Monday, July 17, 2017

Untangling Indian Dals and Other Terminology

Anyone who has tried to understand which "dal/dahl/daal" is which, will find there is a surfeit of misinformation abounding on the web. While looking through my cookbooks, and some recipes online, I have come across differing names for some of the lentils, beans, dals and other legumes. When trying to find them to buy, there is even more confusion. There are a lot of different lentils and beans and seeds that are used in Indian cooking. I do not propose that I am a total expert, but I have spent a lot of time on this subject, researching to try and get to the root of which is which, and what names the varying lentils and beans may be called by, in order to use the proper one when using a recipe.
My Indian Cookbook by Amandip Uppal
My Indian Cookbook by Amandip Uppal

My search came down to a crunch about a week ago, when I decided to try making "Tadka Dal," a recipe right out of the cookbook called "My Indian Cookbook," by Amandip Uppal (found on Amazon, here). I was given this book by friends, and at first I thought how very simple some of the recipes seemed. Most Indian recipes look forbidding, with the vast array of ingredients, spices and other flavoring agents. This is why I have amassed an amazing array of spices over the years, and a fair bit of knowledge in how to use them. Amandip Uppal's recipes, the ones I have tried, to date, have been really delightful. Her Naan bread is so amazingly soft, I found it hard to believe. So when I decided to try this recipe for Tadka Dal, I ran into a snag, since I was missing one of the "dals" called for. I set about remedying that situation right away, but in the meantime I made it with just two of the three dals called for. It was delightful. But then I wished I'd had the third, missing dal, to have tried it out for flavor.

Okay, What is Dal, Daal or Dahl?

Dal is the term used to denote any split, peeled lentil, bean or other dried legume. If the particular lentil, bean or dried legume is left whole, it is not called "dal.

Dal is also the term for a thinner, slightly soupy dish cooked from these split, peeled, lentils, beans or other dried legume, as well as whole cooked legumes. Confusing, as I said! I created a table, which is large, but hopefully will help unravel some of the confusion. I am sorry if some of the type is rather small, but it is a large table.
Table of Lentils  Peas and Dals
Table of Lentils  Peas and Dals

Not all Chickpeas are Created Equal

Another thing came out of my search to identify some of these lentils, beans, peas and other legumes. I had not realized that when an Indian recipe called for "besan" flour (which I knew was chickpea flour), it did not mean the kind of chickpeas / garbanzo beans we in the U.S use for hummus. Instead, there is a much smaller "chickpea" called Desi Chickpea / Kala Chana / Bengal Gram / Black or Brown Chickpea. With that many names for one single kind of chickpea, it is no wonder there can be massive confusion. Once this small Desi Chickpea is peeled and split, it is called Chana Dal, Desi Channa Dal or Split Yellow Gram! Good gracious! And it is this little split and peeled Desi Chickpea that is generally used to make the "besan" flour, but until just a couple of days ago, I did not know this.
Brown Desi Chickpeas vs Garbanzo Beans for size
Brown Desi Chickpeas vs Garbanzo Beans for size

I came upon this little fact when I tried following a recipe for some Carrot & Chickpea Pancakes (also from "My Indian Cookbook," by Amandip Uppal) made with besan. I thought "I have dried chickpeas/garbanzos, and my grain mill will grind them into flour - no problem." So when I went to make the breads, the recipe called for something like 5 tablespoons of water. At that point, there was absolutely no way this mixture was the soupy mixture the recipe showed it to be - something like crepe batter. After adding about 7 or 8 more tablespoons of water, it finally approached the right consistency. And it was after this that I read that if using regular chickpea (kabuli channa) flour, that you would need a lot more water to get the right consistency. Aha! Now that I know, I also have the split, peeled Desi chickpeas, so I can make proper "besan" flour.

Carrot & Chickpea Pancakes from "My Indian Cookbook"
Carrot & Chickpea Pancakes from "My Indian Cookbook" - also called Besan Chilla (or Besan Puda)

Terminology Difficulties

The next thing I came across that had me stumped for a bit is the term "Tadka," sometimes also called "Tarka." 

I have read a lot of recipes that have this term applied to it. And I have found recipes for various lentil, or lentil combination dishes that are all called "Tadka or Tarka Dal." Okay. So, why, if the lentils are different, and the other ingredients vary radically from one recipe to another, are they all termed Tadka Dal? 
My Dal Fry or Toor Dal with Tadka
My Dal Fry or Toor Dal with Tadka

I made that recipe from "My Indian Cookbook" (mentioned above), that Amandip Uppal called Tadka Dal, using two of the three types of lentils called for. It was wonderful. Once I ordered the remaining dal that I had not owned (Toor Dal, or split, peeled pigeon peas), I felt that I would like to make something with just these split peeled pigeon peas alone, to gauge the flavor. I found a recipe using just Toor Dal on for something called "Dal Fry." I made it, and was instantly enchanted by the flavors. I ate it for lunch, and after the veritable orgy of flavors in my mouth, I stopped to think: "Hmmm. Looking back, it seems that the ingredients for the Tarka Dal of a few days previous, and this Dal Fry were remarkably similar. What?" I got out both recipes to compare, and aside from one recipe calling for three different dals, and the other calling for only the one, the remaining ingredients were nearly identical! So what in the world is the difference? How can they be the same?

My first thought was that "Fry" in the title "Dal Fry" is a purely English word. So, what would this recipe be called if not for the word "fry?" I went hunting online, and finally figured out the problem:

Tadka, Tarka (or Chaunk or Dhungar) means fried flavoring agents.

These various dals, whether little Masoor Dal (red lentils), Toor Dal (split peeled pigeon peas), Desi Channa Dal (split, peeled Desi chickpeas / brown Desi chickpeas) or other, when these are cooked in water, have very little flavor of their own. It is far easier to cook them without salt, so they will absorb water more quickly, leaving one with a pot of well cooked, possibly mushy lentils (often a desired state) with little to no flavor. The Tadka comes in when adding flavors to this resultant mush to give it flavor. This "Tadka" can be as simple as a few kinds of spice such as mustard seeds, cumin seeds and maybe a Garam Masala, fried in some ghee and then added to the cooked lentils, along with salt, for flavor. It can be as complex as you wish. The recipe from used quite a lot of things, first frying mustard and cumin seeds, adding onion, garlic, ginger, curry leaves, and on and on, creating quite an excellent mixture, that was then added to the cooked, mushy, bland pigeon pea mixture.
My Tadka Mixture bfor Toor Dal

The result was nothing short of amazing, in my book. This recipe was so good that I said to my husband that I could eat it breakfast, lunch and dinner! My husband liked it, but said he wouldn't go quite as far as I would, such as eating it for breakfast! Yet, I have done just that, for the past two mornings. I - LOVE - this dish. And I really love the flavor of the Toor Dal. Despite all the added flavors, it was quite distinct from the Tadka Dal of those few days prior, despite having nearly the same flavoring ingredients. Before this dish, my most absolute favorite dal dish was one made with Masoor Dal, the little "red" (more like orange/salmon color) lentils. This new dish totally eclipses that first one, and that says a lot.

I changed very little in the "Dal Fry" recipe from Veg Recipes of India (click the link for that recipe). I had read elsewhere that more often amchur powder is used in place of the lemon juice called for in the recipe. Amchur is dried green mango powder, used often as a souring agent, sometimes alongside tamarind, another souring agent. I used amchur rather than lemon juice and slightly less chili powder, because if my husband was going to taste it, he cannot abide anything so hotly spiced. 

Another Misleading Bit of Information

When looking for Toor Dal, and sometimes Chana Dal, many people said they were the same as yellow split peas. NOT.
Yellow Split Peas - Split Desi Chickpeas - Split Pigeon Peas
Yellow Split Peas, left - Split Desi Chickpeas (Chana Dal), middle - Split Pigeon Peas (Toor Dal), right

Yellow split peas (split peas would be termed "matar dal") take far longer to cook at upwards of 2 hours (with no advance soaking) and are a fair bit larger than Chana Dal (split brown chickpeas / Desi chickpeas) or Toor Dal (split pigeon peas), both of which can take about a half hour of cooking, with no pre-soaking.

A note on many recipes calling for lentils: In my experience to date, while most Indian recipes call for the use of a pressure cooker (which I do not own), I truly cannot quite grasp why a pressure cooker is necessary. It barely takes a half hour, even without pre-soaking any of these split lentils/peas/beans to cook through. Many of the small ones, like the little red lentils (masoor dal) take about 15 to 20 minutes. What I do is set the lentil to cook in plain water first. Get it to a boil, reduce heat, then cover and let cook - and then I proceed with any measuring, chopping and frying called for in the recipe. Once that is taken care of, the lentils are generally cooked through. It's all about timing and organization. 

I truly hope that this blog may help some who are new to these terms and the many and varied legumes. I have been experimenting with Indian cooking for nearly 20 years now, and have myriad Indian cookbooks and such an abundance of spices unique to Indian cooking that they warrant a whole, dedicated drawer of their own. I love the foods, the spices and flavors that come of combining so many and varied ingredients. India is a whole world unto its own, and has such varied cultures just among their own states. I am endlessly fascinated with their culture and their foods. I taste something new, such as the Toor Dal with Tadka, and I feel like I just ate the best comfort food, ever. Despite a Slovak background, when I eat Indian foods I feel like I've come home.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Creating a New Appetizer for a Wine Tasting

Smoky Beef & Currant Empanadas
Smoky Beef & Currant Empanadas
At each year's event to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen, there is an auction held for a wine tasting for 20 to 25 people, to be held in the winning bidder's home - with appetizers by A Harmony of Flavors (that's me!). This year, the people that won the auction are holding their wine and food tasting on August 4th, so it's right around the corner.

Two things I planned to make, just because they are scrumptious, and because they easily pair with certain types of wine, are my Smoky Beef & Currant Empanadas and Aloo Samosas. There is no link for Aloo (meaning "potato") Samosas yet in my blog, but all I did was remove the chicken from my Chicken & Raisin Samosas, and increase the amount of potatoes to 1½ pounds. The rest of the recipe is absolutely the same. The Empanadas were originally served with an Argentine Malbec, but they will also pair nicely with a
Chicken & Raisin Samosas
Chicken & Raisin Samosas
full bodied Cabernet, which will likely be served at this upcoming home wine tasting. The Chicken and Raisin Samosas originally paired with a Conundrum White, which was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Semillon and Muscat Canelli. With or without the chicken (some at this upcoming wine tasting may be vegetarian, so I try to have something for everyone), they will pair with Chardonnay or possibly a Sauvignon Blanc, if it's not too much on the tart side. 

Spanakopita Cups for Sauvignon Blanc

So, I had something to go with a strong red and something to go with a rounder, buttery white like Chardonnay. Next I thought about the more austere whites, like Sauvignon Blanc and opted to use the Spanakopita Cups, since spinach and Feta cheese are both things that will pair with that white wine. My original Spanakopita recipe is for the spinach/feta mixture to be rolled, flag-like, in phyllo dough. In
Spanakopita Cups
Spanakopita Cups
order to simplify while still using phyllo, I used frozen phyllo cups. Making the filling mixture just the same, I then filled two packages worth (30 in all) of phyllo cups with the mixture, then set the cups onto a baking sheet in the center of a preheated 375 degree oven for about 12 minutes, until the filling is set and the phyllo cups are golden. You can find a printable version of my Spanakopita Cups as the Bonus Recipe in my February Newsletter, found here.

But then, what could I make to pair with a softer red, like a Pinot Noir or maybe a fruity Zinfandel or Merlot? I never know what wines the wine representative will bring to these tastings, so I try and prepare for most possible options. I thought about blackberries, because I had just bought a bunch of them, and thinking maybe making something like a chutney of sorts would go nicely with pork. But then, what to do with the pork? 
Hoisin Pork with Blackberry Chutney
Hoisin Pork with Blackberry Chutney

Many years ago, for an impromptu wine tasting I held for family, my sister brought a pork tenderloin, that her husband would grill just before we sat down to taste and pair. I asked, since the pork was supremely tasty, just what was the marinade? She said she was almost embarrassed to say it, but all she did was dump a small jar of Hoisin sauce onto the tenderloin and marinate for 24 hours. At another time, she commented that she had started the marinating with Hoisin, but then didn't get to use it right away, so it marinated for at least 2 days. And - it was even better! Grilling will take a little while, depending on how thick or large your pork tenderloin might be. When I made it a few days ago, I also tied cotton twine around the tenderloin, in order for it to stay as round as possible, so the slices would be nice and round. It took about 25 minutes to grill it to doneness.

Hoisin Pork with Blackberry Chutney

Hoisin Pork with Blackberry Chutney
Hoisin Pork with Blackberry Chutney
pork tenderloin(s)
1 jar Hoisin sauce
Baguette, sliced thinly
olive oil, for brushing
Blackberry Chutney, recipe below
Chevre cheese, optional
Marinate the pork tenderloin in Hoisin Sauce for 2 days, then grill it. Once grilled to at least 155 degrees, tent it with foil for 10 minutes, then slice it thinly, getting something like 25 to 30 usable slices (I'm making 2 tenderloins for the event). Slice a baguette thinly and set the slices in a single layer, close together on a baking sheet. Brush the tops with olive oil, then broil just until they start to look toasted. Set a slice of tenderloin on each piece of baguette, and then top with a small dollop of Blackberry Chutney. For an alternate method, whip together 2 tablespoons of the Blackberry Chutney with 2 ounces of Chevre cheese, until smooth. This mixture can be used instead of the chutney on its own, or alternately make some with each, for a pretty presentation.

Back to the Blackberry Chutney

I wasn't totally sure how the Hoisin marinated tenderloin would go with a blackberry chutney, but I figured I'd never know till I tried, so I went ahead and made the chutney. And it was mighty good! It would be good on pork of any kind. When preparing to create the recipe, I thought about the flavor profile I wanted: tart, with the blackberries, tart apple and vinegar, a little bit of sweet with some currants and palm sugar, rosemary and juniper for an herbaceous note, some serrano chilies and black pepper for heat. Sounded good to me, so I started preparing. And it was superb!

The apple I used was cooked with the skin and seeds left in. This is to help release pectin into the mixture so the chutney would set up thick. It is really best if you own a food mill to puree this mixture, as it can be quite tedious trying to pass this through a strainer.

Blackberry Chutney
Blackberry Chutney

Blackberry Chutney

Makes about 1 cup

1¼ cups fresh blackberries (133 g / 4.7 ounces)
¼ Granny Smith Apple, skin & seeds intact

Cook these first two ingredients with a tiny amount of water to get them started, until they are very soft and tender, 20 or so minutes. Pass the mixture through a food mill, preferably, to remove most seeds and the apple skin and seeds. Discard the seeds and skins and set the puree aside until needed.

1 teaspoon olive oil
½ medium red onion (123 g / 4.35 ounces), finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of palm sugar or brown sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon finely minced rosemary leaves
5 juniper berries
1 small Serrano chili, minced
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon currants (or raisins, chopped)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

In a medium saucepan heat the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic until very soft and translucent. Add the palm sugar, wine vinegar, rosemary, juniper berries (in cheesecloth for easy removal later), Serrano chili, black pepper, and currants. Stir to dissolve sugar and blend flavors. Add the pureed fruit to the saucepan and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, or until the mixture is thickened. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir in for another 2 minutes. Pour into a clean glass jar and seal tightly. Keep refrigerated until needed. Should keep for at least a week or so.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Welcome to my July Newsletter, Everyone

A Harmony of Flavors July 2017 Newsletter
View this email in your browser
tomatoes, summer, fresh produce
Happy 4th of July, Friend

Happy 4th of July, to those living in the US. July 4th, Independence Day, is now past, but that is the thing we think of come July. Independence and freedom. Picnics and fireworks lighting up the night sky. And heat. Oh boy, it's been hot lately in the upper Midwest. Thank goodness for air conditioning.

But, that's what summer is all about: heat to ripen the crops and rain to help them grow; some muggy weather at times, depending on where you live it can be horribly humid and other places not. We've been fortunate so far with low humidity, despite the temperatures. And my tomatoes are ripening - hurray!

Wherever and however you spend your summer, I hope it is filled with fun.

Please check "A Harmony of Flavors" website and "A Harmony of Flavors" blog site, continually being updated with new recipes. There is a lot to choose from!
Fourth of July
appetizers, wine pairing, wine tasting
Great Quick, Cool and Simple Meals

When the weather is hot, the last thing anyone wants is to spend time over a hot stove. Even worse, have to heat up the oven. Here I have recipes for a a lovely meal that is quick and easy, to keep you as cool as a cucumber!

Clockwise from top left, click on a link to find the recipes:
  • Green Pea, Feta and Mint Spread. This appetizer spread is great to scoop up with things like carrot, celery or bell pepper strips, or just spread it on crackers of choice.
  • Avocado Mango Salad. This salad is quick to prepare, and a delight to eat. Cool and refreshing, a little sweet (mango) and a little bitter (arugula), a little creamy (avocado), a little crunchy (bell pepper) and a little tart (lime juice).
  • Grilled Pork with Indian Spices. Not much time to marinate? Just 20 to 30 minutes and you're all set to grill. Better still, while this is great with pork tenderloins as shown, you can substitute chicken breasts, or even cut up turkey breast to the proportionate size. Amazing flavor!
  • Chocolate Mousse. You might worry that this means stove time, but I'm here to tell you there is no stove time and nothing could be quicker, or smoother or more decadent than this beautiful Chocolate Mousse that sets up in about the time it takes to pop them in the fridge for a quick chill before dinner.
There are lots more recipes to choose from on my website or blog. These are some true summer favorites.

Below is a button to connect with a Bonus Recipe for this month. Please enjoy this recipe at any time of year, or when the weather does not allow for grilling.

CLICK HERE for a Bonus Recipe
Fourth of July, Independence Day
ratatouille, grilled, eggplant, tomato, peppers, capers
From 2015 . . .Summer Rhubarb

Summer arrives and suddenly Farmers' Markets abound with fresh produce. Even in the small town where I live, there is a summer Farmers' Market, and I so love perusing what is on offer, week to week.

Rhubarb seems to abound, here, and though when I was a child, the only rhubarb dessert I ever recall is Mom's fantastic Rhubarb Pineapple Pie (which I now realize I have never posted as a recipe!), now I have been experimenting with many wonderful things to do with rhubarb. This Rhubarb Blueberry Bars recipe, shown above, is just absolutely wonderful. Serve it with a little whipped cream, or ice cream, and it is a match made in heaven.

Some other things I have done with rhubarb are Rhubarb Cake, Rhubarb Coffeecake, Rhubarb Banana Bread, and Rhubarb Raspberry Cheesecake Bars. All of these have been excellent recipes, so I urge you to give any of them a try when rhubarb is available.
zucchini, lasagna, entrees
What to do with Zucchini?

Let's face it: when one chooses to plant zucchini, one will have an abundance. The question then arises: what do I do with all these zucchini? Personally, I am not over fond of plain cooked zucchini, so I look for ways to use it that it can be a co-star in the recipe, rather than the main event. One way I love is in lasagna. In these days when seemingly everyone wants to be gluten free, or is eliminating carbs, Zucchini Lasagna fits the bill on both counts.

Then of course, there is always the ubiquitous Zucchini Bread, and then I took it a step further, making this lowly vegetable into a really amazing Zucchini Tea Bread.
Flag Day
lemon, beets, garlic, roasted beets
Do You Love Beets?
I love beets, most any which way. I love them plain, pickled, mixed in my salads.But, one of my most favorite beet recipes is these Lemon & Garlic Roasted Beets, which for me, just absolutely take beets to a new level.

Then, one summer three years back I was given a huge sack of beets. I love beets, but I am alone in this love in our household, so I was scrounging for things to use them in, and came up with a Chocolate Beet Cake. You cannot taste beets (unless you are one of those people with ultra sensitive taste buds), but the cake is as moist as a cake can be. It is a real must-try.
Mace Blades
Nutmeg & Mace - Myristica fragans

The nutmeg tree provides two spices: nutmeg and mace. Most people are familiar with Nutmeg, the seed or pit of the fruit, shown above, but far less familiar with mace, the lacy reddish covering, or aril, surrounding the nutmeg seed, outside of mace added to stuffing at Thanksgiving. Nutmeg and mace have similar flavors, with nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavor.

Nutmeg is best when grated fresh, easily done on any small-holed grater. Nutmeg is most often used in baking cakes cookies or pies, though it is also wonderful in stews, sausages, soups. Holiday eggnog would not be the same without without grating of fresh nutmeg. A little can even enhance the flavors of spaghetti or lasagna recipes.

Mace, shown below, is sometimes preferred in light colored dishes for the bright orange saffron-like hue. It is generally used in stuffing, yam dishes and sausages, though it works well in most dishes where nutmeg would be used.

mace blades, mace arils
author, Chris Rawstern
Happy Fourth of July 2017. I hope you will visit all my sites and try some new (or old) recipes, learn something new about an herb or spice or other subject, or maybe just daydream. However it is accomplished, I endeavor to provide articles of interest. Not everyone cooks these days, due to time constraints. I did cook meals for my family back when I had 4 youngsters and worked 2 jobs, so I know it can be done, though it requires some real attention to detail. Many of my recipes are created now that I am retired and have extra time on my hands, yet many are easy and quick.
Fourth of July
Please forward this newsletter to any friends who may find my stories, articles and recipes of interest. Subscribe to this Newsletter by hitting the Subscribe Button below. Follow me on Facebook, check out my A Harmony of Flavors website, and A Harmony of Flavors blog. Find all my food (and lots of other) photos on Pinterest at AHOFpin.
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