I feel a bit daunted when confronted by the vast array of individual spices used in traditional Indian cooking, hence my preference for a ready-made curry paste.
So when I asked a friend if I could assist her while she conducted an Indian cooking class from her home, it was out of curiosity and a desire to learn more about the spices I tend to avoid.
Cindy, who is a yoga therapist, hosted an Indian couple for several months some time back and subsequently traveled to India and stayed with them.
Aisha, Cindy's hostess in Mumbai, helped refine her already advanced skill cooking with Indian spices, so I knew that I'd learn something if I assisted in the kitchen as she passed on her knowledge to the women attending the class.
What I already do know is that the spectacular colors of India, as seen in the beautiful saris the women wear, are reflected in their cooking spices.
In Cindy's class, the spices above, plus some, were used in various combinations according to the Ayurveda practice of including in each meal all six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.
Here are a few other things I discovered about the spices used in Dahl, the Indian dish I'm featuring today:
- Turmeric (the yellow spice above) is the base of almost every curry. It's a warming spice, contributing bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes. It's also a natural blood-purifier and anti-inflammatory. It detoxifies the liver, fights allergies, boosts the immune system and stimulates digestion. Used in tiny quantities it colors boiled white rice, potatoes and lentils. It combines well with cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper and cinnamon.
- Cumin Seeds (the light green seed behind the turmeric), are pungent, slightly bitter and warming. An excellent digestive, they combine well with fennel and coriander (and then its action is cooling), turmeric, ginger and cinnamon.
- Black Mustard Seeds (in the forefront of the photo above) are pungent and warming, oily and sharp. They relieve muscular pain and warm the digestive system.
- Fresh Grated Ginger (not seen in pic above) is is pungent and warming and it is used so widely in Ayurveda medicine that it's considered a medicine chest unto itself!
- Fresh Cilantro (not seen in pic above) is cooling and used fresh as a garnish -- as it is in Mexican cooking.
1) 1 cup yellow split Moong (or Mung) Dhal -- this is the easiest to digest of all the legumesSesame or light olive oil or ghee (clarified butter)
2) 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (Optional: same of coriander seeds)
3) 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
4) 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
5) 1/2 teaspoon grated or chopped ginger
6) Optional: paprika or your choice of chili
7) Fresh chopped cilantro for garnish
- Rinse and soak split dahl in water for 30 minutes
- In a large pot (or pressure cooker) heat oil. Add spices, stirring over med. until seeds pop
- Add dahl and 6 cups of water, bring to boil and let simmer 45 mins on stove top or bring pressure and rock 5 minutes and then let sit until pressure falls. You want the dahl to cook to a butter-soft consistency.
I'll post some cooking tips for papadams this week, along with several other dishes to serve alongside the dahl.
Note: Adding a cup of (uncooked) basmati rice, perhaps some carrot and sweet potato turns dahl into kitcheree, a high-protein, easy-to-digest soul food -- the Indian equivalent of chicken soup.
According to Cindy, doulas in India feed kitcheree to new mothers. Made with spring vegetables it's also the sole food eaten as part of the Ayurvedic spring-detox program known as Panchakarma.