Kali Dal (Indian Black Lentils)
The flavor combination of kali dal ("black lentils" in Urdu) is simple: black lentils, ginger and a few chiles to enhance the flavors. In this case, simple is beautiful. The dal is finished with a hint of acidity and tartness with dried mango powder. It is both tasty and healthy, especially if you're on a vegetarian diet and need the protein.
Since I'm married to a vegetarian, I have had to educate myself about how to create nutritious meals that are meat-free. What I learned is that the basis of any well-balanced vegetarian meal is a starch and a legume. This isn't too surprising; almost every culture has a combination like this, be it rice and beans, rice and tofu or bread and chickpeas. I've personally come to really enjoy rice and dal, which is the Indian version of this combination. Black dal in particular have a wonderful earthy, complex flavor that is hard to describe and impossible to forget. At the very least, try them the next time you go to an Indian restaurant, or better yet, make them at home. It's definitely worth the effort.
Yields: 6 servings1 cup black dal
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste (see tips)
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon red chili powder
3 cups fresh whole mint leaves, tightly packed
2½ teaspoons salt, to taste
¾ teaspoon dried mango powder (optional)
2 jalapeño peppers
1½ tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
juice of 1 lime
6 cups water, as needed
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 dried red chiles, stemmed
6 cloves garlic
Wash the lentils. Discard any floating or odd-shaped lentils. Wash and rinse thoroughly in several water baths (about three times) and set aside. No soaking time is required. Drain the lentils, removing as much of the soaking water as possible.
Stem, seed and finely chop one of the jalapeño peppers. Using a paring knife, create a 2-inch incision in the remaining whole pepper. Note: remember not to rub your eyes after touching jalapeño pepper seeds.
In a small pot, combine the lentils, fresh ginger, ginger garlic paste, raw onions, turmeric powder, red chili powder and both whole and chopped jalapeño peppers. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil. Add 5 cups of water; the water should barely cover the lentils. Bring to a boil then lower to a gentle simmer for about 1 hour. Add 1½ teaspoons of salt half-way through the cooking process (it will bring out the natural flavor of the lentils and the lentils will be more tender) and keep stirring every now and then so the lentils don't stick to the bottom of the pot. Add the mango powder.
Transfer half the amount of cooked lentils into the bowl of an immersion blender. Coarsely blend the mixture and pour it back into the pot, then add the fresh mint leaves. Depending on how thick you like kali dal, you can add up to 1 cup of boiling water (Daddy likes it a little soupy). Add little mounds of ghee into the lentils. Adjust seasoning, add the lime juice and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes over low-heat. Transfer to a serving bowl.
Coarsely chop the garlic (I cut each clove into four pieces).
This step is called Baghar: When you're ready to serve, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a small saucepan, add the garlic and whole dried red chiles. Cook in the hot oil; the garlic will darken and the oil will start splattering. Remove from the heat and immediately transfer to the kali dal. Cover the kali dal with a lid (I used a plate to preserve the nice fragrance).
Ghee is the Indian version of clarified butter. You can find it in jars at Indian stores (I also find it at Costco). But if you don't have ghee, you can use butter instead.
For a vegan version, just omit the ghee.
You can find whole black dal at any Indian store.
For a faster cooking time, you could also cook the lentils in a pressure cooker. It would take only 25 minutes (instead of a long hour).
For an acidic and tart taste, dried mango powder (also known as amchur) is added to the lentils. Amchur is made of finely ground flesh of sun-dried green mangoes. It's an important step toward the end of cooking. You can find the beige-colored powder at any Indian store. If you don't have any, you could replace it with 2 teaspoons of lemon or lime juice.
Baghar is a very common step toward the end of cooking in many Indian dishes. I use a small 0.3-quart saucepan that I exclusively use for baghar.
You've probably noticed I use ginger garlic paste a lot in my cooking. It tastes great and is very healthy for you as well. Just clean the ginger, carefully removing any dirt. Peel the ginger root with a paring knife or the edge of a spoon, then finely chop it. Place the chopped ginger and 5 cloves of garlic in a blender and, add about 2 tablespoons (or more) of water for a smooth flow. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator. You can keep this paste for at least a week in the refrigerator.Published By: on March 10, 2010.