Thursday, May 12, 2011

Vegan Navratan Korma with Chana Dal

When I visit my parents and we go out for Indian food, this is the dish my mom usually wants to order. It's a stew-like dish, usually made with a cashew-cream sauce (at least at the restaurants we go to). My mom likes the creamy smoothness of the dishes and the "jewels" of vegetables. According to various sources (and menus!) "navratan" means "nine jewels" and refers to the mixture of vegetables in this dish.

The restaurants we've had this at in the past generally make it in a North Indian style. If you're not familiar with the differences between North and South Indian cuisine, it's kind of like nothern versus southern Italian food. Northern Indian cooking is more cream-based while southern Indian cuisine relies more heavily on tomatoes (among other differences). This recipe blends north and south Indian cooking styles, which adds a bit of complexity to the meal.

This recipe, modified from one posted at Lisa's Kitchen, is a new staple in my house. I've made it for vegans and non-vegans alike and since I first discovered it in early April, I've made it five times. About three weeks ago, I had a bunch of people over for a potluck (in theory it was an Indian-food themed potluck, but it only kind of worked out that way) and this dish went quickly, despite the fact that I more than doubled it. Reduce the amount of chiles if you like less spice, or if your dried chiles are particularly hot (mine are). It goes well with quinoa or rice, if you're gluten-free (or with gluten-free naan, recipe coming soon). You might serve it with a cooling drink like a smoothie, mango lassi, or even (wrong culture, I know) horchata.

If you're not into eating tons of leftovers and you don't need to feed 8, the recipe cuts in half fairly easily. That's what I usually do when I'm not feeding a large crowd. If you buy your ingredients in bulk and/or at an Indian/Pakistani (these are my options) food market, you make this meal cheaply many times over.


Vegan Navratan Korma with Chana Dal
2/3 cup of chana dal (or yellow split peas), soaked for at least three hours
2 tablespoons of high quality vegetable oil
1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
2 1/4 cups of water
1 large potato, diced
3 large carrots, diced
2 cups frozen peas
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt
handful of dry curry leaves (optional, but they make a lovely addition if you can get your hands on them. Fresh would work also)
For the paste:
1/2 cup of dried, unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup of cashews
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
1 teaspoons of cumin seeds
2-3 whole dried red chilies
2-inch piece of ginger, chopped
For the tadka:
1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
pinch or two of asafetida (you can sub in about a tablespoon of lime juice in a pinch, but it won’t be the same) 2- 4 whole dried red chilies

Begin by making the paste. Soak the coconut in 1/2 cup of hot water for 10 - 15 minutes. Drain. Soak the cashews in some warm water for 10 - 15 minutes. Drain. Dry roast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and dried red chili over medium heat for a few minutes. Transfer the coconut, cashews and roasted seeds to a food processor or blender along with the ginger and green chilies. Process until you have a fairly smooth paste (in my food processor, this takes some pulsing and some additional water – you’d like this to look as much like cashew butter as possible). Add a bit of water if desired.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When hot, toss in the onion and stir and fry until it is translucent. Add the tomatoes to the pot and cook for another 5 minutes or until they thicken up and have a sauce-like consistency. Drain the chana dal and add to the pot along with 2 1/4 cups of water. Simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes, or until the chana dal is just tender. Add the carrots, potato, turmeric and cayenne. Continue to simmer until the vegetables are tender. You can add more water to achieve your desired consistency.

Now add the ground paste to the pot and the sea salt. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for another 10 - 15 minutes. Add peas and curry leaves to the pan near the end of the cooking time.

To prepare the tadka, heat a few teaspoons of oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When hot, toss in the mustard seeds, fennel, dried red chilies, and asafetida. Stir and fry until the mustard and fennel seeds begin to pop. Immediately pour into the vegetable pot, stir and cover and let sit for 5 minutes to allow the flavours to blend.

Serves 8.

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