Diwali Dal!

Happy Diwali and New Year to those who are celebrating!
diwali tealights

This year, I had planned two days worth of yummy Indian meals for the habibi and I. This is a big deal for me because, although I absolutely love Indian food, I don’t make it often enough. The truth is, no matter how long I spend, or what I do, it just never tastes like my Dad or Mom’s food. Yup! Dad cooks too. And he’s a total badass in the kitchen so it’s pretty hard to create a satisfying Indian meal without feeling like it just doesn’t taste like home. How many of you out there share the same issue?

When it comes to Thai, Mexican, Italian, Chinese and North American food, I feel pretty confident (perhaps too confident). Probably because I never grew up in a Thai, Mexican, Italian Chinese or traditional North American household. But Indian food (and I completely recognize that “Indian” food is sort of like saying “European” food- it’s a bit nonsensical because it’s so wide-ranging) is still tough for me.

chana dal spinach

Anyway, I digress. The two days of Indian fare didn’t actually happen because of some unexpected health issues. But I was still determined to make something to mark the holiday, so I scrambled to think of an abridged and simple menu. In the end we had gorgeous spicy jeera aloo, tofu makhani and spinach chana dal.

chana dal

Chana dal is hands down my favourite type of dal, typically served in Punjabi cuisine. It’s hearty and doesn’t fall apart easily when cooked, unlike its cousins masoor dal or yellow mung dal. Chana dal is made from splitting small brown chick peas, but takes on its own unique set of flavours. You don’t necessarily find this dal on a restaurant menu, so it’s quite special when you’re able to find it, or better yet, prepare it at home!

chana dal spinach indian food saladforbreakfast

Chana dal with spinach

What I’m listening to:

Raag Des, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma

Ingredients:

1 cup chana dal rinsed & soaked overnight
4 cups water
2 tomatoes, chopped
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 green chilies split in the middle
1 T oil, ghee or butter of choice
1 t cumin seeds
1 red onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 T grated finely ginger
2 handfuls baby spinach
1 T coriander powder
1 t garam masala
Salt to taste
¼ cup fresh coriander

What I do:

The two main stages to making this dal, and most North Indian dals are (1) cooking the dal and (2) “tempering” the seasoning on the side and adding it once the dal is cooked.

So first, drain your dal after it’s been soaking and add it to a pressure cooker along with the water, tomatoes, turmeric, salt and green chilies. All pressure cookers are not created equal, but with mine I close the pressure cooker lid and turn the heat to high. Once the cooker whistles 3 times, I turn it off and leave it to the side to cool down.

In a fry pan, heat oil on medium heat. When it becomes hot add cumin and allow it to fry for one minute. Add onions next, and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally so that they don’t burn. Add ginger and garlic and baby spinach and stir for 1 minute. At this point, if your pan looks a bit dry you can add another tsp of oil. Then, add coriander powder and stir for 20 seconds.

Add half of the tempering mixture to the dal along with garam masala, and heat over medium heat. Add the remaining tempering ingredients as well as coriander right before you serve.

Enjoy!

My Grandmother’s Lemongrass Chai

Lemongrass Chai
Lemongrass Chai

My name is Shilpa and I am a chai snob. I’m not sure exactly when and how this happened but I profess that it’s true. This may be the result of growing up in an Indian household: the sound of a mortar and pestle breaking apart whole spices, the smell of freshly grated ginger, the mindful addition of tea to bubbling water, the careful calculation of the water to milk ratio. Ah. That may be it.

I drank chai before I drank cow’s milk*, and I’m willing to bet even before I ate solids.

I come from a strong lineage of what I like to call avid chai architects: those who created their own version of this soul-satisfying tea, but within the confines of “traditional” [Indian] chai ingredients. Namely, milk, water, loose leaf black tea, a decent dose of sweetener, as well as some hint of spice (ginger, fennel, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves). One’s chai is usually influenced by the region of India that one comes from. My ancestral chai architects passed their magic down to my parents, who, lucky for my palate, hail from two very different regions of India. My Mom’s chai has spicy hints of ginger while my Dad’s chai is a fun melange of fennel, cardamom and clove: I would gladly welcome either version in my mug.

For many years my taste buds yearned for a type of chai that I just couldn’t put my finger on. What was that combination that reminded me of my childhood, which comforted me to the bone? One day while visiting my parents, I detected a familiar scent in the air. My Mom poured me a cup of the concoction and the first sip confirmed what my nose was telling me. “Is there lemongrass in here,” I inquired? “Yes,” replied my Mom. “Gosh I feel like I’m in ba’s house when I drink this,” I expressed, and my Mom excitedly said “Ba always made chai with lemongrass!”

This was it- the flavours my taste buds had been missing for years!

My lovely grandmother, or ba as I used to call her, always made this chai. And when I drink it, I can imagine myself sitting in Ahmedabad, India, where she would spend part of the year. Another sip takes me back to her kitchen in Toronto, drinking hot tea together out of saucers. My ba is my favourite chai architect, and this version of chai is an homage to her.

Lemograss chai, or leelee chai, is a staple in the Indian state of Gujarat. You can find chai stalls lining up the streets, where they serve this steamy delight in tiny shot glass portions.

A tea vendor on my recent trip to India
A tea vendor on my recent trip to India

Below, you’ll find my twist, which is just perfect for me. On a chilly day like the one’s we’ve been having lately in Toronto, or on a day when the snow falls in full gusto, like in my hometown of Buffalo, NY, this chai is warm, soothing and damn delightful.

*Of course, the chai I drank as an infant had cow’s milk in it, though.

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The perfect cup of lemongrass chai (leelee chai)

Notes

  1. This makes one generous North American serving of chai.
  2. As with all recipes, it’s vital to use the freshest ginger and lemongrass you can find, as older ginger completely alters the flavour of this chai.
  3. This makes a spicy warm cup of tea. For less spice, add less ginger.
  4. I usually drink this with honey, but it’s great with jaggery, brown sugar, coconut sugar, etc.

What I’m listening to

John Coltrane- In a sentimental mood (on repeat)

Ingredients

1 1/3 cup water

1 T + 1 t grated ginger

1 heaped T fresh sliced lemongrass

1 1/4 t loose leaf black tea (Assam, Darjeeling, or other)

1/2 cup soymilk ( or milk of your Preference)

Dash of cinnamon

1 1/2 t sweetener of choice

What I do

Add your water to a small saucepan and heat on high. As the water heats grate your ginger directly into water and add your lemongrass. When the water begins to boil, add tea leaves, and after 15 seconds add milk. Before the tea comes to a second boil add a dash of cinnamon. Once the tea come to a full second boil, take off the heat, strain into your tea cup, stir in sweetener, and enjoy!

From the top left: tea, cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass
From the top left: tea, cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass
Cutting lemongrass into the near boiling water.
Cutting lemongrass into the near boiling water.
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