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Take tastebuds on vacation with lentil dal

Are you ready for a vacation? Are you longing to visit someplace completely different? If yes, I’m with you.

Perhaps we can’t get away, but here’s a temporary solution. Let’s turn dinner into a culinary virtual vacation and make dishes that will immerse us in another culture. Well, at least our tastebuds.

Let’s make delectable dal with chapati and “go” to India. Dal (also spelled dahl, daal or dhal) is the Indian name for dried, split pulses (like lentils, peas and beans) that don’t require presoaking. Dal is the most important staple food in Indian cuisine and one of the most versatile and economical foods in the world.

To serve along with dal, we have chapati, an ancient Indian unleavened flatbread that’s easy and fun to prepare and costs about 25 cents to make.

Dal is a wonderful thing. It’s easy to make, fast and economical. Here’s how to make something as simple as a cupful of lentils, some spices and aromatics, into a hearty stew that’s both delicious and nutritious. The stew is earthy and satisfying; the curry, garlic and ginger flavors are warm and soothing; and the chapati bread provides the perfect chewy scoop to complement the stew. This is comfort food at its finest.

A few thoughts: If you don’t often cook with fresh ginger, I urge you to try it. You just need a little knob, enough to fill a tablespoon. Peel it with a spoon and mince as you would garlic. The difference is amazing for pennies. Also, this dish is very mild. If you enjoy your Indian food spicy, add some jalapeño.

No matter how we spell it, I hope we agree dal is one of the most magnificent transformations of the humble lentil. After all, 1.4 billion Indians can’t be wrong. Right?

EASY RED LENTIL DAL

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 45 minutes total

Should you choose to make both dal and chapati, start by making the chapati dough and letting that rest while you prepare the dal. While the dal is simmering, finish cooking the chapati.

What you’ll need:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1½ cups onion, chopped

4-6 cloves garlic, minced

1 heaping tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3 cups water or vegetable stock

1½ cups red lentils

½ teaspoon salt

1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes, undrained

Cilantro and cooked rice, to serve

Optional add-ins:

1 teaspoon jalapeño pepper, minced, or to taste

1 10-ounce box frozen spinach, thawed and drained

2 cups cauliflower, chopped

1 cup carrot, diced

Here’s how:

In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, heat oil. Add the onion, and cook until soft, about five to seven minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and a bit of extra oil, if needed. Cook for one minute, stirring occasionally. Add curry and cumin stirring to coat the onions with spices and cook for one to two minutes, until everything is spectacularly fragrant.

Add around 1 cup of water or stock, using a spatula to scrape any bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the water or stock, lentils and any optional vegetables, if using, and stir. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a bare simmer, cooking covered for 30 minutes. Stir this occasionally to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

After 30 minutes, add the diced tomatoes and salt; stir and heat through.

Serve with rice, garnished with cilantro and chapati bread.

Store in the fridge for as many as four days or freeze for as long as four months.

CHAPATI

What you’ll need:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup warm water (about 110 F)

Here’s how:

In a large bowl mix the flour and salt together. Add the oil and use your hands to distribute throughout the flour. Pour in the warm water. Mix well to form a dough. Transfer dough to a clean, lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap and let rest for about an hour. (This is a good time to make dal.)

After resting, divide the dough into eight equally sized portions. Using a rolling pin, roll each piece out, on a floured surface, to about a 6-inch diameter. Heat a cast-iron skillet or another dry griddle over medium-high heat. Cook each chapati, one at a time, until browned and puffed, about one minute per side. Serve immediately.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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