It's cold here. I know, I was just talking about the heat. Last week was a heat wave, and now we are plunged back into winter - it's currently 9ºC. I'm wearing woolen socks and slippers, a coat over my legs, two layers of merino, and a silk/wool blend scarf. And I'm only just not cold. Would you believe it, I'm sitting inside. The weather forecast says it'll be warm again soon, possibly even tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm putting the kettle on for hot water bottles. Coincidentally, the cold is the perfect time to share this curry recipe: dal makhani (pronounced mahk-ni)
"My wife makes the best dal makhani," says the Indian man who runs the spice shop on Hanover St. Since visiting India I like going there. Even though the aroma is a very dilute version of Delhi's spice markets, and the pre-weighed and priced bags a far cry from the newspaper parcels - I always think of India. The man thinks it's funny when I try and remember bits and pieces of Hindi. His shop is the only place I know that stocks urad dal - whole black lentils traditionally used in dal makhani. If you can't find them, you could use puy lentils (also called french green lentils), as I did when I made this for my family back in Wellington.
1 cup urad dal/puy lentils/brown lentils
1 cup rajma (red kidney beans)
2 tsp cumin seeds
8 garlic cloves
2 medium onions (red or brown)
thumb-sized piece of ginger root
2 tsp garam masala
2 small red chilli peppers
1/2 cup/100mL cream
2 tomatoes (optional)
420g can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tbsp high heat oil (I use coconut, but canola or rice bran could be substituted)
fresh coriander for serving
Substitutions:1. You could use canned kidney beans instead of dried ones. This will reduce the cooking time significantly. You could also use canned lentils but I think it's nicer to use dried ones for their better texture.
2. Instead of cream, you could use a can of coconut milk. It doesn't taste of coconut!
3. The garam masala can be substituted for 1/2 tsp curry powder, 1/2 tsp ground chilli, 1 tsp ground cumin.
4. The chilli peppers can be substituted for ground red chilli - add this to your desired spice level.
5. Coconut or sesame oil can be substituted for the butter to make this recipe vegan.
6. I love rajma so I make this with a half:half dal:rajma ratio. If you like you can decrease the amount of rajma, just increase the dal by the same amount.
If you're using dried dal and rajma you will need to soak them first. I soak them in separate bowls, with at least 4x as much water. You want them well and truly covered because they will swell up! Soak for 8-12 hours. Usually, I put them onto soak one night ahead, and then when I get home around 6pm, they're ready to be cooked.
Rinse the dal and rajma and boil in fresh water. Add some of the ginger, in large pieces so you can easily remove it and 1 chopped red chilli (no seeds)/a pinch of chilli flakes/1 tsp ground chilli. Simmer for 40 minutes - 1 hour, or until the rajma are soft. If you're using canned rajma, just boil the dal and spices together. They will only take 30 minutes maximum.
Prepare the vegetables: dice the ginger and garlic, chop the onions and tomatoes finely. Heat the butter and oil in a heavy fry pan - using both helps to stop the dal catching on the pan. Add the cumin seeds. When the pan starts to crackle - it will also smell amazing - add the onions and fry until they're browned. Add the tomatoes (canned and/or fresh), garlic, ginger, and spices. Sauté until they meld together into a sauce.
When the dal/rajma are done, drain and keep the water aside. Add the boiled rajma and dal to the tomatoes. Mash the dal with a potato masher/bottom of a ladle. This gives the dal its charateristic thickness.
If your dal is looking bit thick, add a little of the water the dal/rajma were boiled in. It probably won't be clear anymore, but that's ok! Let simmer on a low heat for 10-20 minutes - the longer the better. Add the cream/coconut milk and stir whilst heating for another five minutes.
Serve with some fresh coriander on top and some roti; or if you like, rice. I don't overwhelmingly love rice so I like to serve this by itself with roti, just like the norm in Rajasthan (north-west state of India). To be truly authentic you'd eat this without a spoon, using only your right hand. As we learned, you tear the roti with your right hand and fold it into a sort of scoop, then scoop up some dal and consume. In the beginning, we asked for spoons, but after seeing someone search through dirty dishes, then polish them "clean" on their dirty apron we learned to fit in and eat sans spoon pretty fast. I tried to find a picture of one of the many dal makhani I ate in India - but I barely took any pictures of food.
Instead I'll show you where I purchased spices in Delhi. I'd asked one of the lovely Kashmiri brothers who sold me almost my entire Indian scarf collection if he knew a good place to purchase spices. "Yes," he said, "I'll show you. It's hidden one, they have another place on Pahar Ganj, but it's more expensive. For tourists. But you're my friend, I'll show you. Come," he said, and I followed him in the slightly dubious way that's normal for foreign single women in India. My maharani/travel partner C was elsewhere. He lead me through extremely narrow spaces between buildings, and just when I was beginning to wonder when we were ever going to find this spice place, or if it even existed, we came around the corner to this.
The woman whose hand you see is mixing masala spice mix - a fiery mixture of red chilli, cumin, garam masala and tumeric. When she realised just how much I intended to purchase, she made me chai and onion pakora. "Sit here," she said, "You sit. You hungry. Good." On my last day in Delhi I was quite seriously sick and largely unaware of the extent of my illness. I felt very faint and cloudy at times, and sweet spicy chai handed to me was just what I needed.
I sat and observed this view while she served other customers, blended my spices, and hand ground masala chai for me to take back to New Zealand. Somehow she knew I needed a seat, and she gave me hers for a while. Sometimes language is unnecessary.
"winter meals & spring tunes" was only ever meant to be an interim title - and when I started this blog we were eating winter meals and listening to spring tunes. But seasons change and names don't - so I finally got around to designing a proper header, and giving this space a bit of a spruce. What do you think?
grateful (strangely) for the iciness of Southern air and that I beat the urge to turn on the heating with multiple merino layers, a spot of baking, and a hot water bottle for my lap.
title from the tallest man on earth - little river