Red Gram with Spinach

Sorry, but this post is just a teaser. I think I first read about Cooking at Home with Pedatha on Tigers & Strawberries, or maybe it was Mahanandi, but in either case I’ve had it on my wish list forever. I recently decided I was going to start making more Indian food – whether Mark likes it or not! – and immediately ordered this very nice cookbook with so many rave reviews. I received it yesterday and as Mark is out of town again, tonight was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

I made Red Gram with Spinach, or Palakooora Pappu. It was REALLY good!

The book is really nice – almost too nice. As in, it’s so nice I’m afraid to get it dirty and all my favorite cookbooks are filthy. It’s very pretty to look at, has full-colour photos of every dish, contains a pictorial glossary of just about every ingredient so you can find it in your Indian grocery store, and makes the dishes seem a lot simpler to pull together than it sometimes seems Indian recipes are. In fact, this meal took me less than half an hour to make and 15 minutes of that was pressure cooking the dhal (gram), which required no supervision.

Want to see it closer up?

I can’t wait to make more recipes from this book, and maybe I’ll adapt a few to put up here. All I need to do is convince Mark he’s going to like these recipes as much as I do…

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Tomato Dal, and quick papad snack

After nearly 8 years of living together, I am still excited to see Mark when I get home from work and I miss him when he’s not here for dinner. Nonetheless, on the infrequent occasions that we don’t eat together (or at least eat the same meal), I am happy to be able to make Indian food, of which he’s not that fond. Upon hearing he’d be out with a friend tonight, I leapt at the chance to put some of the Indian supplies I bought recently to use, but I was starving when I got home. I could barely think straight, so instead of improvising or coming up with something on my own, I once again turned to Mahanandi and made a soup straight from Indira’s site: Tomato Dal.

Adding to my excitement was the fact that I stopped by Super H on my way home from work and happened to pick up some fresh curry leaves, not knowing when I’d be able to use them. (In fact, because Super H is usually the only place I can buy them and because they sell them in quantities much larger than I can ever use at one time and because I’m often annoyed that I don’t have any curry leaves, I’m thinking about trying to dry them.) I was able to use a few of them tonight!

This is another recipe that is going to tempt those of you who have been telling me you’re thinking of overcoming your worries about pressure cookers…

Tomato Dal
From Indira at Mahanandi

1/2 cup toor dal (yellow pigeon peas)
1 1/2 cups water
1 large tomato, chunked
1 onion, chunked
1 cayenne pepper (Indira calls for 6-8 green chilis; I used what I had on hand)
1/4 tsp turmeric
marble-sized piece of tamarind
1 tsp salt
a few curry leaves (optional; I know they can be hard to find and when I can’t, I just skip them)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds

Measure the toor dal and chunk the tomato and onion.

Place the above as well as the water, chili, turmeric, and tamarind in the pressure cooker.

Cover and heat over high until it comes up to pressure, then reduce heat to low or medium low and cook until the dal is falling apart. Now, Indira says this will take 10 to 15 minutes, but I think she must have soaked her dal first (I’ve seen her advise elsewhere doing so for about an hour) because mine was still hard after 14 or 15 minutes. One of the few drawbacks of using a pressure cooker is you have no idea how done something is without releasing the pressure (which takes time, though using the “quick” release method, not much), and if it’s not done, you have to go through the process of bringing it back up to pressure to continue cooking. The good news is it’s hard to overcook dal, so I upon finding it not done, I just brought it up to pressure and cooked for another 15 minutes. When the dal is so soft it’s falling apart, add the salt and mash the dal up with the back of a large wooden spoon or a wide spatula.

Bring a bit of oil up to temperature in a small skillet or pan and then add the curry leaves, cumin, and mustard seeds, frying until the mustard seeds pop. (You can do this step while the dal is cooking; it can cool in the pan before using.) When the dal is ready, stir contents of the skillet or pan into the dal.

Serve with rice. (You can’t see it but there’s a serving of rice under the dal; it got mixed together before being eaten.)

As I mentioned, I was famished when I got home, and although I thought the dal would take me 15, not 30, minutes, that still wasn’t fast enough for me to get food into my system. So as soon as the dal was in the pressure cooker, I made myself a snack of papads. Papads are very thin, crispy wafers made from lentil (or other) flour and spices. They are often served as appetizers in Indian restaurants. I like them as a snack because they are quick, tasty, and healthier than chips (my favorite kind says there are 136 calories and 0.66 grams of fat per 100 grams, which, as they’re about 11 grams each, is about 50 to 70 grams more than I usually eat at a time). This is my favorite brand, although the reason it’s my favorite has nothing to do with the taste and everything to do with the label because I find it hilarious:

Here is an uncooked papad. My favorite flavor is asafoetida, although if you aren’t familiar with the smell of asafoetida, I have to warn you you might not like it. They are also spicy from black pepper. You can get plain and other flavors as well.

Another great thing about papads is you can microwave them! It’s best to microwave them individually; they don’t like being crowded. It takes about 45 seconds per papad. This one is nearly, but not quite, done.

You can also cook them over an open flame. I did this from time to time when I had a gas stove, using tongs, turning it constantly. You should also be able to cook them on an electric stove by cooking them in a dry skillet (flip them a couple of times). However, the microwave is really the easiest and fastest.

Here are my cooked padads, ready for snacking:

I served them (to myself) with mango chutney and lime pickle.

In completely unrelated news, here’s Renae’s Random Fact of the Day: Quarks – the particles that are components of hadrons such as protons and neutrons – were named after this passage in Finnegan’s Wake:

Three quarks for Muster Mark! Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark. And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

I’m a big fan of Ulysses, and in fact one of my primary domain names comes from a word that’s repeated in it, but I’ve never even attempted Finnegan’s Wake. I’m reading Lisa Randall’s Warped Passages right now – I periodically punctuate my relentless reading of novels with books on string theory – and about this fun quark fact, Randall says, “This, so far as I can deduce, is pretty much unrelated to the physics of quarks except for two things: there were three of them, and they were difficult to understand.” Lisa Randall is funny! Also, I may start calling Mark Muster Mark. Maybe he’ll like that better than Smark.

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