11 January 2010

The Best Christmas Gift: 660 Curries

I am in love with a new (to me) cookbook: 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. My sister gave me this book (and three others!!) for Christmas!  How lucky am I? I have previously mentioned my newly discovered obsession with vegetarian Indian food, and this book plays right into that obsession.  The best part of 660 Curries is that it lays the foundation for learning to cook Indian food.  And trust me, I am in dire need of that foundation.  I lamented to my boyfriend just how upside and backwards I feel in the kitchen while cooking Indian - a sensation to which I am totally unaccustomed!  I just don't have that intuitive feel for it yet, but I am learning.  Every dish I make gets easier and having Iyer's book as a handy reference is a great comfort.  A happy bonus?  I love Raghavan Iyer's writing style! He is so personable, and his passion for Indian cuisine is so apparent.

I knew immediately which dish I would be making first from this book after browsing for a few minutes: Red Lentils with a Caramel-Sweet Onion Sauce or Masoor Pyaaz Dal.  How could I see the "caramel-sweet onion sauce" and not immediately want to eat it?  Then when I actually read the recipe, Iyer commented that it was the perfect quick, easy dal to make for a weekday supper.  Since I have so little experience with Indian food, a quick and easy dal seemed the right place to start.  I was also inspired rather late in the day, and I had to run to an Indian grocery store for a few ingredients, so the quick time line was especially appealing.  The best news? Iyer was honest when he said it was quick and easy!  I managed to make it and the rice dish I ate with it in about an hour - not too bad considering my insecurities and inexperience.

Even better?  The dal was creamy and delicious, with a sweet caramelized onion note.  The spices were mild, but I could, of course, taste the cumin and cardamom (my first time with cardamom - I had no idea those little pods were papery and not hard... I had a totally irrational fear of cracking them open to get to the seeds!). It paired perfectly with the rice dish (also from 660 Curries) that I selected.  Never fear, I will post that recipe too.

Thanks again to both my sister and Raghaven Iyer for opening a world of food to me!

Red Lentils with a Caramel-Sweet Onion Sauce (Masoor Pyaaz Dal)
from 660 Curries by Raghaven Iyer

1 cup skinned split brown lentils (salmon-colored in this form, masoor dal), picked over for stones
1 t cumin seeds
1 t rock salt (I subbed kosher salt)
½ t cardamom seeds from green or white pods
½ t whole cloves
½ t black peppercorns
3 or 4 fresh Thai, cayenne, or Serrano chiles, to taste, stems removed
¼ cup ghee or canola oil
1 large red onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 large tomato, cored and finely chopped
½ t ground turmeric

Place the lentils in a medium-size saucepan.  Fill the pan halfway with water and rinse the lentils by rubbing them between your fingertips.  The water will become cloudy.  Drain this water. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear; drain.  Now add 3 cups water and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium heat.  Skim off and discard any foam that forms on the surface.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 18 to 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, combine the cumin seeds, rock salt, cardamom seeds, cloves, peppercorns, and chiles in a mortar.  Pulverize the blend with the pestle, scraping the sides to contain the mixture in the center, to form a gritty, pulpy mass.

Heat the ghee in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and the pulverized spice mixture. Stir once or twice.  Then cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns caramel-brown with a deep purple hue and the spices smell sweet, 20 to 25 minutes.  (Meanwhile, when the lentils are tender, simply keep them warm, covered and over very low heat.)

Stir the tomato and the turmeric into the onion mixture and cook, uncovered, until the tomato softens a little, 2 to 4 minutes. (The tomato juices will deglaze the skillet, releasing the browned bits of onion and spices.)

Add the onion-tomato mixture to the dal, and stir once or twice.  Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the flavors mingle, 3 to 5 minutes.  Then serve.


Laura said...

You are, of course, very lucky to have me. it is true. ;)

Ashley said...

This looks great! I asked for this book for Christmas, too, and have had nothing but winning recipes come out of it. Yum!c