Dal with Zucchini
Weeks ago I ordered Mark Bittman’s cookbook “The Best Recipes in the World” and today I finally got around to trying one of his recipes. I picked his Dal recipe with homemade curry powder since I had all the ingredients on hand. Cooking Indian food might seem intimidating to most people, but who can blame them. The list of the spices is always so long and unfamiliar. But let me tell you, after you equip your pantry with the essential Indian spices and learn a few cooking techniques, you will find yourself cooking Indian food more often. The homemade version is always healthier and tastier than the restaurant version. Okay, maybe not tastier, but definitely healthier.
Curry powder is a blend of various dried ground spices and each region of India has its own version. I like toasting and grinding my own spices because I can customize it to my taste, but when I’m in a hurry I use the store-bought version. Curry powder can be made hot, mild, sweet or fragrant depending on the spices used.
I picked an all-purpose curry powder recipe for my dal today. I added all the spices to a small sauté pan and heated it over medium heat for just a few minutes until fragrant.
The recipe called for toasting the peppercorns, cloves and seeds, but I added all the spices at once. I then ground the spices in my spice grinder, a must-have tool for every kitchen.
I also made some changes to this recipe. Instead of adding everything to the pot with water as instructed, I sautéed the onions first then stirred in the spices and cooked them for about minute. Toasting spices enhances their aroma and flavor.
I used 1 tablespoon of the spice blend I had made earlier along with ground cumin and cayenne. Skip the cayenne if you don’t like spicy food. Personally, I like a little kick from the pepper. There is a misconception about Indian food being too spicy, but truth be told most their dishes aren’t spicy or can be made so just by omitting the hot peppers in the recipe. That’s the nice thing about grinding your own spices because you can control the amount of pepper you add to it.
An easy way of peeling garlic clove is to cut the root end and smashing it on a cutting board with the back of a knife. The skin peels off very easily. That is if the clove is nice and big like you see in the picture below. Have you ever bought a garlic head that looked great until you broke it apart and all these tiny cloves fell all over your counter with few larger pieces lost among them. Well, it happens to me often and I get real frustrated trying to get those pesky skins off. I’ve tried all the tips I’ve read online to no avail. I put all the cloves in a sealed jar as suggested and shook the jar until my arms were falling off. I soaked them in hot water as suggested by another site, but that didn’t work either. If you have a trick up your sleeve, please share it with me in the comment section below :).
I always keep ginger in a Ziploc bag in my freezer and any time I need it, I grate a section of it and put it back in the freezer. I find ginger easier to grate when frozen. Freezing it also keeps it from going bad in the fridge.
Now, if you have never had dal before, it’s a thick stew prepared from any variety of dried lentils, peas or beans that have been split. I used yellow moong dal for my dish. You can find it in Indian stores or online. Some supermarkets might also carry it.
I added chopped garlic and grated ginger to the onions and cooked them for a minute or so. The amazing aroma of onions and spices filled my kitchen. I’m sure my neighbors were getting hungry from the smell. I stirred in chopped tomatoes and cooked the mixture for few minutes.
The recipe doesn’t give the exact measurement for water, just enough to cover the beans by few inches. I forgot to measure the water I added, but I must have added about 8 cups. You can always add more water if needed.
I let the stew cook for 40 minutes until the beans were tender. Remember to stir it a few times during cooking to prevent the beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot. I had this beautiful homegrown organic zucchini in the fridge that I had no plans for, so I chopped it and added it to the stew. I cooked it for 10 more minutes until the vegetables were cooked through. Oh, I also added half a teaspoon of store-bought garam masala , another spice blend that is usually used in a very small amount to add flavor to the Indian dishes.
I must say my version of this stew turned out scrumptious with just enough heat from the spices.
I don’t own a fancy camera and my basic camera doesn’t do justice to this stew. It looks so much better than the pictures, trust me!
A food that is cooked with sautéed onions and garlic always tastes better the next day and freezes well. This stew keeps well in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days. Freeze the leftovers for another time.
Dal with Zucchini
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 1 hr
Ready in: 1 hr 5 mins
Yields: 6 to 8 serving
1 onion chopped
3 garlic cloves minced
One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon homemade curry powder (recipe follows)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
4 roman tomatoes chopped
1 pound yellow moong dal rinsed and picked over
- Heat oil in a medium-sized stockpot. Add onions. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until onions are translucent. Stir in garlic and ginger. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add spices and tomatoes. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add about 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 50 minutes.
- Add chopped zucchini. Cook for 10 more minutes or until vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning to taste and add more water if needed.
Mild Curry Powder
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 3 min
Ready in: 8 mins
Yields: 1/4 cup
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 seeds from white cardamom pods
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or to taste
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- Combine the peppercorns, cloves and seeds in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until lightly toasted and fragrant, few minutes. Add the ground spices.
- Cool and grind to a fine powder in a spice or coffee grinder. Store in a tightly covered container for up to several months.