While the Indian food we white people make at home isn’t quite as spectacular as what we get from Vik’s or Udupi Palace in Berkeley, nonetheless we make a respectable Indian meal in these parts. The foundation? Dal. It’s delicious, it’s easy, it’s cheap, and even the kids will eat it, especially if you allow them to tailor their own with condiments. This dal recipe doubles beautifully, which makes it a great candidate to freeze for another meal.
Indian food is so vegetarian-friendly! Here’s an easy recipe for dal, which is a vital part of a kid-friendly, vegetarian Indian feast.
Very slightly adapted from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant
1 1/2 cups of red lentils (you can choose a different kind if you like, but these are readily available and cheap, and they cook quickly)**
4 cups of water
? teaspoon of turmeric
Salt to taste
? teaspoon cumin seeds
2 T ghee, vegetable oil, or plain old butter
1 cup chopped onions
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (you know about freezing your ginger, right, for long-term keeping? Just grate it with a microplane for this recipe and others)
1 teaspoon garam masala
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Spinach or other greens, or tomatoes, or a can of coconut milk
Chopped cilantro, to serve
**My mom just reported that the mobile version made “1 point 5” look like 15. One and a half cups, people!**
Rinse your lentils and add them to a pot with the water, turmeric, and about ? teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, quickly reduce the heat (lentils love to foam all over your stove), and simmer, stirring often, for about 20 minutes until soft.
Meanwhile, melt your butter or oil (I wonder whether coconut oil would be good in this?likely), add the cumin seeds, and stir for 15 seconds or so until they?re fragrant. Add the onions and cook until they are soft and beginning to brown, 10-15 minutes. When the lentils are soft and the onions are done, stir the onions and all the deliciousness from the frying pan into the lentils along with the garam masala and the greens or tomatoes. Cook until the greens are wilted, salt to taste (I find I need a generous pinch, and that the lentils go from meh to amazing with the right seasoning), then brighten the pot with lemon juice to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
Notes: If you want to add some coconut milk, add it just at the end and lightly warm it so it doesn?t curdle. Probably skip the lemon juice. I always add greens to this. My kids like these served with basmati or jasmine rice, with yogurt on the table. My husband adds all kinds of spicy pickles we get at Vik?s. We also buy papadums at Vik?s, and on a good night, fry them up to go with. They’re greasy, salty, and perfect with some mango chutney.
My friend Mattison sent me this video the other day of her parents preparing a feast for Chinese New Year. Immigrants from China via Vietnam, they worked for hours?days?weeks??preparing the food. The level of food prep is astounding. There are scenes of her mom forming dumplings by hand, mixing doughs, frying little delicious-looking morsels. Dungeness crabs cracked with a sharp knife, individual?custards? Cakes??stamped with a fetching little chop, becoming works of art. Her mom lays an altar and burns incense over the food.
It is, in a word, beautiful.
I’ve been thinking about that video a lot, not just because it all looked so delicious. I’ve been a little obsessed with food prep lately. I’m the food prep maven in our house. I work less, I get home earlier?it just makes sense. And I used to be so good at it. L would play happily with some jars or measuring spoons on the kitchen floor?or, later, read a book or color?while I roasted veggies or whipped up a quinoa salad.
But Baby S would rather pull jars off the shelves and fiddle with the knobs to the stove. He?d rather dig through the trash. He?d rather open the one not-yet-baby-proofed cupboard and dump Cheerios all over the floor. He?d rather make a break for the bathroom and gleefully thrust both hands into the toilet. So many nights, five pm rolls around and I?m flummoxed. The baby needs to be picked up, and he?s very persuasive. Or he?s in the toilet. Or something has to come out of the oven and it?s not even safe for me to open the door because he?ll try to climb in. I holler for L to watch the baby for fivepleasejustfiveminutes but L has turned into a teenager that afternoon and demands a bribe (or flat-out refuses). Ben walks in the door and I hand him the baby and march to the fridge for a beer.
Well, for the first time in my adult life, I’m embracing that slippery practice of PLANNING MEALS. And hoo boy has it has helped. It’s turned the question of what the f&*k is for dinner? into “I know what’s for dinner, because I planned it over the weekend, muthas!”
So herewith, my Boring Yet Practical Tips:
Dude. Just plan the meals. I’ve been asking my family what sounds yummy to them and rolling with it. Weirdly, since doing this, I think we’re eating more vegetables and more variety.
Cook ahead of time.?Yes, it can be done. Last Sunday morning, I thought to myself, well, since I’m in the kitchen anyway, I might as well chop these two onions and throw them in a couple of separate pots and simultaneously make a pot of Indian dal with coconut milk and a grass-fed beef stew with root veggies. Dinner for two nights, done.
Shop once. This was a hard one at first, but easy to embrace when I got two credit card bills in a row that were almost double my (Bay Area!) rent. Ouch. The jury’s still out, but I kind of suspect all those frantic last-minute trips to the store, plus whopping Costco trips (we let our membership lapse, partially after reading this) were to blame. I’m trying instead to make a good list and go one time.
Cook with What You Have. That is, of course, the title of my brilliant friend Katherine’s blog and business. Just look at the photos on that webpage. I’m salivating. She even has a recipe subscription service. More than that, the ethos makes sense. Shop smart, cook whatever you want.
Cut corners, but not too many corners. I just can’t embrace Blue Apron and Good Eggs and all that jazz, you guys. If money is no object, and you’re working 80 hours a week, then by all means. For me, though, all the wasteful plastic packaging really got me down. And I’d rather just shop than have my groceries delivered, because then I know which stores I’m supporting.
That said, definitely cut some corners. Last fall, before they discontinued the crusts (bastards), I was all about the following dinner: Trader Joe’s gluten-free pizza crusts with Trader Joe’s pizza sauce and Trader Joe’s cheese, topped with greens or mushrooms or whatever you want. Salad. Easy. Yum. I am also all about rice bowls, e.g. a big pile of rice with a bunch of veggies and a fried egg on top. These are 20-minute dinners.
Definitely, definitely allow yourself to eat out once a week. (This article suggests you should do it even more!)
Being organized about feeding my family feels really good to me right now that I’ve got a million more things on my plate, like a new book and a book launch to plan. (Come!)
What are YOUR go-to food prep tricks, or true confessions? I’m all ears.
I'm working from the premise that motherhood is not just all diapers, tantrums, and setting limits. It's interesting. Okay, sometimes.