September is when my kitchen is still in the throes of summer but readying for the winter ahead. Some days are cool enough to cook up a storm. Others hot enough to almost make you throw out the apron and order in.Almost, but not quite. Perhaps because I grew up in Bombay, where my mom — like most Indian women of her time — cooked over a stove in a kitchen without air-conditioning or even a fan every day through the hottest of summers, I am never completely perturbed by the idea of turning on the stove on a blistering, sweltering day. At least I have the luxury of an exhaust hood. She managed with nothing more than an open window.
In my kitchen this month, I have been turning on the stove as often as I can bear it, so I can cook with some of the fresh veggies and herbs still thriving in my backyard garden.
In my kitchen right now are heirloom tomatoes I just picked that I’ve been using to make sumptuous summer treats like my Green Tomato Stew and Fried Green Tomatoes. Purple eggplants shaped like swans and golden eggplants that I did not know existed until I picked a plant by accident (the nursery mislabeled the plants). And fresh okra pods — a vegetable I can usually only enjoy in summer when I get to grow my own (I hate the frozen kind).
In my kitchen are bags and bags of frozen Indian vegetables– ones I cannot find in markets here– that I picked up on my trip to the Indian grocery store. Karela (bitter gourd), methi (fenugreek leaves), and lotus root, all ready and waiting for me to cook whenever I have a mind to.
My kitchen this month is fragrant with the perfume of basil, sage, rosemary and thyme, my favorite herbs, drying away before I can jar them and enjoy their warmth all through winter.
In my kitchen is my brand-new cast iron kadhai, a small Indian wok . I bought this 10-inch contraption in the Indian grocery store for $12 and I must say it has immediately become my favorite kitchen utensil, just as it was my mom’s. Indian cooks prize their kadhais because food cooked in one tastes quite different — and far more perfect– than food cooked in any other pan.
In my kitchen is this large and inexpensive stone molcajete I have been using to crush spices and make ginger-garlic pastes. This is the latest addition to my family of mortars and pestles. I confess to a deep weakness for these delightful little contraptions that make cooking seem like what it is: a labor of love. They remind me of my mom, and my aunts, who– ever mistrustful of blenders– would insist on mixing up complex and delicious spice pastes and batters in a humongous stone mortar-and-pestle called a ragda that sat in most Indian kitchens. The flavor, they would say, was so much better when it was done by hand instead of by machine. My collection of mortars and pestles includes a wooden one picked at a yard sale, a marble one picked up at just some old kitchen store, and my favorite– a stone one I picked up from a street vendor in Goa that resembles a miniature ragda.
The dal may not be much to look at, but believe me when I say it tastes phenomenal. When I brown-bagged this to work, co-workers stopped to ask just what was that I was eating– it smelled that good with all the spices that went in there.
This In My Kitchen goes to Celia’s blog, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, which hosts this wonderful meme each month. If you are like me and can’t resist a peek into the behind-the-scenes world of other food bloggers, head on over to Celia’s blog to read more In My Kitchen posts.
Now about this dal, I love using peanuts in dals because although we often forget, peanuts are a legume and they taste phenomenal when they are boiled. Keep in mind that unlike other legumes peanuts don’t expand when cooked, so if you use one cup of dry peanuts you will get one cup of cooked peanuts.
To give my dal some body I added pink lentils.In went some simple whole garam masala spices, like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bay leaves. But there was no grinding and blending involved– you just throw it all in a pot and let it come together.
Here’s the recipe, then. Enjoy, all.
Kale Dal with Peanuts
- Five cups kale , cut into thin ribbons
- 1 cup peanuts
- 1/2 cup pink lentils (you can try other lentils here, like French puy lentils)
- 1 tsp vegetable oil , like canola
- 2 dry bay leaves
- 4 cloves
- 1- inch stick of cinnamon
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 1 large onion , finely chopped
- 1 heaping tbsp coriander powder
- 1 tbsp crushed or minced garlic
- 1 tbsp grated ginger
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp cayenne or , if you want less heat, paprika
- Salt to taste
- In a pressure cooker or in a large stew pot with a tight-fitting lid, mix the kale, turmeric, lentils and the peanuts, add water to cover the ingredients by at least an inch, and cook until the dal is all mushy. This should take minutes in a pressure cooker-- follow manufacturer directions-- and about an hour in a regular pot. If you are cooking in a stew pot, check the dal level frequently and add more water if the mixture gets very dry.
- In a large saucepan, heat the oil and add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaves. Saute for a minute until the cardamom gets puffy and the bay leaves begin to darken.
- Add the onion. Saute, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to caramelize and develops brown spots, about five minutes.
- Add the ginger and garlic pastes and saute another minute.
- Add the cayenne or paprika and coriander powder and stir it in.
- Add the cooked peanuts, dal and kale and stir well to mix. Add salt to taste.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, adding more water if needed, and cook about 10 minutes to let all the flavors come together.
- Serve hot with some rice or rotis, or eat like a soup.