Monday, October 03, 2005

Yellow split peas with caramelized onions and cumin (masala dal)

This dal is much like the lentils with cumin and garlic dal I posted a while ago, but instead of being seasoned with cumin and garlic, this is seasoned with caramelized onions and cumin. While the onions take a decent amount of time to fry (~20 minutes), they add so much flavor that they're well worth the time. This is my SO's favorite dal, and my SO's mom has been begging me to post the recipe ever since we made her a batch last month. So, in honor of cooking week, here's the recipe.

1 1/2 cups yellow split peas
4 1/2 cups water
1/3 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions (we use our food processor)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

This recipe is made in two parts - the split peas are cooked and blended in one pot, while the onions and cumin are fried in another.

Cooking the split peas:
1. Rinse the split peas and make sure there are no stones mixed in with them.
2. Put the split peas, water, and turmeric in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the split peas are soft, stirring occasionally.
3. Remove from the heat and, using an immersion blender (or whisk, wooden spoon, or other stirring implement), process the split peas until they are smooth.
4. Add the salt, stir to mix, and set aside.
5. It is possible to refrigerate the mixture at this point and complete the recipe another day, but we prefer to put the pot on low heat and keep it warm while we cook the onions. If you do refrigerate the split peas, bring them back to a simmer before adding the onions in step five below.

Cooking the onions:
1. Heat the oil in a nonstick pot over medium-high or high heat.
2. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and cook briefly (~10 seconds).
3. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they are dark brown. This will usually take anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the temperature of your stove, and it's critical to give the onions enough time to brown thoroughly. At the end of this period, the smallest of the onion pieces should be very dark brown (almost burnt-looking), and the lightest of the onions should be a nice caramel brown. Watch the onions carefully as they near completion - they can go from nicely browned to burnt in only a minute or two.
4. Remove the pot from the heat, add the cayenne, and mix briefly.
5. Pour the fried onions directly into the warmed split peas and mix.
6. Serve with rice or Indian bread.

Note: Sahni (1980) recommends garnishing this dish with two tablespoons of chopped cilantro; we've never done that.

This dal is a good side dish, but also makes a delicious lunch or dinner when served by itself over rice (which is how we usually eat it). The dish keeps very well in the fridge or freezer; we often double the recipe (which entails very little additional work) so we have lots of leftovers.

This recipe is slightly modified (oil reduced by 50%) from Sahni's (1980) "Classic Indian Cooking".

Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 330-331.

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