29 June 2007

Dhokkar dalna (Fried Lentil Cake Curry)

Tonight I again braved the world of Indian Cookery. Most Americans in my part of the country are put off by the turmeric-dependency of most "Indian" curry recipes. Growing up my image of curry was of lumps of greyish chicken drowning in a bright yellow, pasty sauce that smelled vaguely of French's Mustard.

This was die in large part to the exuberant use of commercial curry powder. Frankly, while commercial 'curry powder' may make lovely chicken salad (in tiny doses) it's really nasty for main dishes.

We've been attempting to eat more beans, and I'm assiduously avoiding simply serving them, bean-style every third day. The prior foray into Indian-inspired cooking, the chickpea-zuchinni blossom fritters, were a success, so I thought I'd try again.

This particular recipe was adapted from a traditional Indian curry, Dhokkar dalna. I altered the spices slightly to suit the Carnivore's admittedly less adventurous palate -- omitting some of the turmeric, substituting a milder paprika for the hot chilli powder called for, and reducing the amount of spices.

One thing that completely surprised me about this dish was the beautiful presentation it made on the plate. The curry in the original cookbook looked exactly like the nightmare curries of my late childhood, but this dish emerged closer in texture and colour to a stew.

This was very helpful, of course, in getting the Carnivore to eat it.

A nice side note: I've found that the practice of frying bean paste, letting it cool, and then shaping and refrying it creates a fabulous texture and appearance, similar to stew meat, and I plan to do some experimenting with more American seasonings. Another observation: the lentil paste, when fried in small pieces, resembled ground beef exceptionally well. We'll be playing with that concept later this week.

Here's the recipe. It's not a quick-cook meal, so plan to make it when you have plenty of time to devote to the kitchen. However, the taste is worth making it at least once.

Trust me, this is curry for those who hate curry:

Dhakkar dalna
(Fried Lentil-Cake Curry)

1 pound lentils, soaked overnight in 7 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp grated gingerroot (or boughten ginger paste)
6 tbsp coconut
1/4 c diced green peppers
1 1/2 c water

1 1/2 c oil, divided

5 potatoes cut into dice (about 1/2 inch dice)
2 tsp cumin
2 bay leaves
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
4 tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp butter
1 tsp Garam Masala (make sure you're buying a GF version!)

Brown short-grained rice)


Drain the extra water out of the soaked lentils and place them into a blender. Add the salt, turmeric, gingerroot, coconut, peppers, and water, and blend until absolutely smooth.

Meanwhile heat 3/4 of a cup of the oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, pour the lentil mixture into the oil and fry, stirring, until the mixture thickens considerably and becomes somewhat cohesive.

Pour the mixture and oil into a baking sheet, smooth to an even thickness, and let cool completely.

When you are ready to eat:
Begin cooking your rice, as per package instructions.

Meanwhile heat the rest of the oil over medium-high heat in a very heavy skillet or saucepan.

Cut the lentil-paste cake into one inch squares and fry in the oil in a single layer (you'll need to do several batches), turning carefully until all sides are deeply browned. Set aside.

Place the potatoes in the same oil and fry until light golden brown and set aside.

Working quickly, in the same oil, sprinkle the bay leaves, cumin, paprika, and coriander. Add the salt and tomatoes and cook for two minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil.

Place the potatoes back into the spice mixture and cook for 5-10 minutes or until tender, then very gently add back in the fried lentil-cake cubes and heat through.

At the last minute add the butter and stir very gently. Sprinkle Garam Masala over the dish.

Serve with the rice.

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