Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crazy Delicious Indian Red Lentil Dal and Parathas

I love Indian food like crazy. Anyone who has ever eaten anywhere near me most likely knows this to be true. And, the lovely thing is, I actually have choices to make when I go to restaurants where Indian food is served.

Many of you vegetarians out there (and I am sure ALL of the vegans out there) have experienced the moment while dining out with friends, when you realize that there is essentially one thing on the menu that you can eat. And it is not even particularly appetizing. Your food choice has already been made for you, and by someone who has no idea that vegetarian food can actually taste good. Sad.

BUT, there is hope guys. If you have never been to an Indian restaurant, and you even "kind-of" like spicy food, you are in for a treat. Even if you are not a major spice aficionado, chances are your local restaurant will tone down the burn factor for you if you ask. I highly recommend seeking out an Indian restaurant in your area, so that you may experience the joy of getting to pore over a menu for a few extra minutes.

I have tried many times to recreate the amazingness of Indian restaurant food on my own, with varying degrees of success. But, I am very happy to report that the following recipe is not only easy to prepare, it is totally delicious. It actually tastes like something I would order from a restaurant. And it's vegan!! Prepare yourselves for awesome guys.

Keep reading below to find the full recipes for Red Lentil Dal and Homemade Parathas. Thanks all!

Red Lentil Dal (or "Dhal") with homemade Parathas (bread)

Start by making the paratha dough:

1.5 cups whole wheat flour (I used chapati flour from my favorite Indian food shop)
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup water
1 tsp salt (give or take)
1/4 cup oil (I used canola, but "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" recommends grapeseed or corn oil, or 1/2 a stick of melted butter if you are not vegan)

Pulse flours and salt in a food processor to mix (about 30 seconds). I am sure you can do this by hand in a bowl, but it will be much more laborious. Turn the processor back on, and add 3/4 cup of water to flour mixture, until it forms a slightly sticky ball. (Mark Bittman recommends adding water a Tbsp at a time if mixture is too dry, flour a Tbsp at a time if the mixture is too sticky.) Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap. If you want to use it right away, leave it on the counter for 20 mins. Bittman also notes that you can leave the dough in the fridge for about 24 hours, or in the freezer for a week if you're planning your weekly meals ahead of time. This is one of the many reasons that I love Mark Bittman.

While you wait, start making your Dal. I adapted this recipe slightly from the original, due to my own tastes, and what was available in my house.

Red Lentil Dhal

1Tbsp oil (I used canola)
1 Tbsp cumin seeds (I bought them at an Indian food shop, but they are often available whole, not ground, in the supermarket. Hint: They are often on the international foods aisle if they are not on the spice aisle)
2 tsp mustard seeds (I also purchased these at my Indian food shop, but your supermarket or specialty food store will likely have these as well)
1-2 large cloves of garlic, minced (book recommends 1.5 Tbsp minced garlic)
1-2 tsp ground ginger (book recommends 1.5 Tbsp minced fresh ginger; I = too lazy for this)
2 small to medium sized onions, diced
1/2 to 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes (book recommends 1 seeded/minced jalepeño here, but I didn't have that)
6 cups water or vegetable stock (I used vegetable stock because, why not add more nutrition and rich flavor whenever you can? You're a conscientious eater and you deserve it)
1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed (I got these in bulk at the local Wholefoods, but I would think the supermarket would have them, either next to the dried beans, or in the International foods aisle)
2 tsp curry powder (I like this because you don't have to look for a million spices to fill your cabinet; Though having those other spices can come in handy if you love Indian food)
Sea salt to taste (I am not a salt person, but I added at least a teaspoon to this recipe; add to suit yourself and your audience)
Ground black pepper to taste
Cilantro for garnish (book recommends fresh, minced cilantro, but I am sure some sprinkles of the dried stuff would be fine. Frankly, I forgot to add it at all)

I would recommend chopping and measuring everything before you start cooking. It will make your life easier.

Start heating the oil in a large pot (it must accommodate at least 7-8 cups of volume plus room for stirring). Use a medium high heat. Add the cumin and mustard seeds to the oil and stir them around, coating the seeds in oil. Let cook for a few minutes, stirring consistently to make sure they do not burn. Some popping sounds may occur as the seeds cook. Please careful not to burn them, or to burn yourself by looking too closely at the cooking process. Sometimes these seeds jump as they pop open.

Add your onion, garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes (or jalepeño), and cook down a bit, stirring often. I think you are aiming to get the onions translucent, but not caramelized.

Now add your veggie stock or water to the pot. Then add the lentils. This may look like a LOT of fluid for the lentils, but they will absorb most of it as they cook. If you want more of a refried bean consistency to the final product, you could probably leave out a half to a full cup of liquid, but I wouldn't recommend it. Cook the lentils, uncovered, for 20 mins or more, stirring periodically. I cooked them for about 30 mins total, to cook off a little more of the liquid. Add your curry powder and sea salt, cook for 5 mins, and turn off the heat. Add the cilantro right before serving.

And now back to the parathas. Try to prepare these while the lentils are cooking for 20-30 mins. If you like, you can also start cooking rice at this point too (see farther below).

Now that your dough has rested, divide it into 8 or so pieces. The recipe can make 8-12 parathas, but i like mine larger, so 8 was fine for me. I'd recommend covering the pieces you're not using with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap while you're not working on them. They do dry out rather quickly.

Roll each piece of dough into a ball, place on a floured surface, and roll into a 4 inch or larger circle with a rolling pin. Brush the top lightly with your oil of choice or butter (using Earth Balance will keep it vegan). Now roll the circle up "like a cigar" (according to Mr. Bittman). Then coil the cigar into a spiral like you were making a cinnamon bun. Place all of your coils onto a plate. I didn't really have any trouble with them sticking to each other, so go ahead and pack them closely to keep the coils tight.

When you are ready to cook your parathas, take one of your coiled dough pieces and flatten it. Roll it out into a thin pancake, as you did before. Brush a nonstick pan or griddle with oil or butter/margarine, and cook your parathas. About 3-5 mins per side will do it. Before you flip the paratha for the first time, make sure to brush the top with oil or margarine. Once browned on both sides, flip the paratha out onto a plate that has been covered with a napkin or paper toweling. Cook as many breads as you like, or as many as you anticipate eating with this meal. I left some of the coils covered on a plate in the fridge for a few days, and made them anew with my leftover dal every time I wanted fresh bread. It helps if you can let the coils come to room temperature again before flattening them, but it won't ruin them if you are starving like I was and you can't wait. Pre-made parathas reheat in the microwave also, but they taste much better if you make them to order with your meal.

Now, you can eat the dhal (or dal) alone with the bread, or serve with rice as I did here.

Rice: I made basmati rice (also from the Indian food shop) by boiling 2 cups of water (and a Tbsp of oil/butter/vegan margarine) for every cup of rice. I added the rice when the water and oil/butter came to a boil. Then I stirred the mixture, covered the rice, and cooked the rice for 20-25 minutes over low low heat. You can then fluff with a fork and serve.

I hope you enjoy this recipe! Please check out the books that the recipes came from too. The links are provided above. Now I am starving and must go eat. Thanks all!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The World is your oyster, even if you don't eat oysters...

I truly love when I find other people that share my interests. I mean, who doesn't, right?

Tonight I found out about a really cool website that gives you short lists of vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants and food shops, not only in every one of the 50 U.S. states, but ALL OVER THE WORLD! The site is just a little over 10 years old, and has over 10,000 listings!

So everyone check out!

Now this site may not be the only one of its kind, but I can offer it a particular vote of confidence based on experience. I looked up the restaurants listed for my state, the great state of Rhode Island, and I have been to at least 6 of the 10 restaurants/food shops on the list. The good news is that I would absolutely recommend those places to veg(etari)ans who were here and wanted to eat well. I mean, the list is by no means comprehensive - how could it be? - but it's a fine start.

The potential drawback of this site is that all you can see for free is the name of the restaurant and its general location (city/town). In order to access the full information available on the site, such as full restaurant profiles, restaurant recipes, and customer reviews, you must purchase an account. An account costs a not unreasonable $4.95 per year. And if you do any traveling within the year, that $5 may beyond pay for itself in saved starvation/aggravation. Plus, it could be really fun making the vegetarian restaurant circuit part of your travels.

Additionally, offers the option of the Vegdining card, which one could purchase to get worldwide discounts at participating veggie-friendly restaurants from Russia to Costa Rica. And you can earn rewards points for using the card too. Not really sure what these points add up to, but suggests that we could contact the site directly for further information about these cards.

But the main point is get out there and get eating. And if you've had a good experience with a restaurant you've found on, please let us know here.

Happy eating everyone!