Ahlan wa sahlan, shabaab!
Life update: I’m six days into a summer-long intensive Arabic course, and already I’m dreaming in Arabic (OK, so they’re more like stress dreams about the next vocab quiz, but I’m hoping that my dream-self will start speaking shaami any night now). In addition to four hours of class time plus three hours of homework every day, I’ve decided to make my immersion experience complete (or as complete as possible while still living in southern Indiana) by incorporating aspects of Arabic culture into other areas of my life. Of course for me, this means food.
Thankfully, my local library had this awesome cookbook on its shelves. With the wise-cracking Sally Butcher as my guide, I fully intend to cook and eat my way through her many terrific-looking recipes until I’m fluent (or at least full). Lucky for you, I also intend to share the best of these recipes (perhaps slightly modified) on the Sprout Diaries. Win-win.
To kick things off, I present this carrot and chana dal hotpot. Some of you may be thinking: I thought chana dal was used in Indian cuisine, not Middle Eastern. Others of you may be thinking: what the heck is chana dal? Let’s address both questions.
Yes, chana dal is very popular among Indian cooks, but this miraculous legume is also used throughout the Middle East (Sally actually calls her version of this recipe an “Afghan Carrot Hotpot”). As for what chana dal is, you might be surprised to learn the answer (I was). Chana dal is actually baby chickpeas that have been split in half and polished. I know that doesn’t sound incredibly appetizing, but these little guys have so much going for them. They hold their shape beautifully, unlike their doppelgänger, yellow split peas, which can get rather mushy in a stew. They have a deliciously chewy texture and a subtly sweet taste. And they are excellent sources of fiber, respectable sources of protein, and apparently they have a very low glycemic index. What’s not to love?
carrot & chana dal hotpot
Adapted from The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian
2 sweet onions, sliced
salt & pepper
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon tumeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
pinch or two cloves
1 pound carrots, peeled and chunked
1 1/2 cups chana dal (or yellow split peas)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2-3 large tomatoes, diced
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2-3 cups water
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
brown rice or bread for serving
Per usual, mis en place, people. In other words, get your carrots chunked, your onions sliced, your tomatoes diced, your ginger and garlic peeled and minced. Even measure out your spices if you really want to make the cooking process easy breezy. You won’t be sorry.
Now we’re ready to roll. Start by sauteing the onion in oil for a few minutes until beginning to soften. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a few minutes more. Next, add the spices, carrots, and chana dal, followed a couple minutes later by the tomato paste and fresh tomato. Season with more salt if necessary then stir in the vinegar and raisins (if using). Finally, add just enough water (2-3 cups) so that everything is covered (but don’t overdo it — you can always more).
Bring the pot to a boil then simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the chana dal and carrots are cooked to your liking.
There are several ways to enjoy this highly enjoyable meal. I tried it over a bed of brown rice one night and by itself the next night. I can also easily imagine eating it with warm wedges of naan. As for garnishes, impress your guests with a sprig of fresh mint or a dollop of plain Greek yogurt. Fancy pants.
And if you don’t happen to have five friends to help you polish off the pot in one night, don’t fear! This makes a stellar leftover and will keep for several days.
A quick word about this zinger of a side salad: if you’re looking to elevate your meal to a whole new level, pair the hotpot with a light and bright mixture of finely diced tomato, cucumber, and fresh mint. Just drizzle the whole business with plenty of lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and let it marinade for a half hour or so in the fridge before partaking. Top with a few quality olives if you’re into it. Warning: after you try this salad, you’ll start craving it with every meal.