Sunday, October 17, 2010
Fresh turmeric + tarka dal
So what is this like? Everyone is familiar with the yellow turmeric powder made from these roots. That powder is fairly bitter; you can't use too much in a recipe or the whole dish will taste of it. I don't mind the bitterness of powdered turmeric, actually, but it's something you always have to keep in mind. The roots aren't bitter at all, however. They don't have much of a taste, raw or cooked. The look and texture are like ginger, and the two plants are apparently related. The colour of the inside is about like that of carrots, or the masoor (red lentil) dal I used to make my tarka dal. Unlike ginger and red lentils and even carrots, however, this stuff stains. We were pre-warned, so Fiona had put together a little kit of disposable plastic gloves and a plastic cover for her counter. Fiona has beautifully manicured hands. I don't, and didn't use plastic gloves, and by the time I was finished peeling and grating the roots, my hands looked like the hands of a twelve-year-five-pack-a-day smoker, fingers bright orange to the second joint. And fresh turmeric has a slight tarriness, which you can see a little bit at the bottom of the grater--this is the underside though; the front was clogged with it so that after grating this much I had to actually wash and scrub the grater to get it off before I could grate more. Same with the knives I had used for slicing and peeling. My fingers didn't feel sticky, but they had the tarry stuff on them too, so I had to be very careful even after washing my hands about what I touched. Later on after a good scrubbing most of it did come off (my hands; I was careful in the kitchen).
You can use fresh turmeric in any recipe that calls for the powder by doubling the amounts. With mine I made tarka dal and turmeric rice to go with it.
Tarka refers to an Indian cooking technique where spices and other flavorings are fried in hot oil to bring out their flavours, then added to the main part of a dish either at the beginning, or as I most often do it, at the end. Tarka dal is amazingly delicious, and super easy to make, with a million variations. Here's what I did:
1/2 cup red lentils
1 tsp grated fresh turmeric or 1/2 tsp dried
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 medium onion, finely sliced
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp garlic, crushed or pressed
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded if desired, and sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup diced or crushed peeled tomatoes (canned is fine)
cilantro for garnish
Wash the lentils and put them in a medium saucepan with about 1 1/2 cups water (you can add more water later if you like a soupier dal) and the turmeric. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down, partially cover, and simmer for half an hour, or until the lentils have mostly broken down and the mixture is soft. Watch that this doesn't boil over.
Meanwhile, make the tarka. Heat the oil in a skillet, and, when hot, add the cumin seeds and, a few seconds later, the onion, and cook until the onion is brown and partially caramelized. Remove half of the cooked onion/cumin and set aside for garnish. To the other half still in the pan, add the garlic, ginger and sliced peppers, stir and cook 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes and continue to cook for a few more minutes, until everything is hot.
Pour the tarka into the cooked dal and mix well. Add salt to taste. Serve sprinkled with cilantro and the reserved caramelized onions.
For the rice, I simply cooked 1 cup of jasmine rice with 1 tsp of grated turmeric in 2 cups of salted water. Isn't it beautiful? Yes, it really was this bright! There was a very slight turmeric taste to the rice, but it was not much like the taste of powdered turmeric, just a nice fresh flavour. Would I buy this again? You bet!