Chana Dal Dumplings In Tamarind Sauce

I often accumulate ingredients with no real plan for how i’ll use them.  Tamarind paste — sure, why not!

Perhaps because Tamarind paste looks like the evil alien oil from The X-Files.

But then after the jar of tamarind paste had sat in the fridge for a few weeks, i came across this recipe:  Lentil Dumplings Simmered in a Sweet Tamarind Sauce, and decided i would make it.  I mean, dumplings made from lentils?  How could that not be awesome.

Now, one thing about that blog, which i do love, is that they make everything from scratch.  And i mean everything.  The recipe includes an ingredient list and instructions on how to make Sambar powder, a South Indian curry powder.  Fortunately for me, there is a Patel Brothers grocery store just up the street.  I could follow the recipe and make a 2 cup batch of Sambar powder (of which the recipe requires only 1.5 tsp!) or i could spend $3 and buy a big bag of it conveniently made for me by MTR Foods Pvt., LTD. of Bangalore, India.  I went with store bought.

And at Patel Brothers i was able to find chana dal, which my local farmer’s market did not have.  Chana dal were cheap — a 4 pound bag for $2.99.  Wait, did i just say that i bought four pounds of beans for this recipe?  Actually, yes.  However, this recipe does not use 4 pounds of beans, so look for more recipes involving chana dal to be posted here in the coming months.

There are quite a few steps to this recipe, but no one step was really difficult.  

Ingredients for the dumplings:
1 cup channa dal, rinsed
1 1/2 tablespoons urad dal, rinsed (the urad dal at my farmers market were soaked in oil, not all of which rinsed off)
2 dried whole red chillies
2 fresh red or green chilies, seeded and chopped (i used red jalapenos)
1-1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, chopped
generous handful of dried curry leaves
2 1/2 tablespoons rice flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon asafetida
3 tablespoons oil

Directions for the dumplings:
1.  After rinsing the dal, put them in a container and cover with water.  Allow them to sit overnight.

2.  Drain the dal, and add them, the dried chillies, ginger, and fresh chillies to a food processor.  Grind until “smooth”.  This is a very subjective term, and i ground until there were not full beans left.  The mix was dry and kept climbing the walls of my processor, so i had to stop several times and push it back down with a spatula.  All, told, i think i ground them for maybe 2 minutes.

Do you think that is “smooth? I think it’s smooth.

3.  Scoop it all into a bowl and add the curry leaves, salt, asafoetida, and rice flour.  I threw it all together, and decided that the curry leaves might need to be broken up a bit.  I am not sure if that was correct.  I think they looked a little odd in their mostly whole state.  Mix all of this stuff together.

4.  Heat the oil in a pan and add the mixture.  Stir fry until things start to look dried out.

5.  Transfer it back into the bowl and allow it to cool for 15 minutes or so.  Use this time to start working on the sauce (part 2).  I think i actually left this to cool for a half hour or so, as the sauce is a lot of steps to set up.

Fried and dried.

6.  When it is cooled down, roll the mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter.

Ingredients for the Sauce:
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
6 cups warm water
1 tablespoon ghee
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons urad dal, rinsed
generous handful of dried curry leaves
2 1/2 teaspoonssambar powder
1/2 teaspoon asafetida
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, to taste
generous handful of fresh parsley or cilantro

Directions for the sauce:
1.  This is the first step in making any indian dish.  Get a small dish, like a soy sauce dish, and measure out the various spice blends so that you have them when you need them.  If you don’t do this, you will end of spilling powder everywhere as you rush.  So for this you need two spice bowls:
Spice Bowl 1:  mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds
Spice Bowl 2:  sambar powder, asafetida, salt, turmeric, cayenne
Learn from my past mistakes and have these measured beforehand.

Seriously. Measure out all the spices beforehand.

2.  Dissolved the tamarind paste in the 6 cups of warm water.  This looks like a lot of broth, but much of it will boil off.

3.  Heat the ghee in a pan over medium heat.

4.  Add the mustard, fenugreek, and cumin (spice bowl number one) to the oil.  In about 20 seconds the mustard seeds will start to pop in the oil.

5.  Add the urad dal and stir fry for a minute until the start to change color.  They will really darken and, more alarmingly, they smelled like they are burning.

6. Panicking because you think the dal are burning, add the tamarind water.  Bring that to a boil.

7.  Add spice bowl number 2 and the dried curry leaves.

8.  Reduce to a simmer and let it boil off some of the liquid, about 15 minutes or so.

9.  Now you combine the two parts of the recipe by carefully placing the dumplings in the sauce.  I spooned a bit of sauce over the dumplings.  Now you just let them sit and steam.  I carefully rolled the dumplings around every few minutes.

The dumplings are kind of delicate, so place them, and move them around, gently.

10. By about 15 minutes the sauce was getting really thick, so i removed the pan from heat and covered it.  I let it sit about 10 minutes before serving.

The finished sauce looks a little “brown”, but it is tasty.

I served it over basmati, and sprinkled with fresh parsley.  We had naan bread and our designated adult beverages to accompany.

Verdict:  This was a lot of little steps, even considering that i did not make the Sambar powder from scratch.  Then again, that is how Indian food is — it is almost fussy, with all of the things you have to do to it.  However, the result is worth it.

The dumplings were moist and yummy, with a good flavor and not too much spiciness.

The sauce was fascinating — sour and salty and cinnamon-y, with a slight bit of heat.  It was like nothing i had ever really had before.  I don’t know why Lisa’s food blog called it a “sweet tamarind sauce”.  But maybe i had a different kind of tamarind paste.  Or maybe Lisa’s definition of “sweet” is different from mine.

Overall, I liked this a lot.


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