New Year’s Day Dal


It’s almost over. 2013 has been good to me, with exciting developments and lots of change, but with all the fluster and the bluster, with all the new types of stress and the unrelenting, unfamiliar feeling (for me) of not quite being able to maintain the grip on things in the way that I would like to, I know that I’ll be just fine when 2013 is a speck in the rearview mirror. Maybe it always feels this way, with the rush that November and December always are. And maybe the fluster and bluster is just a sign of activity. Whatever. Next.

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My grandmother had the tradition every New Year’s Eve of setting outside a coffee mug that contains a quarter, nickel, dime, and penny. The coins should be shiny, and the mug should go out where it’ll get lots of air circulation. This was thought to promise prosperity, and I’ve never missed a year, never deviated from it or questioned it. The only thing is that living in New York, my access to the outdoors is a fire escape, so I’ve never been sure if that’s enough air circulation or not. Maybe you’ll want to give this a try.

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Additionally, and more on point, there are lots of foods that are supposed to auspiciously ring in the new year—back-eyed peas, soba noodles, beans, greens, grapes, other round fruits, etc. I thought this would be a good time to squeeze in one last post for 2013, since I’ve otherwise done such a poor job maintaining this blog, and share an easy recipe for dal. Dal is prepared in countless ways throughout India and its neighboring countries. It simply means “split beans or peas.” You may have your own recipe, or if you google it you’ll find that there are many approaches, but the jist is this: stewy, creamy, aromatic pulses. For quickest cooking I usually use red or yellow lentils, but you could go with any kind of split peas, mung beans, or other split bean or pea. Just adjust the cooking time as needed. My yellow lentils only take about 10 minutes to cook, but when I’ve made this with mung beans, it’s taken up wards of 40.

Dal final 600w

Then there’s a tarka, which is hot oil that’s been flash-seasoned with whole spices—cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, star anise, peppercorns, cloves, cardamon pods, for example—into which an onion is added, and then this is drizzled over the beans just before serving. Tarka Dal is what you’d call this, and it ends up being a healthy, but hearty, rich, and satisfying dish that is great on New Year’s Day, as well as a welcome recipe all year long. Serve it with rice, flat breads, some steamed or sautéed greens, or on its own. Change the spices up if you like, garnish it with cilantro, take liberties.

Happy and healthy 2014 to you….

New Year’s Day Dal

Serves 3 or 4

For the dal:
1 teaspoon coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 dried chili
1-1/2 cups red or yellow lentils, rinsed and picked through
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the tarka
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon peanut, grapeseed, safflower, or other high-smoke-point oil
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 cinnamon stick, smashed
1 onion, cut into thin strips
Kosher salt
Lemon wedges for garnish
Plain yogurt or Anita’s Creamline Coconut Yogurt, which would be excellent here, for garnish

1. Prepare the dal: In a deep skillet or medium saucepan, warm 1 teaspoon oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic, bay leaf, and chili. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the beans and 4 cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil, stir in the turmeric, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pan, and let the beans simmer for about 10 minutes, until tender and beginning to break down. Stir in the salt, then use a potato masher or fork to achieve a somewhat creamy consistency. It will thicken considerably as it cools.

2. While the dal is simmering, prepare the tarka: Heat the oils over medium-high heat in a sauté pan. Add the cumin, fennel, chilies, and cinnamon stick and cook, swirling the pan, for about 30 or 45 seconds, until fragrant. Add the onions and cook them without disturbing too much, for 5 to 7 minutes, until they begin to blister at the edges but retain some crunch. Remove from the heat and pick out the cinnamon. Season with a big pinch of salt.

3. Divide the dal between serving plates or bowls, then top with the onions. Garnish with lemon wedges and yogurt, if desired, and serve immediately.


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