Well, without an ounce of modesty, I have to say that this first foray into Indian cooking was a big success.
Yes, the beef could have been slow-cooked for the entire day in order to achieve a truly melt-in-your-mouth texture. And of course the spices could have all been measured with more precision and toasted for deeper flavor. But all in all, with sixty minutes, some simple instructions, and spices from my cabinet (and not a specialty store), I think I accomplished something that comes close to what you’d find at your favorite neighborhood Indian takeout restaurant, with healthier ingredients and very little sodium.
The red lentils and spinach dish was definitely the star of the evening. It was creamy, hearty, and full of subtle flavors that slowly snuck up on you with every bite. The salt-free transformation was rather simple – all I had to do was leave out the salt and use some plain WholeSoy Yogurt (15mg of sodium per container) – and clean up was even easier. Two pots, some dish soap, and you’re done.
Would I make these recipes again? Yes. Do they hold up well as leftovers? I had them for breakfast. Will other people enjoy them? Absolutely! They are simple and unique and great to have on hand for potlucks, dinner parties, and vegetarian feasts (well, not the beef one, obviously). And they will always be more interesting (and impressive) than a steak and some tossed greens.
So start steaming some rice and enjoy a little trip to India this weekend with these two low-sodium-adapted recipes from Cooking By Numbers: Indian, by Mahboob Momen. And remember, an adventurous culinary experience is just a few shakes of turmeric away.
RECIPE 1: LENTILS WITH SPINACH (Palongsak Dal)
- 1 cup red split lentils, well rinsed and drained
- 1 lb fresh spinach, washed and finely chopped (remember to squeeze out water before chopping)
- 2 tablespoons plain WholeSoy yogurt
- 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed (use a garlic press or a microplane grater)
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2½ cups of water
1. Place lentils, onion, and garlic in a pot with the water and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir in the chili powder and ground ginger. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the lentils break down and have a soupy consistency.
3. Right before serving, boil rapidly to evaporate any excess water so the the dal (this is what you are making) is fairly thick.
4. Add the finely chopped spinach and stir. Continue to cook over medium heat for another 3 minutes.
5. Stir in the yogurt and simmer gently for 4 more minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary and serve.
RECIPE 2: BAKED BEEF (Jhalsano Garur Gosht)
- 1 lb of beef stew meat cut into half inch chunks (you can also use lamb for a different flavor)
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
- 1 medium red onion, sliced
- 4 tablespoons of sesame oil
- Juice of two lemons
- 1 green chili, seeded and finely diced
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 teaspoons of black peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 cloves
- 6 cardamom pods
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
1. The day or morning before serving, put the beef into a bowl with the lemon juice. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator. It will turn grey – don’t freak out.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Place half of the onion slices (yellow and red) on the bottom of a medium size, ovenproof casserole dish. Add the marinated meat mixture on top.
4. Heat the sesame oil in a pan over medium-high heat and add the remaining onions. Cook for 5 minutes.
5. Add the green chili, garlic cloves, and all the spices to the pan and stir well. Cook for another 3 minutes.
6. Spread the fried spice and onion mixture on top of the beef and place the casserole dish in the oven. Cover and cook for 1½ hours or until the beef is tender. Turn the meat over occasionally to make sure it doesn’t get dry on top. And as I said earlier in this post, it also would hurt to cook the beef in a slow cooker all day. Deliciousness ensured.
7. Serve over basmati rice and with the lentils.