Weekly Winner: Entering the Weird and Wonderful World of Dal

The more Indian food I try, the more I learn about it which makes me realize that I love Indian food, which makes me want to try more Indian food which puts me in this exhausting, never-ending, delicious cycle of discovery. Which brings me to this week’s entry Spiced Dal with Fluffy Rice and Salted Yogurt.

I have heard of dal but honestly was not entirely sure what it was. Come to find out it is both the dish itself and the ingredients that go into it. Dal refers to any pulses (lentils, beans, etc) that are simmered with spices and other goodies into luscious goodness. That final dish is also called Dal. I found this recipe in Bon Appetit and the look and the sound of the dish immediately intrigued me.  But then I became confused because it was featured in an article entitled “Healthy-ish”. Really? This is about as healthy as I eat — no “ish” about it. There is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about in this recipe and its filling enough you really can’t eat too much of it.

But its weird. Make no mistake, this is not your usual Tuesday lunch. The flavors shouldn’t go together but they do. You have the earthy, spiced (but not spicy) dal itself (in this case yellow split-peas) with the sweet, pickly red onions and topped with salted plain yogurt. Seriously weird. Seriously wonderful. This, darling, was a darn delicious dal.

Spiced Dal with Fluffy Rice and Salted Yogurt

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp ghee, virgin coconut oil, or vegetable oil

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 2″ piece ginger, peeled, finely grated

2 garlic cloves, finely grated

1-1/2 cups yellow split peas, rinsed

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

1 lime

1 small red onion, very thinly sliced into rounds, rinsed

Pinch of sugar

1/2 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

Cooked Jasmine or basmati rice (for serving)

Freshly ground black pepper

Procedure:

  • Heat Ghee in a medium pot over medium-high. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned around the edges, 5-7 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring often, just to take the edge off the garlic, about 30 seconds. Add 1/3 cup water and simmer, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates, about 1 minute.
  • Add split peas, coriander, turmeric, cardamom and the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, tunic split peas are very tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, 12-14 minutes. Season with salt. Cover with a lid and keep dal warm over low heat while you make the toppings.
  • Finely grate zest from lime into a small bowl. Cut lime in half and squeeze juice into bowl (you’ll have about 2 Tbsp). Add red onion, sugar, and a large pinch of salt and toss, squeezing onion with your hands to help it soften quickly.
  • Mix yogurt with 2 Tbsp water in a small bowl; season with salt.
  • Serve dal over rice drizzled with salty yogurt and topped with onion and pepper.
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Weekly Winner: My New Thing to Put in a Pita – Turkish Kofte

This will not win any photographic awards, but dang, these little patties are tasty! I am a fan of meatballs – I don’t care what country they come from or really, what they’re made out of (within reason, of course). If it’s a ball of meat cooked until crispy on the outside and tender and tasty on the inside, I’m there. Give those meatballs some sort of luscious sauce and put it in a sandwich and you’ve got a fan for life here. That’s how I feel about these Turkish Meatballs (Kofte).

The recipe comes from Milk Street Kitchen and without a doubt, they are the moistest, most flavorful meatballs I’ve ever made. That is due, in no small part, to the pita and yogurt that are mixed into the meatballs, and the herbs that are heated in olive oil before being added to the mix. All of this combines to make a quick, fun, exotic dinner.

Turkish Meatballs (Kofte)

Serves 6

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely grated

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp dried oregano

8-inch pita bread, torn into small pieces (about 3 ounces) plus extra for serving

1/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

1/4 cup water

1 cup packed fresh mint leaves (1 oz) finely chopped

1-1/2 lbs 90 percent lean ground beef

1-1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

Procedure:

  • In a small bowl, stir together 2 Tbsp olive oil, the shallot, garlic, cumin, cinnamon and oregano. Microwave until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then set aside to cool.
  • In a large bowl, combine the torn pita, yogurt and water, then use your hands to mash the mixture to a smooth paste. Add the reserved oil-shallot mixture, the mint, beef, salt and pepper. Use your hands to thoroughly mix. Divide into 12 portions and roll each into a smooth ball. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  • In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the meatballs and use a metal spatula to press into 1/2-inch-thick patties. Cook over medium, adjusting the heat as necessary, until the meatballs register 140F and are well browned on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter, cover loosely with foil and let rest 5 minutes.

Lime-Yogurt Sauce

Makes 1-1/2 cups

Ingredients:

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

3 Tbsp tahini

3 Tbsp lime juice

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

  • In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients until smooth.

Weekly Winner: Way Beyond Basic Basil Beef

Yes, I’m still obsessed with my new cookbook 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die by Jet Tila. This is the very first thing I made out of the book but the second one I’ve written about. I thought starting with Spicy Basil Beef would be the perfect place to start because it’s a dish I’m familiar with and I had all the necessary ingredients.

I have probably made four or five versions of this dish before, but no more. I have now found the definitive recipe. I can now throw all of those away. While the other versions were all perfectly fine and some were even darn tasty, this new riff blows all others out of the water.

This dish is quick, easy and ultimately satisfying. You can also temper the spice level by simply altering the amount of chili paste and Thai chiles (or serrano) that you use.

Spicy Basil Beef (Pad Krapow)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp sweet soy sauce

2 Tbsp oyster sauce

4 Tbsp fish sauce

2 Tbsp chili paste in soybean oil

3 Tbsp vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1-3 serrano or Thai chilies, sliced

3 cups lean ground beef

1 medium onion, sliced

1 small red bell pepper, sliced

1-1/2 cups Thai basil leaves, picked off the stem

1/2 tsp white pepper

Procedure:

  • Combine the sweet soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce and chili paste in a small bowl and reserve.
  • Heat your wok or large skillet over high heat and add the vegetable oil. When wisps of white smoke appear, add the garlic and chilies. Cook them until the garlic starts to brown, about 30 seconds.
  • Stir in the ground beef, flatten against the pan and cook undisturbed for about 45 seconds. The beef will start to brown; turn over once, press flat against the pan and cook for another 30 seconds. Break up the meat into gravel-sized pieces and drain any excess liquid.
  • Stir in the onion and bell pepper and stir-fry for about a minute. Add the reserved sauce to the wok and combine the ingredients thoroughly for about 1 minute. Add the Thai basil and cook until the beef is thoroughly cooked and onions are slightly tender. Finish with white pepper.

Weekly Winner: The Best Thing I Have Made – Period.

Let me be clear: This isn’t the best noodle dish I’ve ever made. Nor is it the best beef dish, curry dish, or Thai dish. I truly believe this is the best thing that I have created in my kitchen. Period.

Santa (aka Hubby) was good to me this Christmas and luckily ignored my numerous declarations that I was forbidden to get another cookbook for at least a year — maybe five! No matter how much I whine, beg or plead. Yeah, well he knows I don’t mean it when talking about a few of my “chef crushes”. Hence I am now the proud owner of Jet Tila’s 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die . And thanks to my new acquisition, on New Year’s Eve created the best dish I’ve made so far, Khao Soi – Northern Curry Braised Beef Noodles.

Seriously, this is a magical dish. The mix of the luscious coconut sauce, the unbelievable braised short ribs, soft noodles, and pungent kimchi (I could not find the pickled mustard greens so used kimchi) left me and hubby literally speechless as we tucked into our bowls. Jet recommends using his braised short rib recipe and the stock used in that for this dish which I did and think you should too. That’s why I’ve included both recipes here.

I’m guessing you can also expect the next several Weekly Winners to come from this book. I’ve got about 20 pages marked so far …. that will only leave me 79 more to go after that!!

Braised Short Ribs

Ingredients:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp kosher salt

1 tsp cracked pepper

4 lb beef short ribs

1/4 cup butter, divided

2 shallots, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 lb onion, cut into large dice

1/4 lb carrot, cut into large dice

1/4 lb celery, cut into large dice

1 750-ml bottle dry red wine

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1 sprig flat-leaf parsley

4 cups beef broth

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325F
  2. Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Dredge the beef in the seasoned flour and shake off the excess; set aside. Heat 2 Tbsp of butter in a 4 or 5 quart Dutch oven over high heat. Brown the short ribs on all sides, about 10 minutes
  3. Melt another 2 Tbsp butter in the pan. Stir in the shallots, garlic, onion, carrot and celery. Cook and stir until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and reduce it by half. Stir in the thyme, bay leaf, parsley and beef broth. Place the browned short ribs on top of the vegetables in a single layer, and then bring it to a boil.
  4. Cover it with a tight-fitting lid or aluminum foil, then bake in the preheated oven until the short ribs are very tender and nearly falling off the bone, about 3 to 3-1/2 hour’s. Once the short ribs are tender, strip meat off the bone with a fork, cover and keep warm.

Khao Soi Northern Curry Braised Beef Noodles

Ingredients:

4 cups coconut milk, separating the top 3 Tbsp of cream

2 Tbsp yellow curry paste

2 Tbsp masamun curry paste

2 kaffir lime leaves, cut into a fine chiffonade

1/2 cup rich beef stock (from short ribs)

2 tsp fish sauce

1 Tbsp tamarind paste

1tsp sugar

1 lb Braised Short Ribs

1/2 lb fresh flat egg noodles, boiled until al dente

1/2 cup Chinese pickled mustard greens, drained and sliced thin ( I used kimchi)

1/2 cup shallots, peeled and cut in small dice

4 scallions, sliced on the bias

Procedure:

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat 3 Tbsp of the thick coconut cream on high for about 1 minute. When the cream starts to sizzle, stir in the curry pastes like building a roux, and add the lime leaves. Stir-fry the paste for about 1 minute, until the pasts start to thicken, dry out, and become fragrant. If the curry starts to sputter, add a small amount of coconut milk to keep the paste moving. Stir in the remaining coconut milk into the curry paste. Increase the heat to high until you reach a full rolling boil. Allow the curry to boil for about 5 to 10 minutes or until it reduces by about a quarter or coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  2. Reduce the sauce to a simmer add the rich beef stock, fish sauce, tamarind and sugar. Taste and adjust as necessary. Add the short rib meat at the last possible moment before serving; it will only take about a minute for the meat to warm and absorb the luscious curry broth.
  3. Divide the noodles into 4 bowls. Ladle about 6 to 8 ounces of the rich broth over each noodle bowl, and make sure each bowl gets a few slices of beef. Garnish with mustard greens (kimchi), shallots and scallions.