Selecting my favorite foreign cuisine is a difficult task. I’m obsessed with a lot of different cuisines, but Indian food is definitely at the top of the list. It showcases so many wonderful spices and flavors that can range significantly based on its region.
I’ve never met an Indian dish I haven’t
liked loved. When I lived in New York City, I frequented the lunch buffet at Dhaba, which introduced me to many dishes I had never ordered myself in the past (’tis the joy of buffets!). This really helped expand my Indian palate (and vocabulary) and I would highly recommend trying out an Indian buffet if you’re a fan of the cuisine, but looking to explore new dishes.
I have bookmarked many recipes I want to try in a couple of Indian cookbooks I own. I flagged A LOT of recipes, but on a recent cooking expedition I decided to make Murghi aur Masoor Dal or Bombay-style Chicken with Red Split Lentils (I actually used a couple Cornish game hens instead of a larger chicken), Gajar Matar or Carrots and Peas, and basmati rice.
My original thought was to make a chicken dish, and a dal or lentil dish, but when I saw a recipe that combined the two, it seemed like a perfect solution and also allowed me another spot on the menu to make a veggie dish–I’ll be sharing the Gajar Matar recipe later this week.
The Murghi aur Masoor Dal recipe is simple to make and really captures so many wonderful Indian flavors. It’s not particularly spicy (but it can be if you use the entire chili pepper and more of the chili powder) and yet it’s very complex to the palate. Typical inclusions of cumin, turmeric, garam masala, ginger, and garlic flavor not only the delicious lentil base but also the tender, braised chicken pieces.
I like to think of this as the Indian version of a “one pot wonder” since the chicken is actually braised with the lentils, which are a typical side dish in Indian cuisine. This dish is more than enough to be a meal of its own, but having some basmati rice to soak up the sauce/lentils is a nice touch. Making some veggies on the side add a bit of color, but they aren’t a requirement to make this Murghi aur Masoor Dal completely satisfying.
Murghi aur Masoor Dal (Bombay-style Chicken with Red Split Lentils)
Serves 4 to 6
(Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking)
250 g (9 ounces) red split lentils, picked over, washed and drained
75 g (3 ounces) onions, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 to 1 fresh, hot green chili, finely sliced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon peeled, very finely chopped ginger, divided
1 1/2 liters (6 1/3 cups) water
About 1.5 kg (3 pounds) jointed chicken pieces, skinned (I used a couple Cornish game hens instead of a standard larger chicken)
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon Indian red chili powder (you can substitute cayenne)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Combine lentils, onions, green chili, cumin, turmeric, half the chopped ginger and the water in a big, heavy pan. Bring to a simmer, cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and cook on low heat for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are very tender. Add the chicken pieces and the salt. Mix and bring to a boil. Cover, turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 25 to 35 minutes or until the chicken is tender.
Put the oil in a small frying pan and set over medium heat. When hot, add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon chopped ginger and the garlic. Fry until the garlic turns slightly brown. Now add the ground chili powder. Life up the frying pan immediately and pour its entire contents into the pan with the chicken and lentils. Also add the lemon juice, sugar, and garam masala. Stir to mix and cook on medium-low heat uncovered for about 15 more minutes until the mixture reduces and thickens a bit. It will continue to thicken as it sits.
Sprinkle the cilantro over the top just before serving, if desired.