This is the moment in the veggie madness blog where the “madness” part comes in. Dal Doughnuts? What does that even mean? Why on earth are you trying to ruin doughnuts, Lukas? What is your problem? I’ll state first that this was a challenge. A year ago, my friend Meghan wrapped up a “season” of monthly Top Chef nights that she hosted at her apartment on Ludlow street. This was called Top Chef: Ludlow. The challenges ranged from “The South” to “Red and Green” (for Christmas) to food inspired by Oscar nominated films. The first time I participated I expected a regimented potluck, but boy, that was really not the case. There was a panel of judges, and all of us chefs pandered obnoxiously to them, and the judges, it must be said, quickly mastered Padma and Tom’s game face, that blithe, sideways glance of a God considering his or her supplicant’s offering. It became clear early on: No one was there to make friends. Winning a round was uniquely satisfying.
Meghan has since moved from Ludlow Street, and it’s been difficult to start up again because that was the perfect location. She and her roommates shared a cavernous loft space that could easily accommodate 10 or 12 chefs. But this past weekend, we reunited for something more informal—no judges, everything would be served communally—and the theme was “April Fools.” So there you have it. Dal Doughnuts. You think you’re biting into a nice, tender, chocolate-frosted doughnut, but nope! Gotcha! If you really think about it, it’s a vicious thing to do to a person, to mess with his doughnut. Other entrees included Meghan’s Pasta alla Tequilia (which was really good!), and Frank’s thin cauliflower soup that was served with toasted, spiced cheerios (this did actually resemble cereal, and it was also delicious).
I can’t remember what exactly made me think of doughnuts. I’d been at the Brooklyn Flea Market earlier in the day, where a new doughnut shop called Dough had set up a stand and was selling flavors like Hibiscious and Nutella. Then I’ve been gradually becoming aware that “doughnuts are the new cupcakes”; I’ve heard such claims in conversations with my friends, and I may have read an article on the subject, too. Originally I expected to use dal to make something similar to medu vada, an Indian fritter-like, doughnut-esque food, but I knew it would be difficult to get the shape right, and there was the threat of the batter dissolving in the oil. So I used this recipe for cake doughnuts as a starting point, and worked in the dal and a different spice profile. (Dal, if you’re unfamiliar with it, simply means “split beans” and refers to both the category of beans as well as the prepared dish of spiced, porridge-like beans that’s a staple of many cuisines in India and many of its neighboring countries. Here’s a recipe for dal that I enjoy a lot.)
In hindsight, these doughnuts would have tasted much better if they were dusted with powdered sugar, but it seemed very important to me that they be “frosted.” I decided to utilize the jar of tamarind concentrate that had been gathering dust in my cupboard. I further tarted it up with pomogranate molasses, which also gave it some structure, then I gave it a tinge of saltiness with some soy sauce, and a touch of brown sugar to offset the sour. I cooked it for a few minutes until it was reduced and slightly thickened. The desired effect, that the glaze resemble chocolate frosting, was achieved. As far as my taste buds go, these doughnuts have no precedent, but they were pretty good! My boyfriend Matt gave me the idea to “go supreme” with the doughnuts—to use them as a vessel for a veggie burgers. I haven’t done that yet, but maybe for our next challenge, which I hope will be food inspired by Paula Deen, I will.
1/2 cup split, dried mung beans (moong dal)
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons garam marsala
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
Oil for frying
1 recipe Tamarind Glaze (recipe below), or powdered sugar for dusting
Flaky sea salt or fleur de sel, for garnish
1. Rinse and pick through the beans, then cover with at 2 cups water. Let stand for at least 4 hours or overnight. Drain thoroughly. Pulse in a food processor until uniformly ground.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, garam marsala, baking soda, salt, and cayenne in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolk, milk, sugar, and ground beans. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, add the wet ingredients to the dry, folding until just combined, then stir in the melted butter.
3. Meanwhile, heat at least 3 inches of oil in a stockpot, deep skillet, or (easiest option) a Fry Daddy to a temperature around 375°. It’s easiest to monitor the temperature with a thermometer that will clasp to the edge of the pot. (You won’t need to monitor the temperature if using a Fry Daddy.)
4. Transfer the dough to a working surface that’s been liberally dusted with flour. Knead a few times (it will be sticky), just until the dough is slightly smooth. It will help to use a dough scraper to get underneath the dough. Flatten it out to a thickness of 1/2 inch, using floured hands or a floured rolling pin, aiming to handle the dough as little as possible. Using a doughnut cutter, or two round cutters—one large, one small—cut out doughnuts. Dip the cutter(s) in flour before each making every cut. Carefully transfer the cut doughnuts (and holes) to a floured baking sheet or platter. You can re-roll the remaining dough if you’d like, or cut it up to make rustic, fried bits of dough.
5. When the oil is hot (you can test by cooking a scrap of dough: it should sizzle immediately and float to the surface), carefully lower the doughnuts, 3 or 4 at a time depending on the size of your cooking vessel, into the oil using a slotted spoon or spider skimmer. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, carefully flipping once, until golden brown all over. Carefully remove from the oil and transfer to a cooling rack that’s been placed over a baking sheet to drain and cool. Continue cooking the remaining doughnuts and dough in the same manner.
6. When cool, dip the top of each doughnut into the tamarind glaze, then return to the baking sheet. Sprinkle each one with just a few specks of salt. Alternatively, put 1/2 cup powdered sugar in a paper bag and shake a few doughnuts at a time in it, until coated. These doughnuts are best eaten fresh, within an hour or two after being cooked.
1/4 cup tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Whisk together all ingredients in a small saucepan. Put over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until reduced by half. This will take about 5 minutes, the sauce will bubble up considerably. To make sure that it’s thick enough, place a drop of the sauce on a plate or piece of parchment paper to see if it will hold its shape, rather than spread.