14 April 2012
Dal makhani and homemade naan
We've been wanting to get better at cooking Indian food for ages. In fact, we want to get better at cooking practically every cuisine I can think of--Thai definitely comes to mind, as does Cambodian, Japanese, and Ethiopian--but Indian is at the top of the list. It's one of the most comforting and homey cuisines ever, it's predominantly vegetarian, and the ingredients are mostly cheap and easy to find in stores. We should clearly be able to make lots of Indian food at home instead of relying on restaurants (awesome as our local Indian food is).
So what's at the top of the list? Dal. Specifically, dal makhani.
Dal is a bean or lentil-based soup that nearly all of India seems to make and eat. It gets a big splash of its flavor from the last-minute addition of a "chonk," or spiced oil. The term "chonk" comes from the sound the oil makes when it hits the dal. Needless to say, if you are a word dork like me, this is super exciting.
I decided to follow this recipe from Manjula's Kitchen--clearly one of the best possible Indian foodblogs out there. Manjula is great! It's like cooking with my grandma, except that neither of my grandmas knew how to cook Indian food (and in one case practically didn't know how to cook at all--so different from the typical grandma image). But we can talk about my grandma's pumpkin chiffon pie and other traditional mid-American cooking some other time. Right now it's time for plenty of pulses.
I did a couple things differently from the recipe. For one thing, I realized midway through chopping up a green bell pepper that "green pepper" actually meant "green chile"; it's a good thing I had a jalapeño in the fridge. I'll probably go for a serrano in the future. Other than that, I used split mung dal instead of whole. I also didn't have any mango powder (for some reason this is not that easy to find in all the Asian grocery stores downtown--who knew?), and I had ground cumin instead of whole seeds. And we don't have a pressure cooker for the moment, so I boiled my dal and kidney beans for a longer time in an ordinary pot. But for the most part, I followed the instructions as closely as possible with what I had on hand. We can experiment later, right? You know--once I have some idea what I'm doing with Indian food.
Dal does not photograph well. It definitely falls into "looks a mess; is delicious" territory. But hey--who cares? It tastes exceptional, and that's the most important criterion.
You can clearly eat dal by itself, with another Indian curry or salad, or with a bunch of rice. I had a quart of yogurt and a bag of flour, so I decided to make naan. If you've never had naan, it's a traditional grilled flatbread with yogurt in the dough. I've been following this very loose recipe for years.
Naan is much easier and more forgiving than you might expect. Just mix up the ingredients, knead them swiftly in the bowl, roll out the dough, and throw each piece in a nonstick pan to cook. I find that white flour makes the most tender, bouncy naan, but you can sub in some wheat flour for part of the white. I wouldn't do all whole wheat unless you have access to some pastry flour.
I divided my dough into two to make fairly large naan, but I think we'll go for three or four smaller naan breads in the future. That way they'll fit into my pan much more easily.
Timing was a minor challenge at the end of cooking, as both the chonk and the naan needed to be on quite high heat and under close scrutiny simultaneously. The chonk was the biggest challenge, since hot oil with quickly cooked spices can obviously present some safety issues. If you're learning how to make either naan or dal for the first time, I'd recommend making them individually, or working with another person.
However! This was not a big issue for us. The naan and dal both turned out perfectly. We ate it all in very short order.
Do you guys have a favorite site for learning to cook a specific cuisine?