It's been a while since I posted an Indian recipe, but it's something I come back to quite frequently, as I did tonight. Here's what I love about Indian food:
- Complex spices and flavors ... and lots of onion
- Fresh and inexpensive ingredients, especially if you make it vegetarian, which I usually do
- Contrasts - mild rice, spicy curry, cool raita
However, today I took it easy somewhat. I put together the dal early in the afternoon, just heating it and adding the final seasoning mix right before dinner. The veggie curry with a pre-blended biryani spice mix was an easy one that I made up out of my head (so ok, it is probably inauthentic). We had plain white rice from the rice cooker. So I got brave and tried making naan for the first time. Here's how it all went.
First I made the dal, called this in my "A Little Taste of India" recipe book:
Parippu (a red lentil dal)
(edited with my substitutions and notes)
1 c. red lentils (masoor dal)
1 shallot, diced [recipe called for onion here but I was out of onions at this stage ... had to run out later in the afternoon and grab some]
1 large, ripe tomato, peeled and diced
1 c. coconut milk (save the rest from your can)
[recipe calls for two green chilies, chopped; I omitted them in hopes of winning over my children]
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
2 c. water
1 tbsp. olive oil [recipe calls for 2 tbsp. oil]
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds [recipe calls for black mustard seeds but I only had yellow so I used them]
1 tsp. ground cumin [recipe calls for whole cumin seeds, which are not in my pantry]
1 onion, halved and then sliced lengthwise
10 curry leaves [I omitted; if you think I am going on a search for curry leaves in a small town in central California with four kids in tow you are crazier than I am]
Combine all items in first group of ingredients in a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saucepan and stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook about 25 minutes or until lentils are cooked to a soft mush. They will lose their shape. If needed, you may add another 1/2 c. of water.
You may remove from heat and hold at this point until just before serving.
Before serving, place lentils on low heat. Place oil in skillet or small saucepan over medium heat and heat until it sizzles when a few drops of water are added. Add mustard seeds [and cumin seeds if you have whole ones] and cover until seeds pop. You might want to shake the pan as if you were making popcorn on the stove, to avoid the seeds burning. Add onion, curry leaves if you have them, and cumin if you are using ground cumin at this point. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are well caramelized (golden brown). Add entire mixture, scraping out pan, to simmering lentils. Season with salt to taste and cook 5 more minutes.
After you set your lentils aside in the early afternoon, start the ...
[adapted for electric mixer by me]
4 c. all-purpose flour plus up to 1 c. more for adjusting dough
1 1/4 c. milk
2 tsp. dry yeast
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp. oil or ghee
3/4 c. plain yogurt (Mountain High full-fat plain is my favorite for pretty much everything)
Put the flour in your mixer bowl.
In a medium-sized, microwave-safe liquid measure, warm milk on high heat 1 minute. It should feel tepid, not hot, to the touch. Stir in a teaspoon of extra flour and your yeast. Set aside to grow. Wait a few minutes. If it smells yeasty you're in good shape.
In a small bowl, mix the egg, oil, and yogurt. Pour it into the flour along with the milk. Mix with dough hook on low until incorporated. Add more flour as needed until dough is sticky but mostly leaves sides of bowl. Knead using dough hook 5 minutes on medium speed. Remove hook. Cover with a wet tea towel or with plastic wrap coated in cooking spray. Allow to rise until double in size.
**Note that this rise will take longer than most bread recipes - maybe 3 hours or so! I think it is because of the active cultures in the yogurt competing with the yeast.
When ready to bake (start about an hour before dinner), heat oven to 400 degrees F. Place a 9x13" pan half full of water on the lower shelf of your oven. Place a stoneware baking sheet, or two if you can fit them, on the top shelf to heat before you place dough on it. A metal cookie sheet would work also if you don't have stoneware, but I used stoneware to try to mimic the effect of the tandoor (clay oven) where naan is authentically baked. If you use metal you will certainly want to oil the sheet. For the seasoned stoneware it was not necessary.
Punch or stir down dough. Remove from bowl and cut into 10 pieces of approximately equal size. Shape two at a time into flat circles, then pull one side to make a teardrop shape. I used my hands, but when I do it again I think I may use a rolling pin to make them thinner and more even.
Place two pieces at a time onto your heated baking sheet. Bake 7 minutes on one side, then turn them over on the baking sheet and bake them for 5 minutes on the other. Repeat shaping and baking for all 10 pieces. As you remove each batch of two from the oven, place them on a plate and cover with a cloth (I used two towels to hold in heat) to keep them warm and soft.
My book says they won't cook properly if you try to use the bottom rack of your oven. I decided not to test that.
While you are baking naan you can put these two recipes together:
Carrot and anise raita
3/4 c. plain yogurt
1 small carrot, grated
1/2 tsp. anise seeds, crushed in your hand
Stir together and refrigerate to allow flavors to combine.
(I am just calling this "biryani" because that's the name of the spice blend I used, pictured below. The biryani recipe in my Indian cookbook is for lamb and involves sealing a pot with dough and all kinds of stuff. It looks amazing, and I am probably never going to cook it.)
1 onion, diced
1 tsp. oil or ghee
1 tbsp. biryani masala spice mix (see photo above)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 head cauliflower, diced
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 package fresh spinach, rough-chopped
Leftover coconut milk from previous recipe (about 1/3 cup)
Saute onion in oil or ghee until translucent. Add spice mix and stir until fragrant. Add tomatoes, cauliflower and potatoes. Cook until everything is tender. Add spinach and coconut milk and simmer until spinach is softened. Season with salt to taste. Fish out any large chunks from the spice mix you can find before you serve it.