Sunday, September 16, 2007

Basic Breakfast Dhal

Adapted from: Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking

Dhal (which also may be spelled “dal” or “dahl”) is a term which applies to a wide variety of pulses, beans and lentils. They are a staple of Indian cookery, and we’ve discovered that they can make an incredibly savory and satiating breakfast. I like to serve this one with brown rice and an over-easy egg, with mixed vegetables on the side. Then you can take some along to work for lunch.

It might seem like a lot of time and effort to put into a breakfast. However, it’s very sustaining. I really feel like I’ve had a meal that’s going to get me through the morning after I’ve eaten this breakfast. As far as time goes, consider moving your time around so you can have a really good breakfast instead of a really late dinner. If you go to bed earlier you can get up sooner and make something good that will be an investment in your energy and well-being for the day ahead.

You can use this recipe for just about any of the dhals that can be found wherever Indian groceries are sold. The ones we like the best are whole mung dhal and chana dhal. Basmati rice or Indian quick breads like chapatis also go perfectly with dhals.


1 cup mung or chana dhal
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 onion
pinch of asafetida powder
1 tsp cumin seed
1/4 tsp red pepper
2 slices of fresh ginger (for chana dhal)

Soak the dhal overnight in water. I like to put a little homemade buttermilk in the soaking water, but you can skip this part (or use a little plain yogurt) if you’re not into making your own buttermilk. Depending on your water supply and the freshness of your beans, you might have success cooking mung or chana without soaking. However, a good soak is the easiest way to ensure that it cooks right. Otherwise, you could end up with a pot of dhal that never softens, no matter how long you cook it.

In the morning, rinse the dhal and put it in a 2 quart pot with enough water to cover it by about an inch. Cook it on high until it starts to boil and foam. Skim off the foam and turn the heat down to a simmer. Add the turmeric and salt (the ginger slices go in at this time if you’re cooking chana dhal). Cover the pot, stir occasionally, and cook until it’s done, about 45 to 60 minutes. If you want your dhal to be more like a soup, you can add a little water at the end, or if you want it to be more like mashed potatoes, you can take the lid off near the end and let the water steam away.

While the dhal is cooking, slice an onion into paper thin slices. In a skillet, heat some oil until it’s really hot. Add a pinch of asafetida, then the cumin seed, and then the onion. Keep the onion moving so it doesn’t burn -- you may need to reduce the heat somewhat. The goal here is to cook the onion until it is caramel brown and almost crisp. About a minute before you’re done cooking the onion-spice blend, add the red pepper to the skillet. If you add it too soon, you won’t be able to breathe while you’re cooking unless you’re wearing a gas mask.

Ideally, the onion is finished cooking at about the same time that the dhal is -- this takes some practice. Now put the onion and spices into the pot of dhal just as it’s finished cooking, stir it in, and let it rest for a few minutes with the lid on.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sourdough Starter

Getting a sourdough starter going in your kitchen using nothing but flour and water is the most challenging way to acquire one, but it is probably the most authentic. Why it’s important to be authentic is a whole other discussion, but good place to start is by reading about it in Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D. Sourdough bread has been around for over 3000 years, and a good argument can be made that it is better for you than modern yeast breads.

There isn’t any one recipe for sourdough starter that is going to work for everyone. Differences in the water that you drink, whether you live in a city or a rural setting, and in what part of the world you live in, will determine the sourdough starter that you will be able to make. You can use commercial yeast to get a starter going, you can buy a sourdough starters on the internet, you can get a culture from someone who has one going, or you can start one from scratch in your own home.

The sourdough starter that we have now we made from scratch using flour, water, and vinegar. The first starter we made was right out of Nourishing Traditions, and it worked. The next time we tried to make a starter using the same formula we ended up with a smelly mess. Fast forward a couple of years, and I find myself wanting to try my hand at sourdough again, so I poked around on the internet to see what other people are doing. The made from scratch recipes all seem to be about the same -- flour, water, cover with cloth; add a little flour and water each day -- takes about a week. Unfortunately, in less than 24 hours I had another smelly mess on my hands. Not all bacteria are good for starters, and sometimes one can get going that isn’t going to work. The water where I live is pretty hard, so I needed to add a little vinegar to it to change the pH, which seems to have done the trick.

So here is how I got my sourdough starter going:
In a large glass bowl mix:
2 cups rye flour
2 cups water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
The next day add:
1 cup rye flour
1 cup water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
On the third day add:
1 cup rye flour
1 cup water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

After the third day, I didn’t add any more to the mix, but I did keep my eye on it. It didn’t seem to do anything for a couple of days after that, but once it started to bubble it was clear that it was going to work.