I know, it’s Wednesday. But I couldn’t wait another week to post this simple, satisfying, buttery and delicious recipe for tadka dal (a sort of spiced Indian lentil stew) from my friend and fellow Paris blogger, Croque-Camille.
Camille is an American pastry chef (with famous buns) who lives in Paris with her husband, Nick, and black-and-white cat, Snoopy. As you might imagine, her blog is very sweet, with reviews of Paris pâtisseries and recipes and tips to make them at home. In fact, Camille was my very first blog friend — the first time we met, we made xiaolongbao and we’ve since cemented our bond over ethnic food — tacos, pizza, mapo tofu — you know, all the stuff that’s hard to find in Paris.
In our constant quest for spice, Camille and I have both become devotees of a fantastic Indian cookbook, Miss Masala (about which I’ve waxed enthusiastic here and here). So I was delighted but not surprised when she sent me this fast, healthy recipe for tadka dal, adapted from this very book. “I make it at least once a month,” says Camille. “It is great any time of year, and I love that it can take just about any vegetable. I’ve made it with carrots, green beans, peppers, leeks, fennel, cauliflower, peas, potatoes, zucchini, salsify, turnips, spinach, onions, broccoli… It’s a wonderful trick for cleaning out the fridge of CSA leftovers on Tuesday night, since I get my new delivery on Wednesdays.
“My pantry is stuffed to the gills with rices, lentils, pastas, and grains, all of which can cook up on a moment’s notice to round out a meal or stretch out leftovers. I keep a steady supply of tomato products (diced, purée, and paste) for last-minute pasta sauces, and canned beans for adding protein to the largely vegetable-based diet we eat at home. Thanks to the CSA, we almost always have fresh vegetables and eggs on hand — topping a vegetable salad or soup with a poached egg makes it feel like more of a meal. And speaking of salads, I used to make vinaigrette à la minute, but now I try to make enough for a week’s worth of salads at once: chop a shallot and put it in a jar, add a spoonful of mustard and pour in vinegar to cover, twice that amount of oil, then close the jar and shake vigorously. Voilà! Who needs bottled salad dressing?”
Tadka Dal à la Croque-Camille
Note from Ann: Soupy, spicy and buttery, this is the ideal comfort food, especially when ladled over steaming basmati rice. “When tomatoes aren’t in season,” says Camille, “I use a couple tablespoons of tomato paste instead. I’ve never weighed the vegetables I put in. I also salt as I go — a pinch in the lentil cooking water, a pinch when I add the vegetables, maybe more at the end if it needs it. I may or may not make rice to go with it, but if I do, I’ll crack a couple of cardamom pods and throw them in the pot with the basmati to further perfume it.”
200g / 7 oz. red lentils
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
Coarse sea salt
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
450-500g / 1 lb. fresh or frozen vegetables, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces if necessary
1-2 Tbsp. ghee or butter
Pinch of asafoetida
2 small dried red chile peppers, crumbled (I use Sanam peppers from India or pili-pilis)
1/2 tsp. chile powder (Not the mix, but chile peppers, ground. I use an Indian one, but cayenne also works)
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1. Rinse and drain the lentils several times, until the water is mostly clear. Combine these in a medium saucepan with the turmeric and a good pinch of salt, cover with water by about an inch, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and skim the foam if any comes up. Cook, stirring occasionally to make sure the lentils aren’t sticking, for about 20 minutes. If the water level gets too low, add a little more.
2. When the lentils start falling apart, stir in the tomato paste and cook until it’s incorporated. Add the vegetables and another good pinch of salt and continue cooking until the vegetables are tender, about 10 more minutes. The texture of the dish at this point should be somewhere between thick soup and stew.
3. Measure the asafoetida, chile peppers, chile powder, and cumin in a small dish so you have them ready. Heat your very smallest pan (I actually use my metal 1-cup measure) over high heat with the ghee or butter (ghee is less likely to burn, so watch it carefully if you’re using butter). When it starts sizzling, add the spices and cook a few seconds until you can smell the toasted (not burnt) aromas. Pour this over the dal — it will sizzle — and stir it in.
4. Serve hot, over steamed basmati rice, garnished with plain yogurt, or all by itself.
Aren’t these lentils pretty? (All non-food photos from Camille Malmquist.)
P.S. If I haven’t yet convinced you to buy a copy of Miss Masala, check out her wonderful website for more terrific Indian recipes. (I myself own TWO copies of the book — one for DC, one for Paris. It’s that good.)