Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A Spicy Food Story!

Lenticchie Neri "Urad Dal" con Garam Masala, Zucchini Tonde & Yogurt
Urad Dal with Garam Masala, Zucchini + Yogurt

Spices are so important when it comes to cooking- apart from often having health benefits and in making your food easier to digest and enjoy, of course they add fragrance and flavor and bring the humblest of ingredients up to a new level of deliciousness. To cook without spices is unthinkable- starting from the basics of salt and pepper and going up and beyond, to wonderful Indian spice mixes like Garam Masala... it is not simply about making your food taste hot and making you break out into a sweat, but about treating your taste buds and enjoying the experience of eating to the full.

Lentils are wonderful things, with a mild, nutty and wholesome flavor- but on their own, let's face it, they can be a little bland. The great thing about lentils though, is that they are so versatile and take on flavors incredibly well- and there are so many different varieties of them! Urad dal are robust, chunky and delicious- a great carrier for a nice spicy mix like this one and a whole meal in themselves when combined with a few vegetables- take a look and see what you think!

To make this dish, you need to prepare the dal, by soaking it- overnight ideally, or if not, for a good 8-10 hrs like I did today. I popped them into a bowl and covered them with water before I left for work- if I hadn't done that, I might well have still been boiling them now! I started off by pouring off the water the lentils had soaked in and rinsing them through, covering them with boiling water and simmering them gently for 20 minutes or so without salt. I would add later as it would slow down the cooking time if it were to be added at the beginning. 

In the meantime, I prepared a few other vegetables that needed to go into the mix- about 1 cupful of diced sweet potato and 1 cupful of finely chopped celery went into 2 cupfuls of lentils. I also chopped 2 Spring onions  and 3-4 cherry tomatoes to add later on and plenty of parsley. About 1" of ginger finely chopped and the spices were all I needed- and after 20 minutes of boiling I began to transform those delicious but plain little lentils into something really great!

So- after 20 minutes I added the sweet potato and celery, as well as a handful of parsley- including the stalks which have so much flavor. I also added a good pinch of fennel seeds at this point as I wanted that flavor to infuse into the lentils for a while... and back on the heat they went for another 10 minutes or so. 

Whilst they were simmering away, I had a chance to prepare the zucchini- which was a left-over half of one of those lovely round varieties- but regular zucchini is just fine. I sautéed it in a little clarified butter with a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and some white pepper- just very simple, as I wanted it to taste sweet and light as a contrast to the spicy lentils. Speaking of which- they were not yet spicy at all and it was time to start with the real fun!

 I started the lentils off by first frying the ginger a little in a past of clarified butter and then adding 1 tablespoon of garam masala, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of cayenne and a half teaspoon of turmeric. I let it warm up for a minute or so and then added the lentil mixture, along with the last little bit of water remaining in the saucepan. Once everything was nicely mixed together, I added another handful of parsley and the Spring onion, along with salt, pepper and a little squeeze of lemon juice. I let the lentils simmer on for 5 minutes or so and then added the sliced cherry tomatoes... and 5 minutes later, my spicy lentils were ready and delicious!

I served them with the zucchini slices and a little yogurt, which is a great accompaniment to spicy Indian dishes like this. A sprinkle of chili and a few fresh green parsley leaves were the finishing touch and a wonderful vegetarian meal was ready to be enjoyed... and trust me, I certainly did enjoy it! And somehow I think that you just might too!

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