Kolkata via Bangkok: Red Lentils with Coconut Milk and Lime Leaf

Almost five years ago we hosted some friends for an elaborate lunch to thank them for taking care of our dogs while we were in India for a month. I made multiple courses of traditional and non-traditional dishes and printed a menu and everything. This was the origin of India’s Gandhi Tandoori Bollywood Mahal, the bi-monthly dinners for eight that I’d been hosting for a couple of years before the pandemic hit. Those dinners too featured a mix of traditional and not-so-traditional dishes (there have been 14 dinners so far featuring 5-7 courses and only a few dishes have yet been repeated). This dal/soup which was enjoyed by guests at the 7th IGTBM dinner could in fact be said to be the seed of the whole enterprise as I’d first made it for that lunch in February 2016. My intention was to play on the boundary between Bengali and Thai cooking. At base this is a fairly traditional Bengali preparation of mushoor dal. Indeed, the core recipe is one I’ve posted before. The departures are that it’s blended and then simmered again with coconut milk and infused with the flavour of lime leaf (a play on the squeeze of lime typically added to traditional mushoor dal with rice). The fish sauce adds some umami depth. It works very well both as soup and as a dal with an untraditional texture.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup masoor/mushoor dal or split, husked red lentils
  • 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • 1 head garlic, the cloves separated and peeled
  • 3 Thai chillies or similar
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups stock
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 lime leaves
  • 1 tspn + 1 tblspn ghee
  • 1 tspn salt
  • Fish sauce, 1 tspn or to taste

Preparation

  1. Place the first six ingredients in a medium saucepan with 1 tspn ghee and bring to a low boil over medium heat. The contents of the pan may rise as it comes to a boil; reduce the heat, stir till it goes down to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Take off the heat and let it cool slightly.
  2. While the dal is cooking heat 1 tblspn of ghee and saute the sliced onions with salt over medium-low heat till completely browned.
  3. Add the onions to the cooled dal, pour it all into a blender and blend to a smooth puree.
  4. Pour the pureed dal back into the pot and return to a high simmer.
  5. Add the coconut milk and the lime leaves, stir and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  6. Add the fish sauce, half a tspn at a time, tasting to see if you think it needs more.
  7. Serve in a bowl as soup or over steamed rice.

Notes

  1. I make this with chicken stock but you can easily make it vegetarian by using vegetable stock. Of course, you’ll need to leave out the fish sauce too.
  2. Though this recipe calls for 1 cup of tomatoes I’ve sometimes made it with two. See what you like.
  3. I’ve also sometimes added ginger in that first step of cooking the dal but I prefer it without. My guess is galangal would be better, if you can find it; though if you use it I’d take it out before the blending step.
  4. This works very well as a mellow base with a lime leaf-forward kick but if you insist on making it a bit more robust you could try the following: dry-roast, cool and powder 1/2 tspn of cumin and add it along with the coconut milk or add 1/2 a tspn of your favourite garam masala instead (this would roughly approximate the tadka step of regular dal).
  5. Yes, this is a fusion dish. Fuck you.

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