Monday, March 2, 2015

2015 March 2: Dhal

Dhal has become one of my favourite foods here in Sri Lanka. Elanor, too. It's usually the one thing on the plate that she knows will not be too spicy, although we have discovered that spicy food is a great way to get her to drink more water! Today for lunch, for example, she and I had savoury pastries that we get from a little Tamil restaurant nearby, including one kind that was really spicy. She drank almost two cups of minty lemonade and a litre and a half of water during lunch!
Dhal (sometimes spelt dal) usually means split lentils, though it can refer to beans and peas as well. In fact, the word itself comes from a Sanskrit word that means 'to split'. It is usually served with rice, as many Sri Lankan Tamils and Buddhists are vegetarian, so dhal becomes the ready protein in any dish. It is very simple to make - basically boil some lentils (or dried peas or beans) in some water with some turmeric and salt until the lentils are soft - some prefer to boil them until they are falling apart. Then add whichever spices or garnishes you like, as can be found in many recipes in a simple google search.
I experimented a little, and found that this is the version that I like to make at home. I make a big pot at once, and then just reheat each evening meal until its gone. Sometimes I add more turmeric or coconut milk or salt, but it depends on the day!

Wash and rinse the lentils. Boil on medium heat - not too high or it will boil over - with 2 cups water, 1/3 tsp turmeric, and 1/2 tsp salt until the lentils are soft. 
When the lentils are cooked, heat 1 tbsp oil in a small pan. Add 1/4 tsp mustard seeds, 1/4 tsp coriander seeds, 2 cloves garlic finely chopped, a few curry leaves if you have them, a pinch of crushed chili peppers and heat until the spices release their fragrance. Add to lentils.
Stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of milk (I like to use coconut milk) for the consistency you prefer, and heat until it just comes to a boil. Serve hot or warm. 

I think one of the reasons I like dhal so much is that it reminds me of home. A favourite Newfoundland dish is pea soup, prepared much the same way - minus the Sri Lankan spices, of course. Traditionally its made with a ham bone or salt meat, but as a vegetarian, I have found a way to replicate that taste without using meat.

Vegetarian Newfoundland Pea Soup
Finely chop one carrot, one onion and one stalk of celery. Fry in a little margarine or butter in a large pot until soft. Add 3 cups of water and 1 cup of yellow split peas, one or two vegetable bouillon cubes, and a couple splashes of liquid smoke. You can add some garlic and bay leaves and pepper if you like. Cover and boil until peas fall apart. Add salt to taste.
This wouldn't be Newfie Pea Soup without some doughboys, so when the peas are ready...
In a bowl, mix together 1 cup flour, 1 tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt. In a measuring cup, mix together 1/2 cup warm milk and a couple of tbsps of melted butter or margarine.
Quickly add the liquids to the powders and stir until combined.
Now...take the lid off your pea soup that is still simmering away, and give it a real good stir. Drop the batter by the tablespoonful into your soup, close the lid and don't touch it for fifteen minutes! After the time is up, take off the lid, scoop out the doughboys, stir the soup and serve.