Unlike the simple version of Tarka Dal, this is the way I went about a chick pea curry recently – not that it’s difficult as such, just more time consuming. This uses channa dal but could also be done with chick peas.
You can make your curry paste well in advance and entirely to taste. The one I developed is NOT authentic at all, but it works! My mixture is made from powdered cumin, coriander, turmeric, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, black pepper and a hint of asafoetida. You don’t need to add all of those spices, and you could add other – experiment and see what works for you, though you should always buy small quantities and use spices that are as fresh as possible. Stir into the mix a little slightly warm oil, and mix thoroughly until a smooth, thick paste. Keep in an airtight jar in the fridge and use within a week.
Begin the next stage at least 24 hours in advance by soaking chana dal in cold water for at 12 hours or so, then discard the water and any discoloured dal. Put the remainder in a heavy-bottomed pan with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil and boil hard for at least 10 minutes, skimming off any resulting scum. Then simmer for around 45-50 minutes until tender, topping up water if required. Put on one side, but do keep the cooking water.
Next ingredient to prepare is fresh ginger root, which is cheaply and commonly available in supermarkets. You don’t need a lot but it’s worth getting some, being different in flavour to powdered ginger, for example. Take a small section of ginger and peel it, then bruise it with a meat mallet or similar. This brings out the flavour, as indeed does crushing garlic cloves – which you will also need to do in advance. Crush them, remove the skin, then add salt and smear them with a very sharp knife til the juices flow and the flesh is thoroughly minced. If you want to use fresh chilli, slice and remove the seeds – this curry should be warm but not hot enough to burn the back of your throat!
You will need a pestle and mortar for the next stage. Add half a teaspoon each of the following seeds: cumin, coriander, fenugreek and fennel, plus some sea salt granules and a number of black peppercorns. Crush into a coarse mixture, then add 3-4 cardamom pods; bruise these but don’t smash completely apart. If you have any cassia bark, feel free to add a little.
Heat a little oil in a hot wok, balti or heavy pan. Add chopped onion and mushrooms and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the flesh of 1-2 tomatoes and sweat for another minute. You could add other veg if you want, and butternut squash chopped into very small chunks works well, and I tend to add a chunk or two of frozen spinach on occasions.
Add the bruised ginger and garlic, then stir in 1 tablespoon of curry paste and cook through, coating all the veg in the mixture. Next add the chick peas, keeping their cooking liquid. Grate in some creamed coconut milk, the sort that is sold in a block rather than canned. You can add desiccated coconut to the veg if you prefer, but the coconut milk makes for a brilliant sauce. Finally add the liquid from the chick peas and bring to the boil.
Simmer for 15 or 20 minutes, then add the crushed whole spices. Cook for a further 30 minutes. Add some chopped coriander and a spoonful of Greek yogurt before serving. Serve with steamed basmati rice, your favourite breads and any other curry you fancy. Bon appetit!