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Ridiculously Easy Dal and Paratha

May 16, 2009
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Please excuse the lighting in these photos. It was dark outside, and, well, my kitchen lighting is the pits.

Mark Bittman is my personal culinary hero, for taking foods that I thought were too complicated to bother with at home and making them simple enough for a casual weeknight dinner.  Case in point: dal.  I love dal, but all of the recipes I’ve seen are full of spices I’d never heard of and that I’d have to visit an Indian grocery to buy.  Now, I’m sure those recipes make wonderful dals, and I really should get acquainted with a local Indian market anyway, but since I’m just finishing law school and am about to start studying for the bar I think I can safely say that that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.

Enter Mark Bittman and my new bible: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  Everything that his recipe for “Simplest Dal” called for I had in my kitchen, except for the dried ancho chiles – and I just substituted crushed red pepper with very satisfactory results.

This stuff is seriously yummy.

The paratha (flaky Indian-style flatbread) are also easy, and they’re really fun to make.  And they’re super tasty with the dal.

See?  I told you they were fun to make.

See? I told you they were fun to make.

Simplest Dal (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

The original recipe says this serves 4, but as a main course with paratha, it was just more than enough for 2 of us.

(The original recipe calls for an optional 2 Tbs cold butter or peanut oil to be stirred in just before serving – I didn’t notice a flavor difference after adding butter, and I’d rather save the calories, but add it if you must.)

1 cup dried red lentils (you can use yellow split peas, if you prefer)

2 Tbs minced or finely grated fresh ginger (I actually never peel mine.  And you know what?  I’ve never noticed a difference.)

1 Tbs minced or finely grated garlic

4 cardamom pods (confession: I actually hijacked some from a nice loose tea I had on hand.)

1 Tbs mustard seeds

2 cloves

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 ancho or other mild dried chili (or crushed red pepper, to taste)


Several chopped tomatoes (optional, but very tasty)

Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

– Combine all ingredients except cilantro and salt in a saucepan, and cover with about an inch of water (If you’re using a very wide pan, use less.  But it’s not very scientific.)

– Cook over medium-ish heat at a steady simmer for about half an hour, salting to taste as it cooks

– During the last few minutes of cooking, add the tomatoes if you’re using them.

– Remove the cloves and cardamom pods, and adjust seasoning to taste.  Garnish with cilantro.

– Eat.  Try not to get it all over your face when you’re licking the bowl clean. (Am I the only one who has that problem?)

Paratha (Flaky Indian-Style Flatbread) (adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

Makes 8-12 parathas

Warning: You will need a rolling pin or rolling pin-esque device (I’ve used a tall glass on its side).  But do not be frightened!  Use just a little flour to keep it from sticking, and it’s really very easy.  This dough isn’t sticky at all.

Also, these are best served fresh, so if you don’t think you’ll eat them all, you can freeze half the dough (see below) for a week-ish.  I defrosted mine for about 5 minutes in the microwave with excellent results.  However, if you do have leftovers, they’re fine the next day.  Just wrap them in waxed paper and leave them on the kitchen counter.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

4-ish Tbs melted butter or neutral oil

– Stir together both flours and salt

– Add about 3/4 cup of water, stirring with a wooden spoon.  When the mixture gets too difficult to stir, roll up your sleeves and use your hands.  If it’s too dry, add a little more water (just a bit at a time) until it’s slightly sticky and forms a ball.  If it’s too wet (it probably won’t be), add a tablespoon of flour at a time until it’s the right consistency.

– Shape dough into a ball (you might want to get your hands a little floury first), and let it sit for at least 20 minutes and up to several hours.  At this point, I froze half the batch for later with no trouble.

– Pinch off pieces of dough – this recipe should make 8 to 12 parathas.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into roughly a 4-inch circle.  Brush with melted butter or oil.

– Roll up the disk “like a cigar,” and then roll it into a coil, a la Princess Leia’s hair.  Or cinnamon buns.

– Line a plate or basket with a clean dish towel to wrap the finished parathas in – this will keep them hot and fresh-tasting.

– Put a griddle or cast-iron pan (you could probably use nonstick, but I haven’t tried that, so no guarantees) over medium heat.  When it’s hot, on a lightly floured surface roll one of the Princess Leia coils into a thin circle – maybe 5 or 6 inches in diameter.  Throw it into the pan for 3-5 minutes, until it’s lightly browned.  Brush the top side with oil or butter, and then flip it over to brown the second side for a few minutes.

– Repeat for all parathas.

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