Friday, March 4, 2011

Spicy Eggplant Squash Lentil Stew (Dhansak)

I think this might be the ultimate comfort food.  Mushy and hearty, with lentils, split peas, and squash--yet tangy, with mustard seed, lemon juice, and eggplant--and yet also warm-comforty-spicy, with masala, cloves, and ginger--(and with pinpricks of crunch from the corn and the toasted squash seeds!).

As I've just learned, dhansak is like a really pimped out dal that includes squash/pumpkin and other vegetables.  I can't believe I haven't had this combination before; it's amazing.

This recipe from Indian Home Cooking was very straightforward: you just add one thing after another into the stewpot, you make a tempering mixture, and then you put everything together.  I also love how easy the measurements are: 1 onion, 1 squash, 1 eggplant.  Yes! 

I didn't make too many changes, except for adding squash seeds.  It always delights me how naturally squash seeds and squash proper complement each other.  I can almost never resist adding toasted seeds at the end--I mean, since they're there already, why not?

For dinner, I also re-made this amazing recipe for brussels sprouts with coconut, but this time I used regular ol' cabbage instead of brussels sprouts.  Just as fantastic!!  Nutty, buttery, crunchy, tangy, etc.  And so cheap it was practically free.  Actually--lentils, cabbage, and rice--this delicious meal was a good reminder that some of the most nutritious foods are also the most economical.

To round things off, with the stew and the cabbage, we also had some geographically deviant starches: short grain brown rice, and Trader Joe's whole wheat and corn chapatis--I mean, tortillas.  Aaand there was a really exciting dessert!!  Post coming soon.

Spicy Eggplant, Squash, and Lentil Stew (Dhansak)
(adapted from Indian Home Cooking)

1 c yellow split peas
3/4 c lentils
6.5 c water, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TB ginger, minced
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 bay leaves
1-2 fresh hot green chilies, seeded and minced
2.5 tsp salt (or to taste)
3/4 lb tomatoes, chopped (I used 2 tomatoes)
3 c skinned and seeded butternut squash chunks (1-in), about 1 small squash; reserve squash seeds
5 c eggplant chunks (1-in) with skin (about 1 medium)
1 medium red onion, cut into 1-in pieces
1 c fresh or frozen corn kernels
12 fresh spinach leaves, stemmed washed, and torn into bite-size pieces
Tempering oil
canola oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c chopped cilantro
juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Bring the legumes with 4.5 c of the water to a boil.  Skim off the gunk.  Add garlic, ginger, spices, bay leaves, chilies, and salt.  Reduce heat and simmer covered about 20 minutes.
2. Add vegetables and remaining water (I actually didn't add any water at this point, as it was pretty soupy already).  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered about 15 more minutes.  Then, turn off heat.
3. To make tempering oil, heat oil and mustard seeds in a frying pan.  Cover and cook a minute or so.  Add onion, cumin, and garlic; cook about 5 minutes.  Add cilantro, stir, turn off heat, and add lemon juice.  Transfer contents of frying pan into the stew and mix.
4. Adjust seasonings, and serve hot, garnished with additional cilantro and toasted squash seeds.  Serves 6-8.

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