November 16, 2012

Chana Dal w Fennel

Growing up in India, I was exposed to a variety of lentils and each day of the week, my mom and aunts cooked up a new kind of lentil or bean. If you'd like a quick tutorial on lentils, look here. It was always interesting to see how many different recipes they could cook up using the same beans. One of my favorites was Chana Dal. 

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This lentil can be cooked up with Rice into a pilaf (a holiday delicacy that is cooked up on at least 2 holidays during the year), it can be cooked as a simple dal, it can be added to meat dishes to make stews, and it is often also roasted and spiced as a quick low-fat high protein snack. One of my favorite ways my mom fixed it was in a vegetable stew. Mom would add summer squash or spinach to it, and flavor it with fennel seeds. This is what I've attempted to recreate as a plant-based, no-added-fat version today.  Note that Chana dal is NOT the same as yellow split peas, even though they may look alike to the inexperienced eye. Best place to buy Chana dal is an Indian grocery store, either online, or a regular store.

Chana Dal w Spinach
Prep Time: 30 min (pressure cooker)

  1. 1 large red onion, diced
  2. 1.5 cup Chana Dal, preferably pre-soaked overnight.
  3. 2 cups fresh Baby Spinach
  4. 2-3 tbsp Tomato Paste 
  5. 1-2 tbsp Fennel Seeds
  6. 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
  7. 1 tsp Red Chili powder, to taste
  8. Salt and Pepper, to taste
  9. 3 cups of Water.
Combine all ingredients in a pressure cooker and cook under high pressure for 10 min (or 15 min if, like me, you forgot to soak the beans overnight). Release steam immediately. Beans should be soft to touch and should not hold up to any pressure, although unlike other lentils, Chana dal does retain its shape really well. If using the stove top method, you'll need to simmer on medium heat until lentils are soft.  Garnish with salt and pepper, and freshly chopped cilantro or mint leaves. Serve hot, over Jeera Rice.*

* Jeera Rice: In a separate pot, boil rice and 1 tsp cumin seeds in ample water. Drain. Voila! 

My Assessment: The fennel seeds add a faintly aromatic, somewhat sweet flavor to this dish. Although it looks like almost any other dal preparation, the flavors are unlike any you'll have had before. This dish does not taste like curry at all :) Tony loved it and wants it made again!! That's a success in my opinion!! 

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