Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tandoori Nights-Maa Ki Daal

I am so excited to sample tandoor delights in Evansville. Visions of meat-laden skewers tantalize my palate. Bags are packed, loaded with clothes and an equal amount of carbs. 'Carbs! ' you question? Whenever I go visiting, there is almost always a requisite amount of food-related items in my luggage. Especially when I go to visit people dear to my heart. This time I get to ferry bagels and cream cheese, bhelpuri, choora and whole wheat bread. Favorites for favorite folk. What can I say. In my book, a gift consumed in pleasure is the best one. So I get to watch John slather his everything bagel and murmur in appreciation. I get to see Nikita saunter in to toast her plain bagel. And I get to see Geets judiciously eat one half of a poppy seed bagel. Other carbs are put away for 'staggered' consumption!

The latest addition to their household is a tandoor! And I am the happy recipient of chicken tikka and crusty puffed naans. So I figure maa ki daal would be the perfect accompaniment to a tandoori meal. The notion must be a throwback from all those dinners at Moti Mahal in Old Delhi. This decades old restaurant is the epitome of tandoor cooking. It used to be an airy inner courtyard, filled with rickety chairs and tables and equally creaky waiters. Oh but the food!! Chili-red succulent tandoori chicken, melt-in-your-mouth seekh kababs. But the dal is what I waited for. Served in small kadhais, I couldn't wait to dip my naan or kulcha into this soupy stew of slow cooked beans and rajma. A dark brown gravy, flecked with tomatoes, ginger and garlic with spices that exploded in your mouth. Creamy and masala-laden, it rounded off the meal perfectly. Flooded with those olfactory memories and the aroma of charcoal, I am all fired up to recreate this tasty dal.

Maa Ki Daal
Serves 6

2 cups Whole Urad Dal

3 coins/ slices Ginger
4 cups Water
3 tablespoons Canola oil
1 large Onion
3 coins/slices Ginger
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
2 big Tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1 teaspoon Garam masala
I Green Chili
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup Cream

Wash and drain urad dal.

Place in a pressure cooker along with ginger slices and water.

Follow directions for pressure cooker and cook the dal for 15 minutes. 

Alternately you can cook the dal stovetop. 

Put dal, ginger slices and 6 cups water in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Stir often and check water levels. Add more water if you need to. The beans should smush in your fingers once they are done. 

Peel and thinly slice onions.

Thinly slice tomatoes into half moons.

Heat canola oil in a large saucepan.

Add onions to hot oil and sauté till they are golden brown.

Add ginger slices, garlic paste and tomatoes and sauté. Keep an eye on the mixture as you do not want it to 'catch' or burn. Catch is an Indian colloquial term for burnt food adhering to the bottom of the pan! Stir often  breaking up the tomato as it cooks. You want the mixture to become pulpy. And the oil should be visible on the outer edges.

Add the cooked dal, spices and salt.

Slit the green chili in half and add it to the dal.

Simmer dal for 10 minutes.

Pour in cream and stir to mix.

Serve dal hot with naan, kulcha and parathas


I have explained both pressure cooker and stovetop methods. The first works well when you are strapped for time. Both methods are excellent.

I did not use rajma as I didn't have any! Feel free to add 1/4 cup and cook along with the urad dal.

The dal tends to thicken as it sits. Add a little water to dilute it and adjust the seasonings.

In Punjab they top the dal with a pat of butter just before serving. The cream has enough fat content for me. 

This is a down home dal. One that is made almost everyday in households in North India. My Sikh neighbors in Bombay ate this dal and paratha for breakfast. I too did on many occasions. They were generous enough to have me over at the crack of dawn!

But in Evansville the sun is setting. The tandoor chef is hard at work expertly wielding
skewer and gaddi, the pillow by which the naan adheres to the tandoor.

He has mastered this tricky device adeptly. Chicken tikka, naans, potato crusted lamb chops, maa ki daal and salat make for a full plate. Dinner is a table full of 'hmmms'... A typical Indian mannerism expressing immense satisfaction!!!