Sunday, February 25, 2007

My attempt at making Indian food

My husband loves lentils. I mean, he freaking loves lentils. You can’t fault a boy for loving something healthy, right? But the thing is, I don’t really love lentils. They’re okay–I’ll eat them–but I don’t get find it easy to get excited about lentils. That changed (at least for one recipe) when we were eating at an Indian/Bangladeshi restaurant near our apartment a few weeks ago. I tasted my husband’s light, delicious, almost fluffy bright yellow dal and said, “Ooh, what’s in that?” Lentils.

I took another bite and thought about the ingredients in it while I ate the bite. Then I needed another bite–you know, for verification. “The difference is that it’s pureed,” I pronounced, not at all stating the obvious. Somehow pureeing the lentils moved them from mealy to smooth and tasty.

Excited about unexpectedly having Friday off (long story), I got ambitious about our cooking this weekend. Lately I’ve been testing out fusing various cuisines together–combining, from an earlier example, things like peanut-sauced tofu and a Southern vegetable plate. And it works, mostly, to do some experimentation like that. Last night I wanted to try to make the dal and was trying to figure out what to serve with it. I wanted to see if I have healed enough to eat yogurt (formerly too acidic, possibly still too acidic unfortunately), so I decided to make raita (an Indian condiment usually combining yogurt, mint, and cucumber) to go with the dal. Whatever vegetables I served had to be strong enough to complement the rich flavor of the dal. So I decided to make some vegetable fritters . . . and then I added some roasted tomatoes to the list after thinking about the nearly orgasmic experience I had eating them at Watershed. (I was dying to include some chutney, but the highly acidic nature of vinegar-loaded chutney would probably still send me into spasms after a very short period of time.)


Here’s the end result. The raita and vegetable fritters were nothing to write home about. I still can’t figure out how my fritters–which had zucchini, carrots, onion, and green onion in them, plus twice as much of every spice as I initially thought I should put–came out as bland as they did, but, well, they did. They were also very heavy/dense, which I think was because I used the same mix of mostly whole-wheat flour with a little white flour that I use for everything. “They’re good–they’re just not great,” my husband said generously. I didn’t finish mine.

The raita was also just boring: not sour enough, not blended enough.

The dal and the roasted tomatoes, though–they really hit the spot. (My husband, whose one food hang-up remains tomatoes, thought the roasted ones were only okay. I thought they were incredible–rich like tomato sauce, but sturdy enough to eat alone. YUM.) And both the dal and tomatoes were healthy and easy to make, though the tomatoes were in the oven for-evuh.

I blended recipes while making both of them, but here’s a basic recap of what I did:

Easy Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

per person:

1 large red tomato (even a hothouse tomato in winter works)

1/2 tsp. crushed fresh garlic

1/2 tsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. sugar

sea salt and pepper

cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees (or 250 if you want to cut the time down a couple of hours).

Core your tomato. Halve the tomato (top and bottom half) and scrape out some of the seeds, leaving as much pulp as you can. Sprinkle crushed garlic, oil, and sugar over tomato. Grind salt and pepper over it.

Spray non-stick spray on a cookie sheet or jelly roll. Place the tomato pieces, cut side up, on the pan. Roast for 6-8 hours, until the tomatoes have started to blacken around the edges.

Delicious. Eat by itself, chop or blend it up for a pasta sauce, or serve it with toasted bread.

(I think I might get on a roasting kick after this experience.)

Pureed Lentil Dal

~3 servings (or 1 regular serving and 1 double serving if you’re married to my husband)

1 c. red lentils

1 T. butter

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

3/4 tsp. (or so) powdered ginger

3 c. vegetable broth

1 1/2 T curry powder (or less depending on your powder)

salt and pepper

Dunk your lentils in a couple of inches of water, picking off any non-lentil bits that may pop up from the lentil pile.

Drain the lentils well.

Heat the butter in a skillet on med-high. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and ginger, and stir around for a minute. Add the drained lentils and stir together. Add the vegetable broth and curry powder; heat to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until lentils are very soft. Use an immersion blender in the pot to puree and fluff your lentils. (Alternately, pour the lentil mixture into the blender and do it there.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

This makes a flavorful but mild dal. My husband has asked me if I’ll make him a bit pot of this to eat all week for lunch. That’s how much he liked it.


lisa jane said...

oh gosh yum yum yum yum.i'm moving in to your house,I'm packing my bags this minute,hope thats ok with you guys.

My partner is a BIG meat eater whilst I think I could happinly live vegetarian.That meal looks divine,as they all do.

I love lentils too,love darl, love dried tomatos!!!!!!!!!!!!

so I'll see you in ten ok?Hope you have the guest bedroom ready for me

Tee said...

This looks good...yummy!!!!

Didn't you tell me you were inviting me to dinner soon? LOL

Sonya said...

I'm East Indian, so I can definitely comment on this one! Your picture looks great - sorry that the raitha and fritters (pakoras?) didn't turn out the way you wanted them to. The raitha may have been too thick - it's best when it's a little "looser". As for the fritters - I'm not sure what spices you added, but the key is definitely mixing the flour so that it's less dense. Did you use besan flour?

Looks yummy, nonetheless!

S C, aka Tubby said...

The roasted tomato looks DIVINE.

the veggie paparazzo said...

Lisa and T, y'all are cracking me up.

Sonya, I think part of my raita problem was the type of yogurt I used--and you're right that it probably was too thick. I went for simple instead of accurate, and it didn't work so well. :) I just looked up besan flour--chickpea flour, interesting. I just used regular flour like we do when we make Southern fritters. What I made was so illegitimate I couldn't bring myself to call them pakoras! ;)

In all honesty, if I found Indian cooking as easy as I was trying to make it, I'd be a little disappointed. I think India (or parts of India) has some of the most amazing culture of cooking. The use of spices and the many delicious way things are combined--Indian ranks up there with Thai as one of my favorite cuisines.

Tubby, I totally suggest you try making the tomatoes. They were unbelievably delicious and so healthy, too!

~~Midnight Raider~~ said...

I make a basic red lentil soup: veggie broth, red lentils, sea salt, some cumin, carrots diced teeny and maybe some garlic or other fun stuff. Very tasty and simple!

Sonya said...

I agree - there is a labour of love involved in Indian cooking, and it's soooo worth it. It takes a lot of patience to figure out how to spice things, but once you do, the end result is amazing. Plus, Indian cuisine is very kind to us vegetarians!:-)