Semi-willing Hiking Partner
I got a lot accomplished yesterday: biked to Sur La Table looking for pressure cooker, turned around and biked to William & Sonoma and purchased Cuisinart Electric pressure cooker, grocery shopped at Whole Foods, biked home, made rye dough, ricotta cheese. Turned ricotta cheese into a pie, made a batch of sambhar masala, put together dinner and convinced/coerced Sophie into going for a hike with me.
The weather was unseasonably warm, and the hiking couldn't have been better. We fortified ourselves with 2 year old Clif blocks and a Clif bar. Note to self, remind Sophie to leave her retainer at home when we hike. I made her stop walking while we snacked because I had visions of the retainer falling into a crevice or the Potomac. Even though we have been hate watching Bear Grylls we did not have to put any of his survival techniques into practice. By the time we got home, the pressure cooker had accomplished cooking the squash and dal mixture to perfection. But let me start at the beginning....I checked out "660 Curries" from the library and discovered that I needed a pressure cooker to accomplish the murghi dhansaak (chicken simmered in a pumpkin-lentil sauce with fenugreek). Actually the recipe says you can use a regular old stockpot as long as you don't mind sticking around while it cooks (I minded, plus you can cook beans in a pressure cooker super fast, braise lamb shanks in record time, all without having to take up the one large burner on my stove that actually works).
One of the components of the recipe is sambhar masala--a roasted spice mix. I had to fudge a little bit since I don't have white poppy seeds, and I scaled back the chiles by half to make it a bit more family friendly. I also had to duck into the camper for the coffee grinder because I didn't think I could pulverize the cinnamon sticks in my mortar without going into muscle failure. Here is the official recipe:
1/2 cup firmly packed fresh curry leaves (I froze mine and they seem to work nicely-I just pull out some when I need them)
1/2 cup dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed (I used chile de arbol, about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup chana dal (yellow split peas), picked over for stones--I never find stones in my beans/lentils so I've stopped looking
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 TBS cumin seeds
1 TBS fenugreek seeds
1 TBS blackor yellow mustard seeds
1 TBS white poppy seeds (or not)
2 3" cinnamon sticks, broken into smaller pieces
1 TBS canola oil
Combine all spices in a medium-sized bowl. Drizzle with oil and toss well to coat evenly. Preheat a medium size skillet over med-hi heat. Add the mixture and roast, stirring constantly until the curry leaves curl up and appear dark and brittle, the chiles blacken slightly, the split peas turn dark brown, the coriander/cumin/fenugreek turn reddish-brown, mustard seeds pop and swell up, 3-4 minutes. Immediately transfer to a plate to stop the cooking. Once they are cool, pour into spice/coffee grinder and grind finely. Combine the batches in a small bowl and mix well. Store in tightly sealed container for up to 2 months. Storing in the refrigerator may adversely affect flavor per the author.
Roasting spices in your kitchen will make your whole house smell like an Indian restaurant, semi-permanently.
You will only need 2 tsp for the recipe, but sambhar masala has a way of showing up in many recipes, and it is probably delicious sprinkled on meat prior to roasting, vegetables, etc.
The author calls for "fresh red pumpkin" but I used a kabocha squash with good results. He suggests substituting sweet potato if you don't have a fresh pumpkin on hand, but come on people, it is October.
1 cup toovar dal (split yellow pigeon peas)
4 cups cubed pumpkin/squash/sweet potatoes
2 large red onions, one chopped coarsely, one thinly sliced. As you can see from the photo I used yellow onion
1/4 cup firmly packed fresh cilantro
1/4 cup firmly packed fresh mint leaves
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne
2-2 1/2 lb bone-in chicken, skinned (I used three split breasts)
4 TBS ghee or canola oil
4 cups loosely packed fenugreek leaves (I omitted altogether because I wasn't going to ride the bike another 15 miles round trip to the Indian grocery, good luck to you and let me know if you find them)
2 TBS grated ginger
1 TBS minced garlic
2 tsp sambhar masala
2 tsp coriander seeds, ground
1 tsp Kashmiri chiles or 1/4 tsp cayenne + 3/4 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp Madras curry powder
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds from black pods (nope)
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds from green pods (again, nope)
1 large tomato, finely chopped
2 tsp kosher salt
wash/drain the dal 3x or until the water is fairly clear. Place in the pressure cooker or stock pot and add 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, uncovered, over high heat, skimming any foam that rises to the surface. The following steps are completed in the pressure cooker, if using a stock pot you will have to watch for boil-over/test for doneness. Stir in pumpkin/chopped onion/cilantro/mint/turmeric/cayenne. Seal the cooker and cook under high pressure for ~15 minutes, then allow pressure to subside naturally. While the vegetables are cooking, put the chicken in another pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, skimming any foam. Simmer 15-20 minutes or until the juices are clear when poked with a fork. Transfer to a platter. I used the "stock" to cook my rice, the recipe calls for saving a cup to thin out the vegetables, but I didn't need to do this. Once the pressure cooker is open mash the vegetables with the back of a spoon. Heat 2 TBS oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the sliced onion until soft and brown, then mix into the dal mixture. (I omitted this entirely, I didn't want my house to smell like fried onions on top of the spices). Heat remaining 2 TBS oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the fenugreek leaves, ginger, garlic, sambhar masala, coriander, Kashmiri chiles, curry powder and cardamom. Cook, stirring occasionally until the fenugreek leaves appear olive green, ~5 minutes (I just cooked until the spices became fragrant and the garlic lightly brown). Add the dal mixture to the pan along with the chicken, tomato and salt. Simmer over medium heat uncovered stirring occasionally to reheat the chicken and allow flavors to blend ~10 minutes.
I served with basamati rice (also cooked in pressure cooker in ~10 minutes!).
I specifically typed out this particular recipe because Sophie made sure to get every last bite from her plate. I commented that she must really like this curry, and she said, "I like everything you make." This is technically a lie, or if you know middle schoolers, a sweeping generalization--like, "Nobody is going to the dance this Friday." Sometimes actions do speak louder than words.