This kind of frigid weather we've been having always makes me miss home. And not just for the warmer temperatures, but for some home cooked Persian food. One of my favorite dishes is called Dal Addas, a creamy, spicy lentil stew served over fluffy basmati rice. It's completely vegetarian, but meat lovers don't worry, it is incredibly satisfying and stick-to-your-ribs perfect for the season. Although I say this dish is Iranian, I should say that I've never had it anywhere else but at my family's table. The town where I was born in Iran is called Ahvaz, and it's close to Iraq and the Persian Gulf. As such, it was a place where many people from all over the world lived and worked. When my parents were growing up, British and Americans were there with oil companies (how my mother practiced the English she learned in school), Arab immigrants from an array of the surrounding Arab countries lived there, as well as a large Indian and Pakistani population. And it was from them that my grandmother explains that this dish evolved. Dal is an Indian and Urdu word and this dish is her riff/Persian twist on a common lentil dish she had when invited to dine with her foreign neighbors. If you give it a shot*, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
*Do this on a snow day or a weekend when you have a bit of time. This is the antithesis of a one-pot meal.
Makes 4-6 servings
2 cups of red lentils (they look bright orange)
1 large russet potato, peeled, cut into 6-8 smaller uniform chunks
5 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
1 large WHITE onion or two small WHITE onions, minced (as finely chopped as you can)
1 head of garlic, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon of turmeric
6-8 large, ripe tomatoes (you can probably use 1 and a half, 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes here)
1 tsp of chili pepper flakes
Wash the lentils in a fine mesh sieve or colander. Rinse them about 4 times or until they no longer produce a foam when you run the water through them.
In a wide, but deep saute pan, add the rinsed lentils and potato chunks and cover with 1-2 inches of water and add 1 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium low. (While you move onto other steps, keep an eye on your lentils, if you notice a foam at the surface, gently skim it off. This is not crucial, but doesn't result in a cleaner taste.)
While you wait for the potatoes and lentils to cook (about 20 minutes), pulse your tomatoes in a food processor until they are liquidy with some chunkiness left. Heat an additional saute pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is gently rippling, add your tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and reduce the heat to medium after the first 2-3 minutes and let simmer for 20 minutes total. You will start to see the tomatoes thicken and reduce. If your tomatoes are still very watery after 20 minutes, keep simmering until they are thick and less liquidy.
For the onions and garlic, get an additional saute pan nice and hot and BEFORE you add the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil (my mother says this is key). So to the dry, hot pan: add your onions and give them a quick couple of stirs. About a minute. (She says this gets a bit of excess moisture out of the onions and helps them to cook faster and more evenly once you add the oil.)
Then add the 4 tablespoons of olive oil (seems like a lot, but this is for the whole dish) and continue to cook the onions (stirring frequently) until they start to turn golden (DON'T LET THEM BROWN OR BURN).
Add the turmeric.
Once the onions are evenly coated and mixed with the spice, add the grated garlic. Stir constantly until fragrant and turning golden (lower heat to medium to avoid browning or burning the garlic, if necessary.)
Return to your pot of tomatoes. Once they are reduced and thick, add them entirely to the pan with garlic and tomatoes. Stir to incorporate evenly.
Add 1 tsp of red chili flakes (more if you like it spicier).
Meanwhile, check your lentils and potatoes. Are they cooked? They should be yellow now, instead of orange. (Take out a lentil and press it between your fingers. If it flattens, it's ready). If the potatoes are nice and soft (no chalky, starchiness left) and the lentils are ready, turn off the flame and use the back of a large wooden spoon to mash the mixture together. You don't want to pulverize the beans and potatoes so they become gummy, but you do want the potatoes to disintegrate into the beans. (The final product will be more of a puree than the picture above suggests.)
Add the mashed lentil and potato mixture to your simmering tomato, garlic and onion base. Mix together to incorporate. Salt is key here. It can really make or break the dish. Taste and season as necessary. (No pepper!)
At this point the dish can simmer on low for as long as you need before it's ready to eat, but 5 minutes before you serve it, add the juice of an entire lime and mix. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.
I prefer this over a bed of fluffy persian rice and on top of tahdig--the golden, crispy rice that forms on the bottom of the pot when you make it. Others love dipping crusty bread into it instead. All Persian food is typically served with a basket of fresh herbs like basil, tarragon and mint along with radishes and a raw, white onion quartered. In this case, you would take a bite of lentil topped rice, then while you're chewing, take a bite of onion or radish, and a bite of raw herbs and chew altogether. It's incredibly delicious (and healthy) this way, but can certainly be enjoyed without this part.
If you'd like to take a stab at Persian rice and tahdig (the golden crust at the bottom of the pot), try this recipe at a wonderful Persian food blog I often reference called Turmeric and Saffron.
Stay warm and safe and I'll see you in class!
Images via Google and Image of Sayeh wearing Lithe via Dom