13 January 2009

An Apron Can Feel Like a Superhero Cape

Yesterday, one of Koji's teachers slipped on ice and fell. She hurt her head pretty badly and wasn't able to be at school yesterday or today. This morning one of the other moms told me about it and suggested that we make dinner for her. I was game but I was also determined to actually get myself to the gym for the first time in four months. So, I did that (and I'm still patting myself on the back for it, even if it was a 30 minute walk on a treadmill, that feels infinitely better than the NOTHING I've been doing) and then headed home. At that point, I got a call from the other mom. She was at the market, wanting to pick up something for the teacher and asking again if I wanted to help. Sure! I said, I'll make a salad and/or something.
As I abandoned my plans for taking a shower (hey, it's winter, and these occasions are what deodorant is really for, right?) to start cooking, I felt really happy and a little bit heroic. I realized that cooking for others, especially others who aren't in a position to cook for themselves, is very gratifying. Then again, any small amount of heroism in the deed is likely reversed by the fact that I kept half of the food back for our dinner?! Here's what I made:

*pumpkin chocolate chip bread (but I turned it into muffins)

*waldorf salad of celery, apples, walnuts and chicken
*Japanese-style cucumber salad with wakame and hijiki

You would think after all that cooking mid-day I would be happy to call it done, and that's what I was planning to do. But when I went to dole out dinner, I knew that the above--minus the pumpkin muffins, I'm saving those for breakfast, even if they do have a bit of chocolate in them--with the addition of

*rice, white with a bit of brown mixed in
*pan-fried chicken tenders
(left over from those I browned for the waldorf salad)

was great for the kids, but somehow lacking for me, oh, and Aogu too, I guess. You see, I suddenly I got a hankering for some dal. That sounds crazy, it's not like Indian food even goes with any of the other things I'd prepared (with the obvious exception of rice, of course). I lay the blame squarely on Baby Spice! This whole pregnancy I have craved foods with more spice, more heat, more complex flavor; in any case, bland will not do. This dal, though quick and easy, really hits the nail on the head. And surprise! Izumi loved it! I might have to make it again tomorrow...

Simple Lentil Dal with Cumin and Dried Red Chiles
from Indian Home Cooking
serves 4

1 cup lentils, picked over, washed and drained (the recipe recommends pink lentils, or "dhuli masoor dal," but I used yellow lentils, which are mentioned as an acceptable substitute though they may take longer to cook)
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
4 cups water

Bring the above to a boil in a large saucepan. Skim well. Turn the heat down and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, until the lentils are soft. Add more water if necessary. Taste for salt and add more if you need to.

Ladle about 1/2 cup of the lentils into a small bowl and mash them with a spoon. Return the mashed lentils to the pot and give the dal a stir. Then continue cooking at a simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes to thicken.

Tempering Oil
2 1/2 T canola oil
1 1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
2 whole dried red chiles
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

juice of 1/2 lime or lemon

For the tempering oil, heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until they turn a light brown color, 1-2 minutes. Add the whole chiles and cook, stirring, about 30 more seconds. Remove the pan from the heat, add the cayenne, and sprinkle in a few drops of water to stop the cooking. Stir half the tempering oil and all of the lemon/lime juice into the dal and simmer gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Transfer the dal to a serving bowl and pour the remaining tempering oil over the top. Serve hot.

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