Sunday, October 18, 2009

Khichari with Dill and Tomatoes

Greetings food fans. This is Desdemona’s spoiled-rotten partner here, hopping on the Elizavegan/Vegan MoFo bandwagon. As careful readers of this blog might have sussed out, Desdemona is currently participating in that steeplechase of the knowledge industry, graduate school. Contrary to what many people believe, this does not just involve lying in a hammock, reading all your favorite books, taking sips from a fruity drink, and waving a quick hello to your friendly professor from time to time. This year’s MoFo coincides with an actual mofo of a semester, and although messing about in the kitchen is a major source of pleasure and relaxation for her, she is instead grading her way through a muddy torrent of midterm exams. I’ve been doing somewhat more cooking as she slaves away, and am happy to contribute a post to bump up the count a little; it’s the very least I can do in thanks for the love - and the astonishing food - with which she showers me every day.

OK, enough mushy stuff. Tonight’s dinner is an Indian khichari (a stew of dal and rice), which seemed like the perfect thing to make as the weather cools and snow flurries drift down on our little corner of the world. Indian food has been a go-to cuisine for me for many years: it is much easier to make than people think, it tends to get enthusiastic responses from guests, and North America is blessed with so many immigrants from the subcontinent that most ingredients are now available in any large or medium sized community, and in many smaller ones.

Best of all for the herbivorous crowd, most of the various cuisines of India have deep-rooted, vigorous, and complex traditions of vegetarianism. This one is adapted from Yamuna Devi’s Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, which is one of the biggest and most impressive Indian cookbooks out there. The dish comes from Gujarat, the pronged bump on India’s west coast, just below the Pakistani border, the source of some truly excellent cuisine. If you’re ever in Toronto, go way out into the suburbs to the Exotic Indian Cuisine Restaurant on Albion Road, and thank me later.

Some notes on ingredients and preparation:
(i) This recipe calls for chana dal, which is readily available at any Indian grocery store. If you don’t have it in the house, substitute yellow split peas – you won’t notice the difference! Devi recommends soaking the dal for 5 hours, but in fact I cut myself short on time and ended up soaking it for only an hour. It was fine.

(ii) Lord Krishna’s Cuisine adheres to Ayurveda, a traditional system of diet and medicine that does not use onions and garlic, which are thought to inhibit meditation and devotion. I’ve always been an enthusiastic consumer of these two ingredients, but it’s an interesting fact that I had been cooking out of this cookbook for several years before someone pointed out the absence to me! Although I’ve never been tempted to add onions and garlic to the excellent recipes in this book, you could always give it a try if you feel like it.

(iii) Many of the recipes in this book include hefty quantities of ghee or clarified butter. In my pre-vegan days, I enjoyed both the smell of cooking ghee and its taste in the dishes, but I often found myself eating three spoonfuls of something and feeling uncomfortably stuffed. Now many Indian restaurants are cutting out the ghee for health reasons, and I find that these recipes are much better all-round with vegetable oil instead. I also bumped up the spices by a factor of 1.5 or 2, as I always do with Indian recipes.

Khichari with Dill and Tomatoes
¾ cup split chana dal or yellow split peas
¾ cup basmati or other long-grain white rice
6½ cups water or vegetable stock
1 tsp. turmeric
¼ cup chopped fresh dill or 1 heaping tbsp. dried dill
1 tsp. garam masala
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. cumin seeds
2 whole dried red chili peppers
¼ tsp. asafoetida powder (½ tsp. if you dare; we do!)
3 medium-sized tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Soak the dal or split peas in hot water for 5 hours, or as much of 5 hours as you have time for. It’ll be fine.
2. Place the dal, rice, water, turmeric, dill, and garam masala in a 3-4 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and slowly cook for 1-1½ hours. The dal should be soft and the rice cooked; basically, the consistency of a nice bowl of oatmeal at breakfast. Remove from the heat.
3. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When it is hot (about a minute), stir in the cumin seeds and red chili. Fry until the cumin seeds are brown. Sprinkle in the asafetida powder and immediately add the tomato pieces. Fry for 1-2 minutes or until the tomatoes soften and glisten with oil. Pour the fried seasoning into the cooked dal, stir in the salt, the lemon juice and serve hot. This isn’t a very spicy dish, so go ahead and heat it up with a bunch of Indian pickle if you’ve got it!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds delicious! I've never tried cooking Indian food before. Yes, I'm one of those people who thinks it's hard. I may have to give this a go. Thanks for the recipe. :-)