Last night Paloma and I prepared dhal, which we chose for several reasons. First, we had picked up the book Extending the Table at Ten Thousand Villages in Asheville a couple of years ago, and I think we had not yet used it. Second, our recipes so far have been uncharacteristically leaning toward beef, and it was time to do a vegetarian recipe. Dhal, in fact, is vegan. Third, Paloma is preparing for a summer service trip to India, so the whole family is learning as much as we can, including the cuisine of the country.
The book is something we will be using a lot more often, now that we have started. We have been using the original edition of the More with Less Cookbook for many years, and which has a "new" edition and seems to have inspired a small series. Others -- which we have not yet seen -- include Simply in Season and Simply in Season Children's Cookbook. The beauty of Extending the Table is that it is draws on culinary traditions from throughout the world -- it even has a geography index. Along with recipes that are mostly healthy and environmentally friendly, the book teaches cultural geography. I learned, for example, why the rice and beans I eat in Nicaragua are called "painted rooster."
We prepared the dhal together, and Paloma took quickly to my detailed tips on how best to prepare onions and garlic. We ate the dhal on the same day that we finished watching Ghandi, a film the rest of the family had not seen, and that I had seen only when it was originally in theaters in 1982. Ghandi's complete commitment to peace and justice -- and his refusal to sacrifice one for the other -- remains inspiring. The film is also an important reminder of the incredible arrogance and cruelty of colonialism, even in very recent history. Finally, it is important to understanding the current configuration of the Indian subcontinent.
Back to the dish itself: The recipe (on page 156) lists ginger and cardamom as optional ingredients; we included both. I could definitely taste the ginger and recommend including it. Cardamom is much more subtle, of course, but I will include it next time, too. Oddly, Pam had put just a speck in our morning coffee yesterday, and I had included it in the pancakes I made for our snow day together. Cardamom does not usually get opened three times in a day at our house, but it was a good thing. The recipe lists split peas and lentils as alternatives; a friend who prepares this all the time says they are both good. We used split peas because we've had them in our freezer for ever, and we will probably make a few more batches that way before trying the lentils. According to the book, one difference is that the split peas need soaking, which I did by the quick method. The recipe suggests that it can be "made fiery hot with ground red pepper or chili peppers." I put in one finely chopped jalapeño, which worked well without getting anywhere near "fiery" territory. The last thing I'll mention about the preparation is that prior to the final stage of cooking down, the dhal resembles a soup. The recipe's comparison of the final product to refried beans helped us to know when we had reached the right consistency.
As Paloma reports on her India blog -- dhal was a hit in our house, and this staple of Indian cooking is likely to become a "Staple on Maple."