Every so often, I feel that I have to eat curry. It must have something to do with needing micro-nutrients. I mean, curry spices are packed with them.That’s why curries figure so prominently in vegetarian cuisine.
That’s my theory, anyway.
Most often, dal fixes me up, that thick lentil stew made aromatic with turmeric and cinnamon and cloves, and smoothed into submission with ghee (my post about ghee is here). Dal is high in protein, satisfying, and inexpensive. You can make it mild or add heat with chilis. Myself, I like some heat, but the recipe below is flexible; you choose how much, if any, chili or cayenne goes in.
Dal and plain rice, like the one I cook to serve with majadra, and salad on the side, make a good, home-made lunch that only takes about half an hour. But then again, and especially if there are guests, I might make a whole Indian menu for dinner. Herbed fish patties, coconut rice, dal, and yogurt raita. (Raita is sauce eaten as a relish and a cool foil to spicy or chili-hot food). Just exotic enough to pique the appetite but not so much so as to freak the people out.
I prefer dal made with the tiny, pale-yellow moong lentils that only Indian stores seem to carry.These seem to melt away into a thick, smooth, savory mass that absorbs all the spices perfectly. But yellow split peas work very well too. Just cook them till they’re very, very soft.
The recipes have been given in logical sequence to make best use of your time. Altogether, the whole meal should take 1 hour to prepare.
Cucumber Raita (Yogurt Sauce)
Serves 6 – may be halved or doubled
2 large, fresh cucumbers
1 medium onion
2 teaspoons salt
Optional: 1/8 – ¼ teaspoon cayenne flakes
3 cups thick, cold yogurt
1. Peel the cucumbers. Grate them, and grate the onion – or process the vegetables in the food processor.
2. Stir salt into the grated vegetables and put them in a sieve or colander placed over a bowl to catch the juices. Allow to marinate and drain for 1-2 hours.
While the vegetables are draining, prepare the dal.
3. After vegetables have drained 1-2 hours, rinse them and mix with yogurt and optional cayenne. The sauce is ready to serve.
Dal: Split-Pea Stew
1 – ½ cups moong dal or yellow split peas
4 cups water
1 – ½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ghee or butter
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne flakes, or more if liked
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon mustard seeds – do not substitute prepared mustard for these seeds.
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1. Put water to boil with salt. Boil the lentils in it for 20 minutes or until very soft. Stir occasionally while cooking.
While dal is cooking, start preparing the fish patties.
2. Melt the ghee or butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add all the spices. Heat them through for 2 or 3 minutes.
3. Add the spiced butter to the boiled lentils and stir thoroughly. Simmer over low heat till the stew is thick – about 5 minutes.
Indian Herbed Fish Patties
Adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden
1 cup cilantro leaves
¾ cup scallions
1 teaspoon hot curry powder or regular curry powder plus 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes (to taste)
3 tablespoons flour
1 lb. – 500 grams raw ground fish
½ teaspoon salt
1. Chop the cilantro and scallions finely. You may pulse them in a food processor, but don’t process them to a paste. Those bits of green herbs give the patties a certain home-made attraction.
2. Add the curry powder, flour, and fish. Mix very well.
3. Make patties in the palm of your hand, pushing the edges together so they don’t crack in frying. Press a shallow dimple in the center of each patty with your forefinger: this helps the patty stay together (do this with hamburgers too). Fry the patties in shallow oil till brown on both sides.
1 can coconut milk
2 cups water
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 ½ cups rice
3 coriander pods, crushed, husks removed, and black seeds crushed again.
1. Boil coconut milk, water, salt, turmeric and coriander in a medium pan, covered.
2. Add the rinsed, drained rice. Bring to a boil again.
3. Cook, covered, over low heat until all the liquid is absorbed – about 15 minutes.
Serve this meal with cold cider, beer, or lemonade.