Sometimes stream of consciousness thought is a weird thing.
My family went out for burgers the other night, and instead of getting the Southwestern like I typically do (hello, chipotle-infused burger), I opted for the Greek burger. One bite into the cumin and garlic lamb burger and I was instantly taken back to Borough Market, one of my favorite places on earth. When I lived in London, I had a Saturday tradition of making the 45 minute trek (yes, it's really that worth it) over to the London Bridge area for a latte and a lamb kofte sandwich, before shopping around for that week's offerings of items I wouldn't find in my local Tesco. This memory, combined with the memory of the bag of lentils in my pantry, caused a serious craving for some good Indian food. Because, you know, Indian food is really popular (and really, really good) in London.
I told you it was a weird thing.
Whatever, my weird thoughts turn into delicious lunches! When I go out for Indian, I order dhal makhni pretty much every time. Something about the buttery, tomato-based sauce just does the trick. It has a slight kick from the chillies, which is never a bad thing. The best part about making curry at home? Copious amounts of leftovers! Lentils are pretty filling, so a small portion goes a long way. Within about five hours of making this, I had already gone to the store for more ingredients so I'm ready for the next batch as soon as this one runs out. It may not be quite as good as dining out at one of the billions of stores on the Curry Mile in the East End (I'm sure they use like five times as much ghee), but 3000 miles away it's not so bad.
Dhal Makhni - Serves 6-8
For the lentils
1 cup dry black or brown lentils (they hold up better)
2 small (or 1 large) onion, finely chopped
2 cans diced tomatoes, pureed
(2 tablespoons tomato paste, optional)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2-1 jalapeno (depending on how spicy you want it), minced
3 tablespoons butter or ghee
1/4 cup whole milk or cream
fresh cilantro for garnish
salt to taste
In a large saucepan, melt butter. Toast cumin seeds in butter until fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add ginger, garlic and jalapeno, saute for another minute. Add onion and tomato puree, simmer about 7-10 minutes to soften onion. Stir in chili powder, then add lentils and simmer another 10 minutes or so. If after adding lentils you still want more tomato sauce, stir tomato paste into about 1/2 cup of water and add to the sauce. Mix in garam masala and cream at the very end and let them cook in for a minute or two. Garnish with fresh cilantro and a touch of cream, if desired. Serve with rice.
Note: I used finely minced onion, so the final dish had texture. Next time I'll probably take an immersion blender to the sauce before adding the lentils to make it smooth.
Tip: to get your onion finely chopped, slice off one end and peel off the skin. Slice as far down as you can without slicing all the way through to create a grid (see the picture). Lay the onion down on the cutting board and slice through the grid to get really small pieces of onion. Ta da!
For the rice
1 cup dry white rice (basmati would be best but I used regular rice and it was fine)
1-2 tablespoons butter
2 cups water
pinch of salt
Rinse the rice with water to wash out some of the starch (what makes the water cloudy). Add all ingredients to a pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook (covered) for 15 minutes.