After we lost our first baby, it took me a month to get out of bed. Once I got finally got moving, I needed to throw myself into learning new skills or I would not have been able to survive the gruelling months that followed. One of my projects was learning how to make Indian food. I don’t care for half-assed curries with a bit of cumin and maybe some turmeric; I must be blunt and tell you that straight. Give me curry leaves and methi or give me death! I love the alchemical quality Indian techniques feel like they have – the combination of vibrant spices, ginger, garlic, onions, and tomatoes all resulting in an incredibly varied and magical cuisine. Of course, there’s also the world without onions and garlic, too! Sometimes as an outsider, the somewhat idiosyncratic use of the English lingua franca can make following the recipes a tad difficult, but eventually one gets the feel and breaks out on their own, or at least that’s what’s happened for us.
I even developed a hack, which I often use in my curries. You’ll often start a dish with onions and then add a garlic-ginger paste followed by tomatoes. I blend my tomatoes, garlic and ginger together ahead of time. It eliminates the risk of burning the garlic paste, among other benefits. I do soak the whole mung beans, as I’ve found they cook down into a silkier end product when I do. Ambrose loves to run his hands through the bean filled water, so that’s just a sensory bonus.
This curry was Ambrose’s first favourite meal. I don’t make this very spicy, though I don’t hesitate to add the chilies, either. We started introducing Ambrose to chilies in small but increasing amounts around nine months and he’s a fan of foods with a fair amount of heat now at a year old. I make this dal for him every so often, but it’s taken me ages to actually sit down and figure out a relative measure of things because it’s very intuitive for me at this point. We love this dal.
1 cup whole mung beans, soaked overnight in cold water
3 tomatoes, chopped (approximately 400 g)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 inch ginger, peeled (approximately 30 g)
1 green chili, finely chopped, or more to taste, optional
1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
Red onion, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon coconut oil, or a neutral oil
1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
2 dried red chilies
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (optional)
~12 fresh curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (methi)
Set the mung beans to soak overnight. In a blender, whiz together the tomatoes, ginger and garlic. Set aside. Drain the mung beans and add to a pot with water covering by about 10 cm (4 inches or so). Add the blended tomato, ginger as well as the chilies, red onion, turmeric, chili powder, and salt. Bring to a boil, once boiling turn the heat down to low, pop on a lid and let simmer without stirring for about an hour. Once the lentils are soft, get ready to make the tadka. Over medium heat, in a small pot or mini frying pan, heat the tablespoon of coconut oil. Working quickly, add the mustard seeds, red chilies and cumin seeds, if using, until they begin to crackle. This will only take a few seconds. Finally add the curry leaves and fenugreek leaves. Pour the whole thing into the pot of mung beans. Add the garam masala and stir. Taste for salt and adjust to your taste. Top with cilantro and diced red onion, or a chutney of your choosing such as coriander. Enjoy with rice, paratha or whatever you like.
We use Thai green bird chilies. I really can’t figure what the Indian green chili is called and the Thai peppers are readily available. They are hot, if you have not used them. Start slow.
Kashmiri chili powder is a mild chili powder that imparts a lot of colour and a slight paprika-ish taste. I bet a little (fresh) paprika powder wouldn’t be totally out of place but please don’t hold me to that because I would never do that myself. It is definitely not like the vague taco seasoning Mexican type chili powder, so don’t use that.
Here is an article from Saveur on Indian chilies and possible substitions.
Ah, curry leaves. Not the ubiquitous (and occasionally dubious) curry powder, my friends. They are a funky little leaf that impart magical properties to food. I buy mine fresh (for a $1 a bunch !!) and seal them up in a ziplock and keep them in the freezer. If you can’t find them, I’m sorry. Just leave them out. I bought my own curryleaf plants from Richter’s Herbs.