Tasting South India

8 Jan

When we first moved to London, we lived in a particularly bland southwestern suburb with not much to recommend it. But one thing it did have was a South Indian restaurant. We went there on the night we moved into our house. When we walked in the door a herbal, smoky smell instantly caught my nose’s attention. I would later discover that this unusual but delicious aroma came from curry leaves and mustard seeds sizzled together in hot oil, a classic flavour combination in the region’s cuisine.

We left the restaurant and the dullness of southwest London behind almost six months ago. But I managed to find the tastes I enjoyed in a dal in Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Easy, which was my favourite cookbook of 2011. Past dals I have made have been extremely earthy, some to the point of actually tasting like dirt. But the elemental taste of lentils in this particular dal is balanced with lots of vibrant spices and herbs. Bonus points: it’s vegan, and thus perfect for those of you who need to recover from holiday indulgences.

A note on the more unusual flavours: you can find brown mustard seeds in any Indian grocery, and in some supermarkets here in the UK. The curry leaves are trickier; I am lucky that my local Tesco stocks fresh curry leaves (have I mentioned that I love my neighborhood?), but I’ve not seen them anywhere else. Some Indian grocery stores carry dried curry leaves, but I’m not sure how they would fare in this recipe. Let me know if you try the recipe with the dried stuff.

South Indian Dal (via Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Easy)
Serves 4

200g red lentils
0.5 teaspoon ground turmeric
250g chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt
approximately 30g chopped fresh coriander
0.5 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons neutral oil
0.5 teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds
0.5 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
10-15 fresh curry leaves (or 6 fresh basil leaves, torn)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chunk of gingerroot the size of your thumb’s first joint, peeled and minced

Making the Thing

Put the lentils and 700ml of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil, but watch it to make sure it doesn’t boil over. Add the turmeric and stir.

Cover the pot partially, reduce the heat to very low (I turn my gas hob down as far as it goes without being off) and simmer gently for 40 minutes. The lentils will have almost completely dissolved into a creamy soup.

Add the tomatoes, salt, coriander, and cayenne. Bring the dal back up to a simmer, then cover and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Stir and turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan heat the oil over a medium-high flame. When it feels hot when you hold your hand six inches from the pan, put in the mustard and cumin seeds. When the seeds start to pop (which takes approx. 10-15 seconds), add the onion and the curry leaves. Sauté until the onion begins to brown, then add the garlic and ginger. Stir for a minute, then mix the pan’s contents in with the lentils.

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2 Responses to “Tasting South India”

  1. Curry Point Restaurant January 9, 2012 at 12:34 PM #

    hey,
    you may feel glad to hear that once i make this South Indian Dal..
    and it was superb..
    i really like your blog and i want to personally say thanks to the owner of this blog..
    i m waiting for your next update..

  2. metatations January 14, 2012 at 2:12 AM #

    I absolutely love dosa – any chance you’ve got a great recipe up your sleeve? -Erica!

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