Not the cooking time (5 minutes), but the writing time.
Okay, so this is a simple recipe for lentils. I basically had no other protein in my house and had to figure out something nourishing and comforting. For me, that means dal. I have no idea what kind of dal I actually used. I only used one even though the recipe called for two. It was black and a small lentil but if it was actually moong dal like the recipe wanted, I have no clue. Still, the recipe worked fine and my tummy was happy, and will yours, probably. All tummies are different, after all.
1 cup dal (some kind of lentil – red, black…specifically moong dal is called for, so if you can find it)
1 cup split red lentils
5 cups water
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil
pinch of ground asafetida
1 tsp fennel seeds
4 dried hot red chilies
1 small onion, very finely sliced into rings
Five minutes are up, I lose. I’ll be back!
Okay, I’m back.
Moong dal, continued:
So I love fried onions. I hate onion rings even though they’re almost the same thing but not breaded. You get this intense onion flavour that you either love or hate, but your tongue gets to go swimming in oil since you essentially just deep-fryed the slices. I think I first got into them when someone I knew told me their favourite dish was biryani and they tried it at every restaurant they could find, the best in downtown Toronto being found at Quick Pita on College for awhile. That didn’t include Little India on Gerrard Street, but for convenience sake, Quick Pita was pretty good, apparently. Anyway, they’re the garnish for this dish, which makes it a little more gourmet than simple boiled lentils.
First, wash the lentils. Put them in a bowl and wash them like rice. Actually, you need to start the rice about the same time (or before) you start washing the dal. That way the rice can soak and the grains will stay separate.
After a few changes of water to clean the dal, drain them and put them in a big pot. Add the water and turmeric. Turmeric will take away some of the effect of beans on your digestive system (“Beans, beans, good for the heart…” etc.). Bring the dal to a simmer (don’t let it boil over) and then reduce the heat, cover it but leave it “slightly ajar” (this is apparently the traditional way to cook lentils – partially covered) and let the dal simmer softly for about 45 minutes. It shouldn’t completely fall apart, but it should be tender. If you don’t use moong dal and red lentils, whatever you use may cook faster or slower. If you don’t use lentils at all but you use beans instead, make sure you soak the beans overnight and then cook them. Lentils are split (like “split peas”) and don’t need to be soaked. They’re the convenient legume, but it’s all relative. 45 minutes is not exactly quick cooking. Unlike rice, you’re allowed to stir the dal a few times while it’s cooking, and when it’s done you season right away with the salt, stir, and then leave covered over low heat if you don’t have the next step already done while you were waiting for the lentils to cook.
All that’s left is to heat the oil over high heat, and do some very quick, hot sauté-ing. This makes lots of noise, and looks really flashy, so if you have people over, they can watch in the kitchen and you’ll look like a culinary superstar. Take that, Nigella.
When the oil’s hot put in the pinch of asafetida, (be carefully of hot flying oil) count to 1 (yes, 1) and then add the fennel seeds. Count to 3 and then add the red chiles. Count to 4 and then add the onions. What happened to 2? Shouldn’t you have to count to 2 somewhere? Then it would be called 1-2-3-4 frying. 1-3-4 is not as catchy, but traditional foods are not meant to be catchy, I suppose. They’re probably just meant to be practical. So skip counting to 2. It’s an unnecessary number and a waste of 2 seconds of your life.
Stir, stir, stir and reduce the heat to medium-high until the onions are very brown and crisp. They’ll look like you really over-cooked them, but they’ll taste great. If they really start to look like they’re blackening or burning, turn the heat down a little more. Now pour everything from the frying pan into the dal that’s set on low waiting for you patiently. You want to pour all the oil in too, not just the onions and spices. There may not be a whole lot of oil leftover, but you really need the fat of the oil in this to help digest the lentils. Otherwise there’s about zero grams of fat and you’ll never feel full and you’ll have an awful time digesting, despite your use of turmeric. Actually I even drained the lentils after cooking them (before adding the salt) and added more turmeric, just to get more starch out of the water that had come out of the lentils while they cooked.
Serve on a bed of beautiful basmati rice that you’ve maybe even timed correctly to have finished just now and pour a little bit of yogurt on the side of the plate. The dairy actually helps turn the rice and lentils into a full protein! Ah, the miracles of Indian cooking. So sorry vegans, your protein will be incomplete, but your tongue will be happy from beautiful fried onions and oil.