Today is Ganesha Chaturthi–the birthday of the elephant-headed god, and my namesake. This major Hindu holiday features vegetarian goodies and sweets (ladoo was said to be a particular favorite of the deity).
I celebrate this holiday as a nod to my father’s heritage. By a fluke of circumstance my father, the youngest of six, was the only “legal Hindu” in his household. My grandfather, having converted to Anglicanism (perhaps to spite his own father, a Hindu priest with whom he had a strained relationship) insisted his children all be baptized in the Christian faith. My grandmother dutifully complied–until grandfather died when my own dad was just fifteen months old.
With her husband gone, Sarah Elikha Ganeshram promptly returned to her pujas and her celebrations. Sure, a statue of Jesus or a painting of Mary was added to the altar with the other gods–but ultimately, hers was a Hindu house.
My father grew up vegetarian. He had his first taste of beef while working in the nearby Venezuelan oil field–just eight miles from his native island of Trinidad. He said he wretched for a full day, his stomach rebelling against the unholy food.
The “Indian” dishes I cook are really Trinidadian adaptations and evolutions of that which my ancestors brought from India in the 19th century. I like to think, though, that maybe a great great grandmother might have cooked this more traditional Punjabi dish back in the “mother land”, hailing as they did from that very region.
My version of Dal Makhani is not traditional. Like most of my family’s cooking it’s cobbled together from personal taste and learning at the stove of others. This is an adaptation I picked up from a favorite Indian restauranteur some years ago.
Cooking time: 1 hr 15 min
1 cup Urad dal*, picked over to remove any stones
1 tablespoon, ghee, coconut oil or safflower oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons garam masala* (recipe below)
1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves or 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped coarsely
1 cup heavy cream
*Available in Indian grocery stores.
1. Place the dal in a saucepan with 3 cups of water and bring to a simmer. Simmer until tender–about 45 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.
2. Heat the ghee in another medium saucepan over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring until the onion is soft and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the minced garlic and ginger and continue cooking, stirring for 1 minute more.
3. Add the tomato to the pan and stir well. Lower the heat to low and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato is fully broken down and reduced by 2/3rds. This will take about 10 minutes.
4. Add the tomato paste and raise the heat to medium-low and stir well. Cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the garam masala and the fenugreek leaves and cook, stirring for 1 more minute.
5. Using a whisk, stir the tomato mixture while pouring in the heavy cream. Whisk so there are no lumps and reduce heat to low. Add the reserved Urad dal and cook for 10 minutes more, stirring from time to time. Serve with plain white rice or naan bread.
Makes 1/2 cup
Garam Masala can be found in any Indian grocery store and more and more mainstream spice stores and supe markets but it is easy enough to make with items found in mainstream food stores. Garam masala is, of course, most associated with true East Indian cooking and while it is used in Trinidad it is not as ubiquitous. The term garam simply means “toasted.” The dry roasting of spices in this mixture adds a certain depth of flavor to the masala.
6 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 heaping teaspoon aniseed
1 heaping teaspoon ground cloves or 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 heaping teaspoon cumin seeds
1 heaping teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 dry hot red chilies, stemmed or 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 heaping teaspoon ground turmeric
- Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, place all ingredients except the turmeric in the pan.
- Swirl the pan constantly so the spices do not scorch. Continue swirling for 45 seconds to 1 minute, or until the spices begin to release their aromas.
- Place the toasted spices in a food processor or grinder, and add the turmeric. Grind to a fine powder.
- Remove and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.