potatoes and carrots are tender.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and garam masala.   Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with chopped cilantro.

I'd originally planned to make this as a lentil dish, and it would be easy enough to do so.  Simply use an equal amount of the lentil of your choice in place of the chana dal and modify cooking time accordingly based on the type of lentil you choose and how firm you'd like the lentils to be when you serve the dish. 

Asafoetida (often labeled 'Hing' in Indian and Asian groceries) is a common ingredient in Indian lentil, chickpea and bean dishes.  It smells pretty bad straight out of the container, but that smell doesn't carry over to the dish.  In fact, it adds a bit of pleasant flavor not unlike that of leeks.  More importantly, it aids in digestion and prevents gas.

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