Dal Bukhara – Indian vegetarian comfort food – beluga lentils in creamy tomato curry from the Aarti Paarti Cookbook. Can be made dairy or dairy-free, vegan.
This weekend, I’ll be speaking on a panel at the TECHmunch LA Food Blogger Conference discussing food and culture (if you’re a Southern California-based blogger, please come– it should be a great time!). One of my co-panelists, Aarti Sequeira, has a new cookbook out that I’ve been meaning to share with you all. With this conference on the horizon and cultural cooking on my mind, this seemed a perfect time to put Aarti in the spotlight! Aarti is a Food Network star and the author of Aarti Paarti, a fabulous collection of some of her favorite recipes. She has a delightful way of weaving her own unique cultural experience into her cooking– she was born in Mumbai and raised in Dubai. This fascinating childhood informed her culinary creativity, resulting in fabulous Indian-inspired dishes with a distinct Middle Eastern influence. Most of Aarti’s recipes are accompanied by thoughtful stories and anecdotes, which I appreciate… the story behind the dish is always my favorite part. The photos are beautiful and colorful, a celebration of Aarti’s unique, global style of cooking. I had a difficult time choosing just one dish to make!
Though many of the recipes caught my eye, I decided on Dal Bukhara, a creamy tomato curry dish made with beluga lentils. I can only assume they’re called beluga lentils because these tiny black lentils look so much like caviar! Aarti first tasted this dish on a day trip to the Taj Mahal, and was inspired to create her own version when she got back home. Like most Indian dishes, the spices are key here– she toasts them whole to release their aroma, then grinds them before adding them to the dish. While it might seem like a lot to go through for one recipe, every good thing in life is worth a bit of extra effort. I only made a couple of small changes from Aarti’s original recipe– I subbed Earth Balance for ghee/butter and full fat coconut milk for cream. This made the dish vegan/dairy-free without compromising much on flavor. Of course the cream is absolutely decadent, if you’re in the mood I wouldn’t hesitate to splurge! I served mine over white jasmine rice and it was absolutely divine, a delicious vegan entree.
Aarti won the sixth season of Food Network Star and she is now the host of her own cooking show, Aarti Party. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should definitely check it out! Aarti is a doll and her recipes are inspired. Find her cookbook here. Enjoy!
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Spice Mix Ingredients
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 1-inch piece cassia or cinnamon stick
- 4 whole cloves
- 2 green cardamom pods, seeds removed and pods discarded
- 2 dried chiles de árbol
- 2 tsp paprika
- 4 cups water, plus 3 cups hot water
- 1 cup black beluga lentils, picked over for pebbles and rinsed
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 tbsp ghee, unsalted butter or dairy-free butter substitute (use butter substitute to keep vegan)
- 1 whole yellow onion, finely diced (about 2 cups)
- Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 tsp grated, peeled fresh ginger
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 14.5 oz diced fire-roasted tomatoes (1 can)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or full fat coconut milk (I used coconut milk to keep this dish dairy free/vegan)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, to garnish
- To make the spice mix, warm a small skillet over medium heat. Add the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds, along with the cassia (or cinnamon), cloves, cardamom seeds and chiles. Toast the spices, stirring and shaking the pan frequently, for a couple of minutes until fragrant. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Snap the dried chiles in half and shake the seeds into the trash.
- Transfer the chiles and the rest of the toasted spices along with the paprika into a spice grinder. Grind to a fine powder.
- To make the lentils, bring the 4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rinsed lentils and return the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and put the lid on ajar. Cook the lentils for 10 to 12 minutes, until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, warm the oil and ghee (or butter substitute) in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until just shimmering. Add the onion and season with a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until golden brown and just short of being caramelized, about 8 minutes.
- Add the ginger and garlic to the pan and cook for 30 seconds (add a little water if they start to stick to the bottom of the pan). Add the diced tomatoes and spice mix. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated and the entire mixture holds together as one mass, and even starts to stick to the bottom.
- Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a minute more, stirring often.
- Add the lentils, the 3 cups hot water and 3/4 tsp kosher salt. Stir, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cover. Cook for 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Stir in the cream or coconut milk, taste for salt, and garnish with cilantro. Aarti suggests adding a pat of butter to "royal it up" even more!