In many regions of India, including Maharashtra, toor dal is the star of the pantry. If I were to pare my pantry down to the basic minimum items, toor dal would certainly be the one dal left there. It is my to-go dal for three major dishes that are part of default meals- Amti, Varan and Sambar (the first two are classics that I grew up eating everyday; the last is something I use as a vehicle for all kinds of vegetables).
For this event, I turned to a fairly comprehensive reference for Maharashtrian cuisine- the two-volume Ruchira by Kamalabai Ogale. Among some interesting recipes like pancharas amti (with mixed vegetables, cashews and coconut) and karlyache varan (dal with bitter gourd), I found something that looked seasonal and inviting: laal bhoplyachi amti or Pumpkin Amti.
My first thought on reading this recipe was- wow, there is a lot going on here! Different recipes use various tricks for thickening and flavoring dals: some might use buttermilk, some might use ground-up nuts, others might use a chickpea paste, or have a coconut paste mixed in. This recipe has all this and much more!! I was pretty certain that in the end, the flavors of all these individual ingredients would not come through in the dal, and sure enough, they didn't. But I am not complaining about the result either: it was a tasty and creamy dal happily interrupted with chunks of sweet pumpkin.
I don't often buy pumpkins because it is not very easy to cut and peel the pumpkin. This time, for the sake of this recipe, I took the plunge. I bought a small pie pumpkin (more flavorful for cooking, compared to the giant ones sold for carving). Using a chef's knife, I was able to hack it into two, from stem to tip. Then I stuck the halves into the microwave and cooked them for 8-10 minutes, until they were nearly tender. Once cooled, I found that it was relatively easy to peel off the skin and cut them into cubes.
1/2 C toor dal, soaked for 15 minutes, rinsed well, then cooked until tender
2 C pumpkin cubes- raw, par-cooked or cooked (but not mushy)
salt to taste
1/2 C buttermilk (or slightly diluted yogurt)
2 T besan (chickpea flour)
2 T crushed toasted peanuts (coarse powder)
1/4 C grated fresh/frozen coconut
2 fresh/frozen green chillies (or to taste)
1 t cumin seeds
1 T oil
1 t mustard seeds
1/4 t turmeric
1/4 t fenugreek seeds
8-10 fresh curry leaves
1. Make a thick paste of the ingredients listed under "paste" and set it aside.
2. Heat the oil and add all the tempering ingredients, stirring for a few seconds until fragrant.
3. Add the pumpkin cubes, stir them to coat with the spices. If the pumpkin is raw or par-cooked, add 1/4 C water, cover and cook until it is tender.
4. Stir in the paste and the cooked dal, salt to taste, and some water if the dal appears too thick.
5. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes. Serve with steamed rice and some pickle or papad on the side.
I wanted a simple vegetable dish to go with the amti-bhaat and took the laziest way out: I made some faux Flower-Batata Bhaaji. My favorite part of simple braised Indian vegetables are the burnt bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. This was a way to roast the vegetables with some spices to make an imitation bhaaji that practically cooked itself.
1. Lightly oil a large baking tray. Preheat the oven to 425F.
2. Chop 3 medium potatoes to medium-sized cubes or "fingers" (peel the potatoes only if the skin looks too blemished or thick). Cut about 3-4 cups of bite-sized cauliflower florets.
3. Toss the prepared vegetables with 2 T olive oil, salt, turmeric, red chilli powder, cumin powder and coriander powder (all to taste). I did not add mustard seeds or curry leaves, buy they would have added to the taste too. Or ginger or garlic. Whatever flavor you are craving at the moment would work, basically!
4. Spread the vegetables on the baking sheet in a single layer or so, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the vegetables are tender (test with the tip of a small knife) and browning in parts.
5. Remove from oven, toss with the juice of 1/2 lemon and liberally garnish with minced cilantro.
Starting this month, I am trying two new features on this blog-
1. Project of the month: There are so many things that I love eating but that I have never tried to cook at home. In most cases, it is because I have some notion that these are challenging to make at home (which may be true, or not). In some cases, I have just not gotten around to doing it. This is my way of tackling them one at a time. This month's project is to make candy from scratch in my kitchen. I have decided on a recipe from a very respected source, and have a candy thermometer on my shopping list. Watch this blog to see if I am able to make candy successfully this month!
2. Flavor of the month: In the same vein, there are many ingredients/cuisines/cooking techniques that I would love to spend some time exploring. Identifying one a month will give me more a chance to do that. This month's flavor is miso, fermented soybean paste that is widely used in Japanese cuisine. I hope to explore different ways to use this healthful and flavorful ingredient over the course of this month.
If you have suggestions for future "projects" or "flavors", or suggestions about the current ones, your ideas are always welcome. I will be updating these on the right side-bar on the 1st of every month.
Have a wonderful week ahead, everyone!