Dal with Crispy Sweet Potato and Quick Coconut Chutney

Oh, what a lovely meal for a late, rainy Sunday afternoon. Coconut milk, curry leaves, sweet potatoes, red lentils, all mixed up with the warm cinnamon and ginger, red chiles and turmeric. Anna Jones, you are welcome to recommend a recipe to me any day of the week.

Back in July, I got Anna Jones' cookbook, A Modern Way to Eat, and immediately fell in love with her sensible cooking that embraces a simple mantra that we are merely stewards of the land. Our maximalist lifestyles often forget the simple pleasures and become the catalyst for some pretty destructive tendencies. The cookbook calms us down, gives us sustainable food, and guarantees we won't want for anything, even as we let go of unhealthy eating.

This beautiful dal (dhal) recipe seems to have a long list of ingredients, but most of them are spices; everything else you just might have on hand, including the lentils. Back in 2015, I wrote about the different types of lentils, and this recipe calls for red lentils, which are quick cooking; but don't get too hung up on your lentil. Use what you have on hand. 

Red lentils happen to break down easily, so they're perfect is stews and curries. And their mild, slightly sweet flavor pairs spectacularly with the overtly candied taste of sweet potatoes. Toss in some coconut milk, and this dish is a sweet-tooth dream. However, the spicy curry leaves (which I added to the dal itself, although Jones called only for their inclusion in the chutney) and the dusty ground cumin balance this legume dish perfectly.

The only disappointment with this dish was the Quick Coconut Chutney. I found it a bit bland and really not worth the fuss. I actually ended up spooning it off of my dal once the photographs were over and the true eating began. 

You make the call based on your commitment to coconut and the amount of time on your hands.  

Which might be a lot, given these lovely, lazy, rainy Sunday afternoons (and Monday evenings) we have been having out here in California (a sentiment I have not been able to express for years).


Dal with Crispy Sweet Potato and Quick Coconut Chutney

Adapted from Anna Jones' A Modern Way to Eat

4 Servings 

For the sweet potatoes:
2 sweet potatoes, skins on, roughly chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
salt and pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
olive oil

For the dal:
2 cloves garlic, chopped
a thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 green chile, finely chopped
1 red onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds or 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander seeds or 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
7-9 curry leaves
1 cup red lentils
1 15-ounce can of coconut milk, regular or light
1 2/3 cup vegetable stock
2 large handfuls of spinach, kale, chard, or other mixed greens 
1 bunch of cilantro, with stalks, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lemon

For the coconut chutney:
1/2 cup unsweetened dried coconut
1 tsp black mustard seeds
10 curry leaves
vegetable or coconut oil
1 ounce piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 red chile, finely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Pour 2/3 cup of boiling water over the coconut and set aside to soak.

2. Put sweet potatoes into a roasting tray add a good pinch of salt and pepper, the cumin and fennel seeds and a drizzle of olive oil. Roast for about 20-25 minutes in the oven, until soft and sweet on the inside and crispy brown on the outside 

3. In a large saucepan, saute the garlic, ginger, chile and red onion in a little oil for about ten minutes. 

4. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar then add to the pan with the turmeric, cinnamon, mustard seeds, and curry leaves and cook for a few minutes to toast and release the oils. (If you are not grinding your own cumin and coriander, just add the ground spices to the other spices and toast.) Add the lentils, coconut milk and stock to the pan and bring to a simmer then turn the heat down and simmer for about 25-30 minutes.

5. While that is cooking, make your chutney (or skip it altogether, see entry above). Drain the coconut and put it into a bowl. fry the mustard seeds and curry leaves in a bit of oil until they begin to crackle then pour the mixture over the coconut, season with salt and pepper then stir in the ginger and chile and mix.

6. To finish the dal, take it off the heat then stir in the spinach, kale, chard, or other greens and allow them to wilt a little, stirring in half the chopped cilantro and the lemon juice. Pile into bowls and top with the crispy sweet potatoes, spoonfuls of the coconut chutney and the remaining cilantro.  You can serve with chapattis, roti or brown basmati rice. Or simply eat with a big spoon.


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