Thursday, February 23, 2012

Zucchini with chana dal

Zucchini is one of our favorite vegetables since we moved to the west. It is a really versatile vegetable and works well in a wide variety of recipes from different cuisines. I use it extensively as you might have seen from my blog. This combination of zucchini and chana dal is particularly good since it has a great textural contrast - the toothsome nature of the chana dal is offset by the softness of the zuchhini. Chana dal is essentially garbanzo beans, which are skinned and split and they retain their structure even after being cooked. It is important to soak the dal to ensure that it cooks with the zucchini.

Zucchini being a mild vegetable allows all the other flavors to work harmoniously. The smoky cumin, paired with the garlicky asafoetida and the mildly bitter dry fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi) gives the sauce a lot of character and the tomatoes provide the sweetness and some tang. The end result is a lightly sauced dish with a hint of spice.

Zucchini and chana dal

1 lb zucchini cut into ½ inch cubes
¼ cup chana dal soaked in warm water for 2 hours
1 cup red onion chopped
1 ½ cups chopped tomato, i.e. one large beefsteak tomato [It is important to use nice fleshy tomatoes which will create a sauce, since there is no water added to this dish.]
½ to 1 tablespoon chopped green chili e.g. jalapeno or serrano
½ teaspoon jaggery/brown Sugar
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon kasuri methi i.e. dried fenugreek leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon asafoetida
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

  1. Heat a 3 quart heavy bottomed non-stick sauce pan with canola oil. Add the cumin seeds and the asafetida. When the cumin seeds begin to pop, add the chopped onions and green chili. Sauté on a medium flame for 3 minutes till the onions is light brown.
  2. Drain the water from the chana dal and it to the pan. Crush the kasoori methi in the palm of your hand to release its aroma and add it to the pan as well. Cook sautéing for 2 minutes.
  3. Now add the cubed zucchini and salt and cook for 3 to 4 minutes over medium heat. Finally add the chopped tomato and turmeric powder. Cook for 5 minutes till the tomato begins to create a sauce and then add the sugar. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally till the zucchini is cooked but not mushy. 
  4. Serve with pita or steamed rice or it is great even eaten by itself.
Serves 3 – 4 as part of a shared meal or two as a main course.

Note: In India this dish is originally made with lauki also known as Opo squash or calabash.

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