Wednesday, August 6, 2008

You too can cook Indian Food!

I fell in love with Indian food a long time ago, but it took a few years for me to actually attempt to make it myself. I was intimidated by recipes, with all the ingredients in another language, and I didn't even know how to get my hands on most of the ingredients.
Browsing through my aunt's fantastic cook book collection, I came across Bombay Cafe, which had simple recipes that were accessible and sounded great. Although it is now out of print, my sister found a copy and gave it to me for my birthday. I scanned through the recipes I wanted to make (virtually all of them, it turned out), and made a list of ingredients that I would need. If you are lucky enough to be in a major metropolitan area, you probably are not too far from an Indian grocery store, to which I highly suggest a visit!
I have now built a decent pantry of Indian staples, and I'm happy to say that I already had everything I needed to make this recipe...except sambar powder.  In fact, I didn't even know what that was.  Thanks to google, I found about 15 different variations and came up with the one I made for this recipe.  Since I've never had it before, I have no idea how it compares to authentic sambar powder.  All I can say is that these are some pretty tasty lentils!
(Any ingredients you are not familiar with are easy to find in an Indian grocery store, or online!)

South Indian Toor Dal
(adapted from Bombay Cafe by Neela Paniz)
1 1/2 cups dry toor dal
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp vegetable oil
pinch asafoetida
1 tsp mustard seeds
8 to 10 fresh curry leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 to 4 chiles de arbol, stems and seeds removed and broken in half
3 tbsp sambar powder (below)
3 roma tomatoes, diced
1/3 cup dried unsweetened coconut
2 tbsp lemon juice
chopped cilantro for garnish

Soak lentils in warm water to cover for 20 to 30 minutes.  
Drain and place in a saucepan with 5 cups of water.
Bring to a full boil and skim off any foam that rises.
Reduce heat to medium.
Add onions and cook for about 30 minutes, or until lentils are completely disintigrated
Skim off foam, being careful to avoid onions or remove too much liquid.
Add salt and reduce heat to low.
Heat 3 tbsp oil over medium heat in a small skillet with a lid.
Add the asafoetida, mustard seeds, and curry leaves, covering immediately to avoid splatters.
After about 30 seconds, add the cumin seeds and chiles.
30 seconds later, add the sambar powder, and saute for 2 to 3 minutes until lightly browned.
Add the tomatoes and cook for about a minute.
Stir this mixture into the lentils.
Wipe out the small skillet and heat the remaining oil.
Stir fry the coconut for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown.
Stir the coconut into the lentils.
Remove from the heat, and stir in the lemon juice.
Garnish with the cilantro.
Great served over basmati rice or scooped up with chapati or naan.

Sambar Powder 
makes about 2/3 cup

2 tbsp red lentils
1 tsp cumin seeds
6 chiles de arbol, torn into pieces and stems and seeds removed
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp dried unsweetened coconut
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp asoefetida powder
6 dry curry leaves

In a dry skillet over medium, toast the lentils until they are fragrant and just browning, and set aside.
Repeat with cumin seeds, chiles, and mustard seeds.  If the pan gets smoky or the seeds turn black, discard and start again because they will throw off the flavor.
Combine the toasted lentils, chiles and seeds with the rest of the ingredients in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, and process to a fine powder.


jennrs said...

Yum! And, it looks pretty.

Joelen said...

You rock! First off, I'm too lazy to buy the various spices and mix them myself... and second, the dishes you made look wonderful. Most of my Indian friends also take the easy way out by using combined spice mixes from the Indian market so I follow their lead. :) Perhaps I should give it a try considering I live down the street from the Indian neighborhood of Chicago!

That Girl said...

The ingredients for the sambar look as hard to find as the sambar itself!

Maryanna said...

I've never made Indian food before, but I'll surely have to try it now. You make things sound easy.