Monday, May 16, 2011

Red Lentil Dal with Cabbage

Portland recently took a turn for the chilly. There are still asparagus and rhubarb to be had, but right now I'm not thinking of icy semifreddos or springy pizzas. I'm thinking about cabbage and beans.

I've always been a fan of Indian dals, the soupy bean dishes beloved by all protein-seeking vegetarians. They're dirt cheap, easy to make, and keep spectacularly well. I always simmer up a massive pot, thinking I'm going to stash some portions in the freezer for future lunch emergencies, and end up eating it all within a few days. I'm currently smitten with a curry-leaf version from Madhur Jaffrey's latest cookbook, which might be the most brightly flavorful dal I've ever made. But recently I'm craving something heartier and humbler. Like cabbage dal.

This recipe is ridiculously easy. The beans -- red lentils, in this case -- are lightly scented with spice (including the you-wouldn't-think-it-works-but-it-totally-does cinnamon stick), and then simmered until they break down into a creamy mess. An entire head of cabbage gets chopped and thrown into the pot, and, amazingly, melts away until you barely know it's there. The resulting dal is a great complement to a tomato-studded curry (I served it with a saucy spinach-pea-tomato concoction), or fine with just a bit of rice or naan and blob of yogurt as its companions. Add some of Patak's garlic chutney (an obsession of mine for several years), and it'll warm you right up until spring rolls around.

Red Lentil Dal with Cabbage

adapted from She Spills the Beans
serves ~6

1 Tbsp high heat oil, such as canola or coconut
3 Tbsp butter or coconut oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups red lentils
1 head cabbage, chopped into 1" lengths
1 stick cinnamon
4 dried chilies (adjust depending to your taste)
1 bay leaf
6 whole cloves
handful of curry leaves (optional)
1 tsp garam masala
salt to taste

Heat the butter and oil in a large pot over a medium-high flame. Add the cumin and mustard seeds, and cook for a minute, until they begin to pop (have the lid at the ready, to keep them from popping out of the pot). Add the onion, and saute until translucent, and beginning to pick up a few brown spots. Add the garlic, and stir for a minute. Add the lentils, cabbage, whole spices, and then add water to just barely cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are broken down (~1 hour, although it only gets better with time, so 2 hours is better). Season with the garam masala and salt to taste.


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