Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Yellow Split Peas with Tomato and Chilies (Tamatar Chana Dal)

“This was the trouble with families. Like invidious doctors, they knew just where it hurt.” Arundhati Roy

This recipe we are told is simple to make and requires no advanced planning. That’s if you already have a basic Indian spice pantry, cilantro and yellow split peas on hand. I made mine with the smaller pea, the moong dal. The chana dal is a larger pea. I love yellow dal in general and this one is perfumed with floral coriander and garlic. I like to eat dal when I want to give my digestive system a rest. In a myriad of ways we all need rest, right? Simple. We all know this intellectually but wrestle with the preceding emotional letting-it-in part required for a healthy action to follow. Like all families, they exist with emotional pain but some, if not most, struggle with the letting-in part. I have learned over my adventure thus far that we all cope in unique ways to AVOID the LETTING-IN PART. My well worn grooves of coping are twofold: anger and problem solving. Just recently I have begun to slowly, but deeply, comprehend how coping mechanisms work for me. When I find myself upsettingly angry at someone I love or problem solving someone else’s dilemma or responsibility, I can now catch myself and ask “What pain am I avoiding here?” It’s a surprisingly effective starting point. Families are genius at finding our weaknesses to get us to do things or not do things or deny things or avoid things and on and on to block real communication. We block it cuz it hurts! And it hurts bad!! I see now that Abby and I shared the problem solving thing. She took on other people’s problems making them her own. I believe this was her greatest weakness and in the end it wore her down. She longed for reciprocity and mutuality of equal partners. She shared with me in the last year of her life that she resigned herself to “never find what she was looking for in relationships.” I am sad that she wasn’t able to experience this part of her heart’s desire. If anyone deserved it, it was Abby. I told her so many times, in so many ways, how much she deserved love. But for reasons I will never ever know, she couldn’t let it in.

Ingredients: 1 cup yellow split peas, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 4 chiles (thai, cayenne or serrano, stems removed), 4 medium garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons ghee, 1 large tomato cored and chopped, 1.5 teaspoons sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1.Place the peas in a medium saucepan and rinse multiple times until water runs fairly clear. Use your fingers to rub and move the peas around. Add 3 cups of water and bring to a boil, uncovered over medium heat. Skim and discard any foam that forms on the surface. Reduce heat and cook for about 25 to 30 minutes until partially tender.

2. While the peas cook, combine the garlic, coriander seeds, chiles, cumin seeds in a mortar. Pound with the pestle to form a pungent pulpy mass (some coriander seeds will remain whole.) I used a spice grinder.

3.Heat ghee in a small skillet over medium high heat and add the spice blend and stir fry for about 1-2 minutes.

4. Add the tomato, salt and turmeric. Cook over medium heat until tomato softens about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and set aside.

5. When the peas are partially tender, add the sauce above along with an additional 1/2 cup water and stir, Ladle a spoonful of the mixture into the skillet and stir to wash it out. Add this back to the saucepan and continue to simmer the dal over medium heat, uncovered, until flavors permeate the peas, about 5 minutes. Serve with basmati rice or naan.

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