Writings on curious recipes, food I've tasted around the world and the quest for finding the perfect blueberry muffin.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dal with rice and naan - let's go fair

The other day my friend Mario asked me if I could help him out. He and his friend Andy run the website NomadEarth, a cutting-edge platform for outdoor fans who believe in fair and sustainable travel. They provide stories, tips, and offers on adventure sport in foreign countries and show how one can explore nature and be adventurous while respecting the local population, culture and nature.  

Recently, Mario and Andy urged their fans on Facebook to sign a petition against plastic bags in Austria and promised five lucky signers a tote bag filled with Fairtrade ingredients and a recipe for a wonderful dish. And I guess you're starting to see where I come in. Mario asked me if I could think of a dish that would be suitable.

My brain immediately went to work. Could I think of a dish that was both delicious and budget friendly? (After all, I didn't want my friends to go broke, buying five times the ingredients!) And since the bags had to do some traveling (though, luckily, not very much) the ingredients also couldn't be that perishable (meat) or, um, breakable (think eggs!). Of course, Fairtrade products needed to be involved, and I thought it would be even better if the end dish was from one of the countries where farmers and workers directly benefit from Fairtrade.

One dish immediately came to my mind: dal with rice. It fulfilled all criteria - it's both delicious and budget friendly, involves no perishable ingredients; rice and spices are staples of Fairtrade, and, as soon as you add turmeric and ground coriander to the onions and garlic in the pan, the smell that fills your kitchen will have you believe you're in India. Perfect.

Dal with rice and naan
I've eaten a fair share of lentils in my lifetime, after all, Italians never seem to run out of ways to use them. However, when I made this dish for the first time in January, I was amazed at how different they could taste with the addition of cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper. In fact, I was so amazed, I ended up making it three more times that same week, adding rice and naan as side dishes.

adapted from SFGate

Serves four


200g // 1 cup of dried green lentils, soaked overnight* (alternatively, use dried yellow split peas)
1 large tomato (about 230 g // 8 oz), peeled, cut into 8 wedges
60 ml // 1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon of ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (you can up it by 1/4 teaspoon if you want it even spicier)
1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves (optional, I left this out)
14g // 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter (optional)
1 teaspoon of salt


Drain lentils and place in a large saucepan. Add the tomato and 700 ml // 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until peas are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Whisk dal to emulsify it. Keep warm over very low heat.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the cumin seeds, covering the pan with a lid or splatter screen. After the seeds have stopped sputtering, add the onion and saute over medium heat. About 3 minutes later, add the garlic and saute until most of the onion has turned dark brown, about 5 minutes altogether. Add the coriander, turmeric and cayenne, stir and pour mixture over the dal. Add the cilantro, butter and salt to the dal and simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve hot.

*Ahhh, I have to plan ahead? Is that what you're thinking? Well, theoretically, yes. But just for you I tried this recipe with canned green lentils. I drained and rinsed them well, placed them in a pot with 80ml // 1/3 cup of water with the tomato wedges, covered the pot and let them cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes. In the meantime I went straight to the second paragraph of the recipe above, making this a 15 minute meal. The result: good, excellent, if you're pressed for time, but with dried lentils it's even better.

Rice, two ways.
I find this way of making rice easy and completely fail proof. I cook the rice like I'd cook pasta.

Serves four as a side


250g // 1 1/4 heaping cups of basmati rice


Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. In the meantime, rinse rice thoroughly in a colander under running water. Add rice and cook for about 10-12 minutes, longer if you want softer rice (I prefer mine with some bite).

Drain water, fluff up rice and enjoy.

If you have more time, try the recipe below.

Probably the fluffiest rice in the world.
By my friend Jamie

Put a large pan of salted water on a high heat and bring to a boil. Rinse the rice in a colander under running water for about 1 minute, or until the water runs clear (this will stop the grains sticking together later). Add your rice to the boiling water and wait for the grains to start dancing around. From that point, boil for 5 minutes. Drain the rice in a colander. 
Pour 2.5cm of water into the pan, put it back on the heat and bring it to a boil again, then turn down to a simmer. Cover the rice in the colander with foil or a lid. Place the colander on top of the pan of simmering water and let the rice steam over it for 8 to 10 minutes. 
Remove from the heat and if you’re ready, serve immediately. If not, leave the foil or lid on and put aside until ready to serve – it should stay warm for about 20 minutes.

Adapted from Allrecipes

Makes 14 naan


1 package (7g // .25 oz) active dry yeast
235ml // 1 cup warm water
50g // 1/4 cup white sugar (set one tablespoon of that sugar aside)
45ml // 3 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
10g // 2 teaspoons of salt
440g // 3 1/2 of cups flour (start with less, add more as needed)


In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water with a tablespoon of sugar. Let it stand for about 10 minutes, until frothy. Then stir in the rest of the sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise, about 1-2 hours, until dough has doubled in volume.

Punch down dough, and pinch off small handfuls of dough, about the size of a half a golf ball. Then put two pieces together and make a ball - this is the secret to getting them to bubble up! Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, set the oven to the highest setting. After the second rise, place the tray on the second to highest rack in the oven and WATCH IT CAREFULLY. The naan will puff up quickly - and there is a fine line between nicely puffed naan and burnt naan! Your naan will be done in a few minutes.



Sassy Spatula said...

First of all I love your blog, it is so simple but interesting, less is more! Also, I like how effortless your posts are.. A lot of blogs have long posts that are forced if you know what i mean. Anyways, I like that you came up with dal, very weird coming from an Italian miss dids hehe. I come from Bahrain, it's a little island in the arabian gulf, I live in the states now and I want some nan.. And that is how i found your blog! I just started a blog myself, about a month ago.. I hope you visit me someday..it's www.sassyspatula.blogspot.com
I know I will be visiting yours a lot.

littlemissdids said...

Hi Sassy Spatula! (Love the name!) Thanks so much for your wonderful comment. I'm very happy to hear you are enjoying the blog. I went to yours as well and it looks great - I'll definitely have to try the feta frittata as I've been on a bit of a feta trip recently! :)

Sassy Spatula said...

It's so funny that I'm from the middle east and I am constantly on an Italian crave/addiction mode and you are having middle eastern obsession.. I can't wait to c more of your Italian cooking :)

littlemissdids said...

Hehe, yeah that is funny!! I'm glad your craving Italian food - I'm planning on posting plenty of Italian recipes! :)

Schengen said...

Thanks Jenna for putting together that wonderful recipe - I'll probably go and get Naan from the Indian restaurant around the corner! Yummyumm! ;)

We'll post your recipe in a couple of days on our NomadEarth-Facebook page as soon as I've translated it.


littlemissdids said...

No problem, I really enjoyed doing this! I hope you liked it - and I'm looking forward to reading the translation. ;)

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