For the best part of my childhood, I grew up beside an Indian family and became 'foster child number 6'. My 5 Indian playmates' 'amma' and 'appa' became mine as well. I was the strange but privileged duckling who would duck into their home, as if an extension of mine. The 4 parents communicated in Malay while I picked up English and a mean game of badminton from the older Indian kids, even before stepping into kindergarten.
Even when both families moved away and eventually settled a couple of blocks away in a new satellite town, the kids kept in touch until more exciting friends drew us apart.
The 8 years living next to them made me ethnically colour blind and opened me to a realm beyond my Teochew speaking world. What remains now in my memory were the leaves that hung over their doorway, Deepavali goodies and the aroma of Indian spices.
I would not have exchanged it for anything.
Now, about Indian bean curry.
Makhani means butter in Indian and the soul of this dish. Hubby is normally cool to vegetarian dishes but the inclusion of butter, ghee in this case, should be reason enough to perk him up.
This little project calls for a raid of my pantry, which yielded almost a bit of everything. I opted for hulled urad dal, which I mistook for barley, preferring it over the black , crinkly unshelled version. Urad dal, by the way, is a major ingredient of thosai, which I had together with this dish.
As a free spirit, I cooked the plethora of ingredients in no specific order , other than the rule than the powered spices should be fried last , to prevent the powder spices from burning.
A side note : I am a cardamon person and the amount used is 4, instead of 2. Tweak it downwards if you think it is too overpowering. Cardamon, by the way, aids digestion and prevents the awful things the beans would do to your gut.
The dish should have appeared a delicious red, but since tomato puree is lacking, I made do with cherry tomatoes. Though not as thick as I would like, the slight tang from the tomato was a nice compensation.
Now, all that is left to do is to visit an Indian restaurant and try out their version of Dal Makhani to see how far I have deviated. Or maybe, trawl Facebook and look up the 5 now-not-so-little Indian friends and invite myself over , for old times sake.
3 handfuls of channa dal
1 handful urad dal, hulled
1 T ghee
1 onion , diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sliver ginger, grated
2 cinnamon sticks
1 pinch cumin
4 cardamon, smashed
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 pinch salt
Soak dal overnight. 1 hour before cooking the dish, microwave the dal, with enough water covering the beans, 20 minutes. Beans should be tender. Drain and set aside.
In a pressure pot, heat ghee. On medium heat, add garlic, onions, ginger. When onion is caramelized, next stir in tomatoes, dried spices and garam masala and fry until fragrant. Add in beans and stir fry.
Add 1 cup of water and cook the dal curry, 20 minutes, under pressure.
Remove pressure pot cover, and cook until the curry is no longer watery. Season with salt.
Serve warm. Tastes best with thosai.