I got to thinking about the influence of time when I recently made Dal Makhani (basically, lentils simmered in spiced tomato sauce). I’ve recently gained a new perspective on time. I used to always be in a hurry, rushing to get work done, wishing the weekend would come sooner, and just generally excited for the next step in life. While I was pregnant I actually did a better job of enjoying the moment, and I’m so glad that I did and that I have happy, relaxed moments to look back on. That was my time with Caitrin and I’m glad that I slowed down a little and made the most of it.
Of course, at the end I also wanted her to hurry up and get here so I could meet her! But then after we lost her, I felt like I was in Time Limbo. The days passed, not slowly and not quickly; I simply existed in them. It was like this for the first month or so, just getting through each day with no sense of time whatsoever. I was numb to the external world.
It is true what they say: time does heal. Yet it is also relative. Sometimes I feel like it happened yesterday, and I’m sucked back into the raw pain, and other times it feels like it’s been a long time, and I feel more adjusted. And the more time passes, the less often I am thrown backwards in the healing process. It’s kind of a mind-boggling concept to think in terms that time heals but that the sense of how much time has passed is not necessarily linear.
Just as time heals the soul, it also can do wonders for food. The Dal Makhani a few weeks ago was the perfect example of this. It started out very promising, with ginger and spices warming in the pan. And then, all of a sudden, it was a cacophony of smells and it was not pretty. It smelled so strongly that I was sure I had ruined the dish somehow. When I added the tomatoes it mellowed a bit, but that was short lived: as soon as the tomatoes started to gently simmer, the mish-mash of smells came back.
I had to leave for a few hours for an appointment, so I turned it down to low, figuring I’d probably be throwing the whole thing away when I got home and making Peter grab take-out. But when I got home a few hours later, I walked into a house that smelled completely different. The pungent ginger and peppers had relaxed, and the earthy and smoky cardamoms had evened out a bit.
I walked straight up to the pot to stir it and taste it. Delicious. The jalapeños had melted into the sauce, and added heat but not too much. All of the flavors had come together and my mouth was watering. It was time to start the lentils, and after another hour or so it was time to eat. In the end, the dish was lovely and comforting, perfect for a cold day, or whenever you need to devote a little extra time to taking care of yourself.
All the sauce needed was time to sort it self out a bit. Just like me, I suppose.
The first thing you’re thinking after reading this post is that this takes a long time, and after you see the ingredient list, you will likely think it is hard and probably not worth the hassle. The first is true, but most of the time is hands off. And despite the long list of ingredients, it’s not hard to measure out spices. Find a good spice shop (I love Savory Spice) and pick up small amounts of each spice. My friend, Jen, gave us a gift certificate to Savory for Christmas and it was so fun to browse and pick out what we needed for this.
Also, if you like this or think you will, double the sauce, then freeze half to make again in a fraction of the time.
2 Tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 inch stick of cinnamon
2 black cardamoms (smash the pods to remove the seeds)
3-4 green cardamoms (smash the pods to remove the seeds)
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek/methi seeds
¼ cup ginger puree (from fresh, or jarred is okay)
3 Tablespoons minced garlic (about 4-5 cloves)
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 – 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
2 jalapeños, coarsely chopped (seeds removed if you want it less spicy)
salt to taste
Heat the butter or oil in a heavy pan or Dutch oven over low heat, and add the cinnamon stick, cardamoms and fenugreek seeds. Once the seeds start to sizzle, add the ginger, garlic, and chili powder. Heat until everything is fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, jalapeño, fenugreek and cinnamon, and stir to combine. Bring to a low boil, then let simmer for 4-6 hours. You will definitely smell when all of the flavors come together; then it is ready to go, but you can leave it on low until you’re ready. Season to taste with salt.
For the Lentils
1 ½ tablespoons butter or olive oil
½ onion, chopped
2-3 green cardamom pods, seeds removed
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
1 ¾ cups Beluga black lentils or Lentils du Puy
1 ½ cups cooked red kidney beans, or just use a whole can, drained
3-5 cups stock or water
½ cup heavy cream
cilantro, for garnish
Brown rice, couscous and naan or roti for serving
In a separate heavy, large pan (or use the same one and put the sauce in a bowl), heat the butter or oil and sauté the onion, cardamom seeds, ginger and cumin. Cook until the onion is translucent and everything is fragrant. Add the lentils and beans, and toss everything together for a minute or two.
Stir in the tomato sauce and stir until well combined. Cook at medium heat at a low boil. When the sauce starts sticking to the pan, add stock or water, a cup at a time, and stir occasionally. I needed about 4 cups of water, but you’ll just continue to add water until the lentils are cooked through and the consistency is thicker than a soup, but still somewhat loose. Think risotto while you’re doing this; you’re adding enough liquid to cook the lentils without watering down the sauce.
When the lentils are tender, mash some of them with the back of a spoon to thicken the sauce just a little bit. Re-season with salt as needed. Add the cream slowly, then cook for a few minutes to cook out the raw cream taste. You can add more or less cream to your taste.
Serve with brown rice or couscous and naan or roti (available at many upscale grocers; warm in the oven or toaster first).