Thursday, October 23, 2014

Indian Food Feast and Celebrating Diwali: Part 1

Happy Diwali to everyone, the Indian festival of lights. Celebrating the triumph of light over darkness, happiness and goodness over sadness and all the badness. The holiday serves as a moment to bring luck and prosperity to the year ahead. Diwali is celebrated all over India, making it unique among Indian holidays, which vary much from region to region. Everyone regardless of religion can happily celebrate these ideas, lightness winning out over darkness.

Candles are lit in every dark corner, illuminating both city and country in what is called the brightest of all festivals. There are fireworks and firecrackers, and lots of sweets to share. Diwali continues for the next few days, it officially begins today on October 23rd. So light all your candles and make a good wish against the darkness and the storms. 

I had a chance to celebrate Diwali, one evening early, with my culinary book-club. We had collectively read from two books by chef Vikram Vij, Vij's: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine, and the more laid back  Vij's at Home: Relax, Honey.  A wide variety of recipes, with sweet stories about which ones his daughter loves, and which are favorites at the restaurant. Everything we cooked from the book was delicious, however we did find that some of the recipes could have been made more efficient for home cooks. It was agreed among all that although the recipes look long, once you get started it is very simple, as most of the ingredients are spices!

His food is clearly Northern Indian, with earthy spiced curries, and rice pilafs. Our pot-luck event netted Punjabi lentil curry, aka Daal Makhani, black lentils with kidney beans. Cauliflower rice pilaf. Potato and mushroom buttermilk curry. Brocolli rabe, tomato and mushroom yogurt curry. Chili spiced toor daal. Basmati rice and cucumber raita. Look at the variety of colors, we had full plates!

Considering the holiday, I wish I still had my copy of Great Indian Feasts, by Mridula Baljekar. She lays out favorite dishes for at least 6 holidays, Diwali being one. With fantastic stories of the dishes, how they are prepared, served and enjoyed. As well as what each one symbolizes or celebrates, a book full of riches. 

So what to make for Diwali?! Ill include the Daal Makhani recipe here, realizing with all my adaptations it is a nearly different recipe! And be on the lookout for Diwali Part 2, with a sweet recipe! As the sweets are really what Diwali is known for.

Daal Makhani, Black Lentils with Kidney Beans

11/2 cups whole urad lentils
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (or garlic powder)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
6 cups water
2 cans 14 oz kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup melted ghee (or butter)
2 medium sized yellow onions
5 cloves garlic
1-2 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 teaspoon finely chopped chili pepper
1 teaspoon garam masala 

The lentils do not need to be soaked, however they cook in nearly twice as fast if they are soaked. Put lentils into an 4 quart pot. Add 6 cups of water, salt, turmeric, asafoetida (or garlic powder) and bring to a boil over high heat. 
Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes (or 15-20 if lentils were soaked.) The lentils will hold their shape, they are done when tender, they smush gently when pressed. 

While the lentils cook, make up the onion. They onion must be cut very small to hide in the daal, this is best done by grating the onion or using a food processor. Cut the onions into 4 wedges. Remove the skin and bottom. Place onion into food processor, blitz until it is all ground up, yes it will look soupy. Melt the ghee in a medium sized frying pan. Add the ground onion the the ghee. Cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, they onion will become translucent and fragrant. Chop the garlic, ginger and chili into equally small pieces, this can also be done in the food processor. Add the minced garlic, ginger, garam masala, and however much chili you want into the cooking onion. Stir, frying the onion for 5 minutes more. Some brown areas would be ok, mine remained pale.

Add the drained kidney beans to the lentils. Add the fried onion garlic mixture as well. Stir to include them, and simmer for 10 minutes so the flavors meld. The lentils hold up and can be simmered to keep it warm for an hour easily. 

Some people like to finish the daal with a good dose of cream. I personally dont, it is just beautiful as it is. 

Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a week. Reheat and serve with everything. I even ate some for breakfast today!

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