Dhal, Y’all!

by Sarah on October 4, 2011 · 9 comments

Waaaaaay back in August, I told y’all about going to The Whip In for a lunch of delicious Indian food, which I can probably credit as sparking my insatiable desire for all things curried, coconutted, or cumined.*
*Those last two are just now officially becoming words.

What I remember most about The Whip In, however, was not the incredibly spicy and flavorful Curried Eggplant Ratatouille, but rather a phrase I saw while perusing the online menu:^
^You are lying if you don’t do this compulsively before going to a new restaurant. I know you are.

Namaste, Y’all!

And that got me thinking (as I am so very often wont to do)…What would happen if we combined Southern American cooking with our [typical Americanized ideas of] Indian food?

Probably something like this:I’d been wanting to make a dhal from the assorted collection of lentils and split peas I had in my cabinet for a long time––and the sudden inspiration of a Deep South-infused Indian* dish led me to this conclusion:

*And I’m not talking about the Cherokees, y’all.

There must be okra……and there must be sweet potatoes.

[The eggplant was really just because I love eggplant.]

The best thing about this dish (and similar dhals,^ whether made with lentils—as I once thought they all had to be–or other beans) is how simple it is to make. Start with some basic flavoring agents…*
^Or dals, daals, dahls…
*And yes, I did look up “category in cooking for onions” because I didn’t want to call them a spice or a seasoning and couldn’t remember what you would consider them, really.

…stir in your longer-cooking vegetables…
…grab a pinch (or two or three…or five) of some essential seasonings……and let that start to cook and get all fragrant and happy-smelling.

I then like to add my lentils or peas directly to the dish, sans(krit*) liquid.
*from which the word dhal is derived
I do not know why I do this. A lot of recipes told me to. I imagine it has something to do with seasoning and toasting the lentils or peas…especially if I actually had a bunch of oil left in the pan.
But I didn’t. Do it probably proved to do nothing for the flavor of the dish.
Regardless, you’ll want to squeeze in some vegetable broth and add a bit of water.
Get that rockin’ and rollin’ and deglazin’ and all that good in’ stuff it does.

Drop in some tomato paste…
…and add your eggplant.

Before you ask…no, I don’t do all that “salting of the eggplant” business.

I also don’t skin the eggplants.
Or worry about the seeds inside.
I can be quite lazy, remember?

Bring that up to a simmer, and get excited after awhile as the lentils/peas start to soften, along with the sweet potato and the eggplant.
I generally prefer my dhal* (like my brownies) thick and gooey, so I only add water when it REALLY needs it (as in, the lentils are not yet soft and everything is completely dry in the pot).
*I had Kirsten. But then wanted Felicity. She had the red hair, but they didn’t release her until after Grammie had already committed hundreds of dollars to the collection of Kirsten-related Swedish doll-sized artifacts and clothing.
By all means, add more water or broth/stock if you like (or need to). Once you’re ready, stir in the okra.
I do this last so that the okra stays a bit firm at first (and also a bit green…as dhal is not that glamorously pretty of a dish).
Let that cooking (adding more liquid if you need to) until the okra are to your munching likeness.Serve with some raita* made with soy, coconut, or almond milk yogurt.
*An Indian yogurt-based condiment, similar to Greek tzatziki, featuring grated cucumber, lime juice, mint, cilantro, garam masala, and other assorted spices.This dish also can be thinned out a bunch in reheating and served over spinach…perhaps with some vegan-friendly Pita Bites crumbled on top in imitation of a pappadum?You’ll be happy to know, also, that I actually made this original recipe weeks ago, but saved it because of its vegan nature.It thaws and reheats beautifully, with the addition of some water* or vegetable broth.
*You might need to return to the 90s and (re) spice up your life if you use water.

Although you’ll notice that every time you cook or freeze-and-reheat, the eggplant and sweet potatoes break down even more, to the point of not being recognizable.
I kind of dig that.
Hopefully you do too.
Brown basmati rice makes a great pairing…as does any green* vegetable you might have (chosen based on what your roommate spontaneously gives you, in my case).
*No colorism here. It’s just that the okra’s brightness fades with the freezing and cooking processes…and I like a bit of POW! on my plates.And then, if you’re starting to get tired of this (which is crazy, because it’s so filling and scrumptious), you can thin it out even MORE and stir in some cooked rice…making a nice hearty soup.

Which is essentially a stew. Which is what it was in the first place. Sort of.

Dhal, Y’all!
[Eggplant, Sweet Potato, and Okra Lentil Curry]

1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. freshly grated (or minced) ginger
1 Tbsp. diced, seeded jalapeno
1 cup red, yellow, or brown lentils [or a combination]
2 cups diced sweet potato [about 1/4-1/2" cubes]
2 cups cubed eggplant
2 cups sliced okra
4 Tbsp. (1/4 cup) tomato paste
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, saute onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno in a smidge of oil or cooking spray until just beginning to soften.
2. Add sweet potatoes, bay leaf, and spices, stirring well to coat and combine. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly.
3. Add lentils to the pot, and cook for a few seconds to ‘toast.’
4. Pour in vegetable broth and water. Stir in tomato paste and eggplant.
5. Bring dhal to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook 30-45 minutes, stirring every so often, until lentils are soft and thickened.
6. Add okra to the pot, stir well, and cook until soft…but not mushy. [Add more water if you need to!]
7. Serve with a vegan raita, vegan crisp crackers, or brown basmati rice.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan October 4, 2011 at 5:59 am

Onion as a "flavoring agent". I love that. I probably would have said something lame like, time to add some mega deliciousness…

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Tricia @ saving room for dessert October 4, 2011 at 7:42 am

Great photos! I bet it smells wonderful. Yummmmm!

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atastelife October 4, 2011 at 9:04 am

bahaha – I totally stalk online menus if I'm going to a new restaurant.

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Rachel October 4, 2011 at 10:01 am

How could you not love this? It's beautiful at every step.

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Lindsay @ The Lean Green Bean October 4, 2011 at 10:09 am

bookmarked! minus the okra. looks fantastic. and that veggie broth is the best kind!

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Maria October 4, 2011 at 11:28 am

Holy vegetable overload. I need this in my life…with some beef cooked in.

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Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers October 4, 2011 at 11:30 am

Looks great! The Mr is always asking me to peel the eggplants, but that's just not going to happen

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Leila @ Spinach and Skittles October 4, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I love dhal, so filling and comforting.
I am very jealous about your American Girl doll…I wanted Kirsten, I think. Or maybe Samantha, was there a Samantha?

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Meri October 4, 2011 at 10:26 pm

haha, awesome post title, as usual :)

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