Smoky Yellow Split Peas: Tamatar Chana Dal
Vegan and gluten-free
Dals are cornerstone to India's meals as they are an inexpensive way of infusing proteins, fiber, and body-building nutrients to one's diet, vegetarian or otherwise. These common-to-find peas are easy-to-cook and do not require any presoaking. The spicing techniques in this recipe hail from the southeastern region of India where roasting spices to yield nutty-hot flavors are key to create a layered experience. I have simplified the number of spices used but have kept to its authenticity in terms of assertiveness and balance. Be sure to have some steamed white rice to absorb all that saucy goodness. Oh, and best of all, no added fat!
- 1 cup yellow split peas
- 1 pound potatoes (Yukon gold or russet), peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (soak them in cold water to prevent browning; drain before use)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 to 4 dried red cayenne chiles (like chile de arbol), stems discarded
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 medium-size tomato, cored, and diced
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
1. Measure the peas into a medium-size saucepan. Cover it up with water and rinse the grains by rubbing them in-between your fingertips (I just use the fingers of one hand to do it). The water will become cloudy and may have some debris like the odd skin from the peas (even though they are skinless) or dust from the packaging. Drain this water. Repeat three to four times until the water, upon rinsing the peas, remains clearer. Measure and pour 4 cups water into the pan and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. You will see some foam arise; scoop it out and discard it.
2. Add the potatoes and turmeric to the peas, stirring once or twice. Lower the heat to medium-low and cover the pan. Stew the mélange, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender but still firm-looking and the potatoes are cooked, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. While the peas and potatoes cook, preheat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once the pan feels hot (a palm held close to the bottom will feel the heat), usually will take 2 to 4 minutes, sprinkle the chiles, coriander, and cumin into it. Toast the spices, shaking the pan very frequently, until the chiles blacken and smell smoky- hot and the seeds turn reddish brown and smell incredibly aromatic (nutty with citrus undertones), 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer this spice blend to a blender jar and plunk in the tomato. Puree, scraping the insides of the jar as needed, to make a smooth, reddish brown paste with a smoky aroma that is sure to knock your socks off.
4. Once the peas are cooked, scrape the spicy (as in well-seasoned) tomato paste into the pan. I usually pour some of the liquid from the pan into the blender jar and process it for a brief second to wash out all the goodness into the water. Pour the washings back into the pot. Stir in the cilantro and salt.
5. Crank up the heat to medium-high and vigorously boil the dal, uncovered, stirring occasionally, to allow the flavors to mingle and the sauce to slightly thicken, 12 to 15 minutes. If you wish for a thicker sauce, mash some of the peas and potatoes with the back of your spoon. Serve warm.
- Even though dals are great draped over a bed of steamed rice, try them with wedges of flatbread dunked in it. Even when crusty baguette or other yeast breads are warmed, sliced, and served alongside, it makes a great appetizer.
- Yellow split peas that are available here in the US in every supermarket but are slightly different than the variety that grows in India -- I find those grown here to be a bit nuttier and very much corn-like in texture. The ones in India are from a variety of garbanzo beans that have a dark brown to almost blackish colored skin. When the legume's skin is removed and the grain split in half, you get the variety of yellow split peas in India called chana dal. The green split peas (what you generally use for split pea soup with ham hock) are a perfect stand-in for the yellow variety should you wish to use them instead.
- Puree any leftover dal in a blender or a food processor to yield an almost pate-like spread. Try and drain off a bit of the excess liquid before you do that. It reminds me of a Greek skordalia (potato puree with garlic) but with more texture and oomph.