I love Indian food. It all began 29 years ago when I was living in a small town in Holland wandering the streets in search of new food ingredients and returning home to cook gourmet meals for the other residents in our student dwelling. One of the students there was an Indian women studying bio-chemistry at the nearby university. When I told her my love for her food she graciously and generously took me under her wing and taught me what she knew.

With her instruction I opened up to a whole new world of herbs and spices, grains, lentils and vegetables. The other students challenged me to create meals that were spicy enough to stand up to some twisted notion of having to endure a kind of heat that has tears streaming and nose running. I was happy to oblige; and when my friend took me Paris to meet her auntie I was further instructed in the complexities of blending Indian spices. Ah, those were lovely days of discovery and experimentation all carried out on a receptive and willing audience.

Over the years I have held dear to a few treasured recipes; but recently I was moved to share the bounty of Indian cooking with my vegetarian clients. Over and over I am asked how does one keep their daily diet interesting and varied? Naturally, the answer lies in exploring the wide range of Asian cuisine, Indian being a large part of that variety. I recently offered a cooking class featuring Indian Dal and Flatbreads. How simple and easy it is to make these two mainstays that contribute protein, carbohydrate and fat to a meal.

The word DAL translates to mean any lentil-based dish. It is also used to distinguish between a whole lentil and one that has been split and hulled (skin removed). In India Dal is served at every meal in one form or another. The nutritional benefits are high: 1 cup of lentils equals 20 grams of protein, the cost is very inexpensive and the taste is delicious.

Flat breads such as chapattis, rotis, naan and puri’s are served alongside the Dal and often used as the utensil to scoop up the soup like mixture. Chutneys, relish and pickles are served as condiments and enhance the flavors of the dal. Served with a fresh green salad you have the makings of a satisfying lunch or dinner meal.

In order to stay true to the traditional recipes I took a trip to my local library and picked up a few cookbooks written by Indian men, who wrote lovingly about the meals their mothers prepared when they were growing up. I enjoyed reading the stories of their childhoods and the way the recipes played into their lives for years thereafter. Although the internet is heavy with downloadable recipes I still prefer, or perhaps it is trust, what it written in a beautifully illustrated book, authored by a chef who knows what he/she is talking about. So for your reading appetite I introduce:
Indian Home Cooking, by Michael Batterberry (ISBN 0-609-61101-1)
The Turmeric Trail, Raghavan Iyer (ISBN 0-312-27682-6)
Fresh Indian, by, Sunil Vijayakar (ISBN 1-4351-0068-9)

And now for the recipes.

Moong Dal
Serves 4

1 cup yellow split peas, picked over, washed and drained * ½ teaspoon turmeric *
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste * 4 cups water * 2 cups Swiss chard, chopped

Tempering oil
1 tablespoon coconut oil * 1 tablespoon cumin seeds * 1 teaspoon fennel seed * 1 med. onion, chopped * 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced * 1 whole green chili, seeded, diced * 3 clove garlic, minced * ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro * Juice of ½ lime or lemon

1. Put the split peas into a large saucepan with the turmeric, salt, and water. Bring to a boil and skim well. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. 2. Add water during cooking, if necessary. Taste for salt and add more if you need to. If you like a thicker dal, use a whisk to break up the lentils into a puree. If you like a thinner dal, add water.
3. For the tempering oil, heat the oil with the cumin and fennel seeds in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the cumin turns a light brown color, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the onion, chili, ginger, garlic, and cook, stirring, until the garlic no longer smells raw and turns a golden brown color, about 30 more seconds.
4. Stir the tempering oil, half of the cilantro, and all of the lime or lemon juice into the dal. Add a small amount of water to the skillet and wash out any extra oil or herbs and add to the dal. Add the swiss chard and stir well.
5. Simmer very gently, uncovered, until chard is tender, about 7 minutes. Ladle into individual bowls and sprinkle each with the remaining cilantro. Serve hot.

Mung Bean Dal
Serves 4

1 cup mung beans, picked over, washed, and drained * ½ teaspoon turmeric *
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste * 4 cups water * 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped * fresh yogurt

Tempering oil
2 ½ teaspoons coconut oil * 1 ¼ teaspoons cumin seeds * 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes * 1 teaspoon garam masala * 1 teaspoon curry powder * juice of ½ lime or lemon

1. Place the mung beans into a large saucepan with the turmeric, salt, and water. Bring to a boil and skim well. Turn the heat down and simmer, covered, until the mung beans are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Add more water if necessary. Taste for salt and add more if you need to.
2. For the tempering oil, heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until they turn a light brown color, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, about 30 more seconds.
3. Stir the tempering oil and all of the lime or lemon juice into the dal and simmer gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Transfer the dal to a serving bowl and top with cilantro and yogurt. Serve hot.

Spinach Red Lentil Dal
Serves 4

1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained * 4 cups water * ¼ teaspoon turmeric * 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger root * 3 ½ ounces baby spinach leaves, chopped * large handful of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Tempering Oil
2 teaspoons coconut oil * 5 garlic cloves, finely sliced * 2 teaspoons cumin seeds * 2 teaspoons mustard seeds * 1 tablespoon ground cumin * 1 teaspoon ground coriander * 1 red chile, finely chopped * sea salt

1. Place the lentils in a large saucepan with the water, turmeric, and ginger. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that forms on the surface.
2. Lower the heat and cook gently for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the spinach and chopped cilantro, stir, and cook for 8-10 minutes.
3. Heat the oil in a small frying pan and when it is hot add the garlic, cumin and mustard seeds, ground cumin, ground coriander, and red chili. Stir-fry over high heat for 2-3 minutes, then pour this mixture into the lentils. Stir to mix well, season, and serve immediately with roti bread.

Chapatis
Makes about 14

2 cups chapati flour or 1 cup whole wheat flour plus 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour * 1 to 1 ¼ cups water * flour, for rolling * butter, for serving

1. Mix the flour(s) in a large bowl. Add ½ cup of the water to the flour and mix with your hand to combine. Add another ¼ cup water and mix again. Continue adding water, a little at a time, until the dough forms a ball. (The dough should take about 1 cup water.)
2. Now knead the dough vigorously on a clean, unfloured work surface until the dough is moist, soft, and slightly sticky, but doesn’t cling to clean hands or the work surface, about 5 minutes. If the dough is dry, dip your fingers into some water and knead the water into the dough. Put the dough into a clean bowl, cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel pressed directly onto the surface, and let rest at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes.
3. When the dough is rested, prepare a small bowl of flour and also flour your work surface. Break off a piece of dough a little smaller than a golf ball. Toss it in the bowl of flour and roll it between the palms of your hands to make a ball. Set the ball on the work surface and flatten it into a 2-inch disc. Now roll the disc, flouring the work surface and the dough round as needed, into a thin round 5 to 6 inches in diameter. Put the chapati on a plate and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Continue to roll all of the dough into chapatis and stack them on the plate, pieces of plastic wrap between them.
4. Heat a griddle or frying pan (preferably cast-iron) over medium-high heat.
5. Place a chapati on the heated griddle or in the pan over medium-high heat and cook until the top darkens slightly and you see bubbles begin to form underneath the surface of the dough, about 1 minute. Now flip the chapati with a spatula and cook the other side until you see more bubbles, about 30 seconds.
6. If working on a gas stove, turn a second burner to high. Using a pair of flat tongs, carefully pick up the chapati by the edge and put it directly onto the burner. Cook until the chapati balloons and browns, 10 to 15 seconds. Then carefully turn the chapati, using the tongs to pick it up by the very edge, and cook until the underside browns and the bread balloons again, 10 to 15 more seconds. Remove the chapati from the fire with the tongs, or slide it off the griddle, put it on a plate, and rub with butter. Serve immediately while you continue cooking the remaining chapatis.
7. If working on an electric stove, cook the chapati on the griddle or in the pan until bubbles have begun to form on both sides. Then continue cooking the chapati, pressing down the edges of the round with a wad of paper towels as it balloons and turning the chapati in a clockwise motion, until the chapati is well browned and swells like a balloon. Turn and do the same on the other side.

Red Onion Chile and Gram Flat Bread
Serves 4

1 cup whole grain flour * 1 cup gram flour * 1 red onion, finely diced *
1 green chili, seeded and finely chopped * 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves * 1 teaspoon cumin seeds * 1 teaspoon anise * ½ teaspoon salt *
1 – 1 ¼ cups lukewarm water * salt * grapeseed or light olive oil, for brushing

1. Place the flours into a large mixing bowl and add the onion, green chili, chopped cilantro, and cumin and onion seeds. Season and mix together. Gradually pour in the water and knead for 2-3 minutes on a lightly floured surface, to make a soft dough. Let rest for 5 minutes and then divide the dough into 8 pieces. Shape each one into a ball.
2. Roll the balls out on a lightly floured surface to a 5-inch diameter disc.
3. Heat a large, flat griddle pan until it is hot. Spray with cooking oil. Cook the rolled-out discs of dough, one at a time, for 30 seconds on one side; brush or apray with a little oil, flip over, and cook for 1 minute, moving the bread around. Then flip the dough over again to cook on the other side for 1 minute or until the bread is lightly browned on both sides. Remove and keep warm, wrapped in aluminum foil while you cook the remainder. Serve warm.

Cilantro and Cumin Roti
Makes 16

3 2/3 cups whole grain, or chapati flour plus extra for dusting * 1 teaspoon salt *
3-4 teaspoons cumin seeds * 2 tablespoons very finely chopped cilantro leaves * 2-3 tablespoons grapeseed oil * 1 cup lukewarm water

1. Mix together the flour, salt, cumin, and cilantro in a large mixing bowl. Add the oil and work it into the mixture with your fingers. Gradually add the measured water and knead for 5-6 minutes until smooth, adding a little extra flour if necessary. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let rest for 30 minutes.
2. Divide the dough into 16 pieces and form each into a round ball. Roll out each ball into a 5-6 inch disc, lightly dusting with flour if needed.
3. Heat a large cast-iron griddle pan or a heavy-bottomed frying pan over high heat. Cook the rotis, one at a time, for 45 seconds on one side, the flip over and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes until lightly browned at the edges. Remove and keep warm in aluminum foil as you continue to cook the rest. Serve warm with a variety of dishes, from fish, meat, and chicken to vegetables and salads.