It’s Wednesday, which means, in the normal course of things, Phil will be home tomorrow evening, and I will be feeding two (and, on Friday and Sunday, three) people, for dinner. I am not a big eater of breakfast and lunch; I’m much more prone to snacking lightly early in the day, and then eating my main meal at dinner, but Phil likes his three squares, and while I tend to cook the main dish of the evening meal on the day itself, I like to have my sides, and Phil’s lunches, already made up, so all I have to do is reheat and put it in front of him. So Wednesdays are devoted, in large part, to shopping and cooking.
Breakfasts are easy; I make up a big vat of pinhead oatmeal, which I stash in a large yogurt or peanut butter bucket in the fridge, and then reheat in the mornings. Given that it takes forever to make the steel-cut stuff, I toss two cups of it in a large saucepan, add about 4 cups of water, and cook it until the water is mostly absorbed. Then I take it off the heat, put a lid on it, and let it sit overnight on the cold hob, and refrigerate first thing in the morning. It’s a matter of scooping some out into a bowl, adding water and a splash of milk, and giving it a few minutes in the microwave after that. My attitude to steel-cut oats is much the same as how I feel about bone stock; I think it’s objectively better tasting, probably better for you, but there’s nothing particularly magical or virtuous about it. If pressed for time, or out of stock, I’ll happily use rolled oats (or liquid stock concentrate, for that matter) and think it’s close enough to ideal to not be bothered by it. I’ve only been able to find the barely-processed stuff in one health food store, and I do sometimes use it up before I get a chance to replenish.
Instant, or what they call “porridge oats,” over here, however, is completely out of the question. It’s like paste, it is horrible, and I am pretty sure most of the benefits of eating whole grains are lost in the hideous slurry you get when you cook it up. Avoid!
So, before I go out vegetable shopping, I’m cooking up some lentils, because the vast majority of cook-ahead stuff I stash in the fridge for the weekend are curries, and I always like to have a dal as one of them. First off, I LOVE the stuff. Let’s just get that out of the way straight off; there is a fair amount of self-interest there. Secondly, Phil loves it too, and research seems to indicate pulses are some of the best carbs you can eat, if you’re looking to control blood sugar, which we are. (Much the same with oatmeal.) Carbs are not the devil around here, in spite of the currently well-controlled diabetic I am feeding, but for the most part, we like them to be extremely complex carbs, full of character; i.e., I am not baking cookies and making trifle very often. I am cautiously adding a bit of wholegrain bread back into the carb budget, because I have this awesome new oven, and I love baking bread. (And also eating it, of course.)
Today’s dal is going to be pretty basic, as I’m still not back into the swing of my usual routine, and I am going with what has consistently worked well. Thus:
Ana’s Basic Tadka-ish Dal:
300-ish grams of split red lentils
2 dried chili peppers
2 fat cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric
Pick over, and then rinse the lentils thoroughly. Put in a good-sized saucepan, and cover with water. Add chilis, garlic, and turmeric, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the flame (I have a gas hob) down to low, and partially cover. Cook until lentils have basically dissolved into a grainy-looking mush. Remove from burner and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes, then fish out the chilis and discard. I generally purée the lentils and garlic cloves with a stick blender, because I like a smooth dal, but it isn’t strictly necessary if you like it somewhat more rustic. Just give the lentils and garlic cloves, which will be plenty soft, a good mashing, in that case.
Step 2, the tadka:
Ghee, or other fat with a high smoke point
A pinch of hing (also known as asafoetida)
About a tablespoon of whole spices, I generally favour black mustard, cumin, and nigella seeds, or if I’m feeling really lazy, just some pre-mixed panch phoron.
1 large onion, finely sliced into half-moons.
3-5 thin green chilis, slit along one side
3-5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, depending on how big they are
1 dried chili pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fenugreek
small handful of dried curry leaves, crushed
juice of 1/2 lemon
a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh coriander
Heat the ghee or other fat in a heavy-bottomed pan on a medium flame. When it’s good and hot, throw in the seeds and the dried chili. When they begin to pop, put in the hing, and give it all a good stir. Add the onions, and cook for a few minutes, until they begin to soften. Now is the time to add the garlic, green chilis, and all of the spices, except for the curry leaves. If it starts to stick, add a small amount of water, and keep stirring. Once the onions have gone limp and brown, and the chilis and garlic have softened, put in the curry leaves and let them crumble down a bit more, and get slicked with the ghee and spices.
Dump it all into the lentils, and stir it all up! If you’re planning on eating it soon, put the lentils back over a moderate flame, and heat it all up. Add water, if it’s gone thicker than you’d like, and before serving, add the lemon juice and sprinkle with the fresh coriander. It usually goes straight into a container and into the fridge for me, at this point, and by leaving the whole chilis in it it gets quite a bit spicier as it rests until we’re ready to eat it. Given that this makes quite a lot of dal, I usually get a few portions out of it for both of us, depending on what it’s being served with. I just pull it out and reheat by the serving, adding water as needed, because it thickens quite a lot upon standing.
And now I’m off, to get some labneh straining, and soak some black-eyed beans! Wednesday is well underway.