Mung Dal & Tandoori Gram-Flour Crusted Okra
Ok- in my own defense, I am neither Indian, nor have I seen Madhur Jaffrey in a gazillion years... I have been here in Germany for the past 26 years and have been tv-less for a little more than a year now. So don't be too harsh in your judgement, please!
But all kidding aside though- as un-traditional or un-authentic as my supper may have been this evening, it was still tasty to eat and simple to make. And it was very, very healthy too. So I can live with any criticism- have at it! This was fat-free and tasty, done in 30 minutes- and that's good enough for me... and possibly for some of you too...
The ingredients were simple- "Mung Dal", also known as split mung beans or split yellow lentils... please don't ask how they can be both! Then of course okra, a handful of cherry tomatoes, some fresh ginger, a shallot, some gram (chickpea) flour and some Tandoori spice. I could have made it more intricate, I could have used more spices... I could have used a recipe! But that's not me! When I am in the kitchen, it is all about my instincts, what I have in the cupboard and what mood I am in- these are my 3 main ingredients!
My mission was to make a simple but tasty "dal" or lentil dish and to add the fresh okra I had bought in some way. I thought that ginger would be a good defining flavor for the dal and decided that I wanted something a little tangy to add to the okra, to pep it up a little. Nothing too hot and spicy, just a nice contrast. Also, I wanted to prepare it in a way that would not have it turn too sticky and slimy on me- and then it dawned on me to use the stickiness of the okra to give it a gram flour crust. And, yep- a good idea it was too!
I started off by boiling the lentils- 2 cups in this case, in 5-6 cups of water or so. I say this, because normally I would use double the amount of water to the amount of lentils I wanted to cook- but this evening, I did end up topping up the water twice by the time the lentils were finished around 25 minutes later. So there- now you know how long it took for them to cook as well!
In the meantime, I started preparing the okra. For this I mixed 2 tablespoons of chickpea flour and 2 teaspoons of Tandoori spice together with a little salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper for a bit of heat. I then topped and tailed the okra and added it to the flour and spice, stirring it around with a spoon until each piece was coated.
Once the okra was well coated, I began toasting it in a non-stick pan with no added oil- just a dry heat. I kept stirring it occasionally, but basically left it to toast a little and for the flavor of the chickpeas and the spice to begin to develop. And in the meantime I did a little more prep-work for the lentils...
Which meant simply cutting both the shallot and about a 2" piece of ginger into a very fine dice. These then went into a small frying pan with a pat of ghee (clarified butter) and began to fry gently. Whilst they gently sizzled away and began to caramelize, I also chopped 5-6 cherry tomatoes up finely and added them to the onion and ginger. I let them sizzle away together for a couple of minutes and then scraped them into the saucepan with the lentils. Easy. And whilst they gently simmered on, I turned my attention back to the chickpeas...
By now the okra was beginning to wilt slightly and they were sticking together a little- my cue to add a good splash of water to the frying pan- just about enough to cover the base of the pan. Working very swiftly, I stirred the okra until the moisture was evenly distributed and kept on stirring.
What the water did, was that it immediately finished the cooking process during turning to steam. It also transformed the light-colored flour coating into a vibrant red, as well as suddenly beginning to smell much more intense- in a very good way! But soon enough, after just a couple of minutes at the most, the moisture had evaporated away and the gram flour and spice mix began to dry out and toast and turn into a delicious crusty coating... yummy!
I checked on the dal which was nicely cooked and tasting nicely of ginger and shallot, but still had a little too much moisture to be totally delicious... and so what did I do? I scooped together the Tandoori-spiced flour that was left over, about 1 heaped teaspoon, and quickly dissolved it in a little water before adding it to the lentils to thicken them up a little... and let me tell you, the color that it changes to when you add the water will amaze you! I added this to the gently boiling dal, stirred it in quickly to prevent any clumping and let is simmer away for a minute or two before turning off the heat.
And that was it!
The dal was now creamy and smooth, with a very gentle ginger flavor, and the okra was a great contrast with its tangy coating... yummy! I love using gram flour in this way, to give things a nice, light, crispy and chewy shell without having to drench things in oil- this is so much better for you. And being to quick to make on a weekday night? This was an absolutely brilliant idea! Even if I DO say so myself... Enjoy!