Sunday, February 15, 2015

Chana Dal Lentil Soup

I woke this morning and checked the old temperature gauge (aka my phone) to discover it was a balmy -6° Fahrenheit, not the windchill, the actual temperature (the windchill was a lovely -20°). In these kinds of conditions I crave something warm and hearty, simple yet filling and flavorful. This recipe was the first time I've tried chana dal. I spent some time researching exactly what chana dal is, and to be honest I'm still a little confused as to whether it is split lentils or split chickpeas or something else. Whatever the case, it is some kind of dried pulse or legume. If anyone has a good explanation of what dal is please let me know, I'd love a good definition. 

Regardless of what exactly dal is, this recipe is simple and filling. Dal cooked with tomatoes, onions and various spices. and finished with cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. It doesn't get much easier than this, and it is so healthy. If you are looking for something hearty and warming this winter that's a little different than the norm, give this recipe a try. A thick slice of hearty bread on the side to mop up all the extra juice is the only other thing you need to finish off this delicious meal. 

All this recipe really requires of you is a little time. Chop a few vegetables, throw them into a pan with the lentils and a few spices and let it all cook away for an hour or two. When it's finished cooking you just need to add a few garnishes for freshness and a little more flavor. Then plate up and dig in. There is also so much room for innovation and creativity in this dish. Add some extra veggies, some different spices, another herb, whatever you like. In the end, I don't think you will be disappointed. 

Chana Dal Lentil Soup
From The Spice Spoon
  • 2 tbsp corn or any other neutral oil
  • ½ small onion sliced thinly
  • 3 small tomatoes, blanched, skins removed and diced
  • 1 tsp tomato paste (optional)
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder (haldi)
  • 1 tsp salt (or more, to taste)
  • ½ tsp red chilli pepper (to taste-or can be omitted altogether if you don’t like spicy soups)
  • 1½ litre of boiling water (approximately 6 cups)
  • 400g chana lentils (approximately 2 cups)
  • 2 1-cm thick slices (a little less than ½-in.) of peeled ginger
  • fresh cilantro (or your favourite herb) for garnishing
  • paprika or sumac for garnishing (optional)
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • lemon wedges
Note: If you soak the lentils in cold water overnight or for an hour prior to cooking, you can reduce the cooking time from 1½ to 1 hour.

Coat bottom of a large pot with oil and place on medium-low heat. Add sliced onions and cook for 30 minutes; checking every 10 minutes. Cook till onions wilt and turn golden.

Add chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, turmeric, salt and chilli pepper and turn flame to medium-high. Sauté for 2-3 minutes till tomatoes look jammy (i.e., their liquid has reduced).

Add boiling water, lentils and ginger. Reduce heat to low. Stir and cover pot with lid.

Simmer until lentils are tender- test a grain between your thumb and forefinger- about 1½ hour.
Remove and discard the ginger slices.

The proceeding steps are optional; they are for those who want a thicker, soup-like consistency. If you don’t want a soup, but a traditional Pakistani-style Chana Dal, once the lentils are tender, loosen them with a little bit of water till the desired consistency is achieved and taste for salt and red chilli pepper. Serve with fresh, chopped coriander on top.

When lentils have cooled, transfer 1 cup of lentils and process in a blender till smooth and creamy. Loosen with a little bit of water. Pour back into pot. (For those of you who have an immersion blender, you can blend the soup directly in the pot.) Slowly add boiling water to soup till desired consistency is achieved. Taste for salt and red chilli pepper.

Serve with fresh coriander or your favourite herb; a sprinkle of paprika or sumac (optional); a drizzle of very good olive oil and lemon wedges to add tanginess.

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