Wednesday, June 06, 2012
I have a friend who spent some time working as a printmaker, designing beautiful works of art on hundred-year-old presses. I was impressed with the intricacies of her craft, but even more struck by the fraternity among its adherents. Wherever she was traveling — Northern Minnesota, Northern Scandinavia — she would find other printmakers, and forge an instant connection. There would be shared cups of coffee, tours of studios, and hours of conversation on a level of detail few could appreciate.
As someone with a mild degree of social awkwardness, I know that it can make a huge difference to have a shared language with someone. You can skip all of the where-are-you-from/do-you-have-any-children/what-do-you-do/is-that-a-real-job interview questions, and have an easy intimacy around a common love. Everyone gets a chance to shine and share, and come away with a deeper understanding of a person and a place. And, if you're me, with some recipes.
I'm spending the week with a dear friend out in the Midwest, catching up and cooing over her three-week-old baby. Through an accident of scheduling, her in-laws were around for the first couple days of my visit. At first, there was some scrambling over what we would all do together (beyond stare at the baby). But the answer was easy: cook.
Although my friend's father-in-law was born in Gujarat, he didn't learn to cook until coming to the United States (where he had the good fortune to live next door to someone from the same part of India where he grew up). When you're chopping, prepping, and picking up little culinary secrets (like, say, taking a few minutes to roll cilantro in a dishtowel before chopping to render the leaves dry and separate instead of clumped together), there's no worry about awkwardness or different backgrounds or politics. There's only the rhythm of the kitchen, a shared nod when something tastes just right, and a beautiful meal at the end.
as made by Sunat Kumar Shah
serves ~6 as part of a larger spread
2 cups dried red lentils (we used oiled dal from an Indian grocery, which yielded a more traditional result, but red lentils are a fine substitute), soaked overnight in water to cover
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch knob ginger, peeled and minced
1 small onion, diced
1 small green chili, minced
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp coriander
1 Tbsp coarse salt
1 Tbsp brown sugar
juice of 1 lime
3 Tbsp prepared Mexican mole sauce (this ingredient, admittedly, is not traditional in India, but adds a nice depth if you've got it)
1 tomato, chopped
2 Tbsp high-heat oil, such as grapeseed or canola
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 large handful cilantro leaves, washed, dried and roughly chopped
Drain the dal and place in a large pot, and add water until it's covered to a depth of ~3 inches. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a healthy simmer. Simmer for ~30 minutes, until the dal is cooked and just barely beginning to break down. Add the garlic, ginger, onion, and chili, and simmer an additional 15 minutes.
After the dal has simmered, add the turmeric, cayenne, coriander, salt, sugar, lime juice, and mole (if using). Continue to simmer until the dal totally breaks down to form a smooth, soupy puree (it's pretty hard to overcook this — it will probably take another ~20 minutes to fully break down, but tacking an additional half hour on after that doesn't hurt). The dal will be fairly soupy, but if it's too thin for your liking, uncover for the last part of cooking until it reduces to a slightly thicker consistency. Taste to adjust seasonings, and add the chopped tomato.
When the dal is done to your liking, heat the oil over a high heat in a small saucepan with a lid. Add the mustard and fenugreek seeds, cover, and cook until the seeds pop. Dump the seeds and oil into the dal, and stir to combine. Remove from the heat, top with a sprinkling of fresh cilantro, and serve.