Thursday, July 3, 2008

Subcontinent Inspiration

I just love Indian food and especially love the cuisine from South India. I don't make Indian food that often but I am often inspired by the wonderful spices and flavors of the Indian subcontinent to flavor every day food. I toss curry powder into my tuna salad. I add asafoetida to my chili. I mix hot spicy Indian lime pickle to my mashed potatoes. The flavors just make your mouth sing. Anyway, I was rummaging through my cupboards looking for something to make for dinner with dal on my mind and I found my container of yellow split peas that I picked up at our local Indian market. I guess I am all out of dal. But these were just the thing I needed to create a vegetarian dish that was fulfilling and tasty. Also on the major ingredient list was cabbage and some coarse bulgar wheat. Yes, I know - not really traditional Indian, but the flavors and textures were good. I didn't measure anything exactly but I'll try to describe how I made this dish and what went into it.

I started by heating a large heavy bottomed pot and added some olive oil. Ghee would have been better but olive oil is healthier. The first thing to do was to fry a bit of urid dal and mustard seeds in the hot oil. The mustard seeds pop like popcorn, so you need to put a lid on it. Careful not to let it burn. The urid dal gives small little crunchy bites in the dish. I would guess I added about a tbsp of urid dal and not quite a tsp of mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard popped I added a chopped onion along with lots of chopped garlic and ginger. This was cooked for a few minutes until the onions began to soften. I then added about 1.5 cups or so (a couple handfuls?) of yellow split peas to the pot along with a spice mixture. Again, I didn't measure but I'll tell you what I added. I had ground up some whole spices in the coffee grinder that I keep just for spices. Into that went a couple of cinnamon sticks, about 4 pods of cardamon, a couple tsp of corriander seeds, a couple tsp of cumin seeds, a tsp of black peppercorns. I also added some Madras curry powder to the pot along with a few dashes of asafoetida powder, some tumeric and some red chili powder. Oh, I also season with salt along the way. Basically add as much of any ingredient as you like to taste. In a dish that cooks for a long time it is important to add a lot of spice to flavor everything well.

After cooking for just a minute the spices started emitting a wonderful aroma. I added about 6 cups of water and a few dashes of rice vinegar. Lemon juice would have been nice but I didn't have any on hand. The split peas were cooked for about 20-30 minutes until they started to soften. I added a cup of coarse bulgar wheat to the pot along with a whole head of cabbage that had been chopped up. This was covered and cooked for another 20 minutes or so, stirring every now and then, until the cabbage was all wilted down and the split peas had a nice cooked but not mushy texture. The bulgar absorbed nearly all of the liquid so this was not a soupy dish.

Along with the meal I served some poppadom - an Indian style thin crispy cracker like bread. You can by them in dried uncooked rounds in your local Indian grocery. I used to fire them quickly on the grill or even on my stove top but on the advice of a good Indian friend, these can be done to perfection in the microwave. Just nuke them for about 1 minute and they crisp up nicely.

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