Saturday, February 2, 2008

Homemade Chapati and Coconut Milk Dal

I've always been confounded by food-loving vegetarians. How can you say you appreciate food when meat is such a central part of so many wonderful meals. I'm too often tempted to say 'forget about the ethics of being omnivores and just try it!' Whenever I have a well-cooked dal dish, however, I am forced to reconsider everything. Lentils are just one of those vegetables that, in my humble opinion, are more intrinsically satifying than anything with four legs. Lentils have a really big part in many cuisines, but I think that the spices and aromas of Indian cuisine really let them shine.

This is a recipe from Mangoes and Curry Leaves, easily the nicest cookbook I own (a kind christmas gift from a certain chef-to-be whom I'm sure you're familiar with). The ingredients are a little difficult: on my last trip to New York I swung by Little India and stocked up on lentils, fresh curry leaves (to be frozen) and the atta flour used in chapatis (I was, however, a little nervous to bring a stash of odd-shaped herbs and powders over the border...!). It's all pretty standard stuff if you have an Indian grocer nearby.


Recipe: Dal with Coconut Milk
1 cup of masur dal, washed (red lentils)
5 cups of water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil or ghee
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced shallots
6 curry leaves
2-3 dried chilies
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of coconut milk

Put the dal in a medium pot with water, boil them, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes.

Heat a wok or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, add the oil and toss in the garlic and shallots and stirfry for 3-4 minutes until soft. Add curry leaves, chiles, coriander and stirfry for an additional 2 minutes. Add the salt and coconut milk and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add to your cooked dal, let the flavours simmer together for a few minutes and serve.

For the Chapatis
2 cups of atta flour, sifted, plus more for rolling
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon of salt

In a mixing bowl, add the flour and water and mix together. It will form a very sticky dough. Turn it out onto a well floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes. I usually have to add at least another 1/3 cup in this process. Lightly flour the bowl, and place the ball of dough in the bowl, covered. Let it rest for anywhere from 30min to 10 hours, depending on what is convenient.

Cut the dough in half, and then each half into quarters. You'll have 8 little balls about the size of a plum. While leaving the rest covered, place one of the balls onto a lightly floured surface and flatten it into disk with your palm. Roll out the ball into a round shape about 8in in diameter. Heat up a cast-iron pan over medium hot, and lightly grease it with an oiled cloth. When it is hot enough, add the rolled out dough. Let it sit for about 15-30 seconds before flipping it. Little bubbles should be developing. When it gets hot enough it should start inflating like a balloon. Alford and Duguid recommend pressing on the bread with a paper towel to really encourage it to inflate. If you can't get it to inflate, don't worry about it, it's still delicious. Keep the bread moving if you feel that it's burning. Repeat with the other 7 slices.

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