Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Moong Dal with Mushrooms & Spinach (Green Gram Lentils)

Doc and I are at the point in our lives where it seems like every week brings a new happy announcement from friends.  Babies, marriages, vacations, new houses, graduations, engagements, promotions.  It's been a giddy time.  

Last week one of my college buddies posted about some aversions she was having during her pregnancy, in particular how she was struggling with meats and dairy.  I offered up some of the dal/bean recipes I've posted.  As I went through them I realized that I had a few more I wanted to add, including this one for mung/moong dal (also called green gram).  So her happy news is good for all of us because it means a new post.

(I won't Piro-rant you with excuses about infrequent posts this spring.  The long and short of it is that I've been enjoying salads and fresh veggies more often than not.  I feel silly posting salad recipes and I don't delude myself that anyone is anxious for the next installment, so I've been waiting for recipes that I felt were worth sharing.)

Moong Dal with Mushrooms & Spinach

Total Time:  2 hours soaking (can be done while at work / overnight) + apx. 1 hour cooking the beans and ~30 minutes making the flavorings.  The process can be sped up by cooking the beans and flavorings at the same time or using a pressure cooker for the beans. 
Weirdest Spice:  Fenugreek leaves.  Can be substituted (fenugreek powder, celery seeds, celery salt, lemon leaves) or omitted.  
Credits:  I can't say I have a base or inspiration recipe for this one.  It bears a resemblance to my basic tadka dal, if that counts.

  • 1 cup green gram (moong / mung dal)
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 tsp oil or ghee
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 0.5 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1.5 tsp chili powder or paprika (optional, adjust to taste)
  • 2 cups pureed tomato
  • 2 tsp fenugreek leaves
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon cream or coconut milk (optional, adjust to taste)
  • salt to taste
  1. Rinse lentils thoroughly in a fine-mesh sieve under warm water until the water runs clear.
  2. Pour the boiling water over the lentils in a heat-proof bowl.  Set aside to soak for 2 hours or overnight.
  3. Transfer the lentils and water to a large nonstick saucepan and heat on the stove on medium-high.  When the water boils, turn the heat down to low and simmer approximately 1 hour or until lentils are soft.  Stir occasionally, adding more water if needed in order to keep the lentils covered with a small amount of water (see pictures below for an example).
  4. While the lentils are booking, heat a second saucepan on medium heat.  When the pan is hot, add the oil.  When oil is shimmering, add the cumin seeds.  Allow to cook for 10-30 seconds or until fragrant.
  5. Add diced onions and a dash of salt.  Saute 5-10 minutes or until translucent.
  6. Add ginger & garlic pastes, saute 2 minutes.
  7. Add the mushrooms, saute 5 minutes.
  8. Add coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric, and chili powder.  Cook 1-2 minutes or until fragrant, stirring constantly.  Add a small splash of water if needed to keep spices from burning.
  9. Add tomato puree and stir until onion paste and tomato puree are well-mixed.  Turn heat down to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until tomato darkens and loses its raw flavor.
  10. Add fenugreek leaves, garam masala, and spinach.  For maximum flavor, use palms to crush the fenugreek leaves before adding.  Cook 5-10 minutes or until spinach is wilted and flavors are incorporated. 
  11. When both the lentils and the tomato sauce are cooked, stir them together over low heat.  Salt to taste.
  12. Optional:  add cilantro and cream or coconut milk.
  13. Serve hot over rice or with flatbread.

What I like best about this lentil recipe is that it's as decadent or as simple as you want to make it.  The difference is the addition of cream or coconut milk at the end.  No cream makes it almost rustic, whereas adding it in makes it restaurant-style in richness.  Or you can shoot for somewhere in the middle, as I usually do.

The first step is to wash and soak your beans.  You can quick-soak in 2 hours by using boiling water, or do it overnight / while you're at work.  

Use 3:1 water to lentils to ensure that they're well-covered and have room to expand.  When you're done soaking you can either use the soaking water or rinse them again and use vegetable stock to cook them instead.  Up to you.

Place the lentils and the cooking water in a large saucepan and dial it up to medium-high.  Ignore the urge to add salt here as that will only increase the cooking time.  

It should take about an hour for the lentils to get soft and for most of the liquid to cook off.  Stir every 5-10 minutes.  Keep an eye so that the lentils don't get dry.  At the end you want a little water/stock in with them but not a huge amount.  Like so:

See how they're soupy but not drowning?  That's the goal at the end.  Add in more liquid as needed if they get much drier than that as they're cooking.  Depending on how dry/old your lentils are it might take more or less than an hour.  It's hard to predict because every bag of lentils is different.  For me it took about an hour and fifteen.

While the lentils are simmering, get the flavoring put together.  

It starts with a second saucepan on medium heat.  When the pan is hot, add the oil, and when the oil is hot, add your cumin seeds.  Ghee is also an okay choice if you're not going for a vegan dish.

The cumin seeds only need about 10-30 seconds in the oil before you'll smell them.  Immediately add in your sliced onions and stir so that the cumin seeds don't burn.

After about 5-10 minutes you'll find the onions have softened up and gotten a bit translucent.  That's the time to add the ginger and garlic pastes.  For some reason, I missed getting a picture of that.  Sorry guys.

Cook the ginger and garlic, stirring occasionally, for about 2-3 minutes.  Then add in the mushroom slices.

About 5 minutes is what it should take for the mushrooms to soften up.  When they are soft add in the spices.  Also toss in a splash of water or stock if the mixture is looking dry in order to keep the spices from burning.

Stir the mushroom-onion-spice mix about 1-2 minutes to cook the spices.

Next up is the tomato puree.  You could use canned or fresh, whatever makes you happiest.

Stir the onion mix and the tomatoes together until they're well incorporated.

Turn the heat down to low to keep the tomatoes from scorching.  Stir from time to time as well.

It'll take about 20 minutes or so for the tomatoes to cook through and lose their raw taste.  They'll also darken up a bit, as you can see here:

The spices in the above photo are fenugreek leaves and garam masala.  Fenugreek leaves get a big boost in flavor from crushing them between your palms just as you add them in.  If you don't have any, go ahead leave them out.  You could potentially replace it with makrut leaves or celery salt for a similar flavor, but it's not necessary.

This is also when you'll want to add in the spinach, which until it wilts will probably seem like an absurd amount.

It'll take about 5-10 minutes for the spinach to wilt and mix into the tomato sauce.  After that it's time to pour the tomato sauce into the cooked lentils.

Stir it well so that the tomato sauce is completely incorporated into the lentils.  Add salt to taste.

If you're a fan of cilantro you can add in a little at this point.

And if you want a richer, creamier flavor you can add in either heavy cream or coconut milk (according to your tastes).  I only go with a small splash.  Start small, is my recommendation, and taste as you go if you think you want a lot of cream.

Stir it all up and you're good to go!

I have a preference for rice rather than rotis, but mung dal go equally well with either.

I served them up with some fresh cucumbers for crunch and some masala eggplant for kick.