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If a Nepal trekker had a microwave.

Take a hearty lentil stew, pair it with steaming rice, and you have the backbone of daal-bhaat, often cited as the national dish of Nepal. Traditional accompaniments are simmered vegetables, meat--usually in small portions--and at least one type of pickle or chutney.

Daal-bhaat is popular in Nepalese households and back-country rest stops catering to foreign hikers. Because the ingredients, seasonings, and techniques are compatible with Western kitchens, a daal-bhaat dinner makes an economical, informal meal for guests or family.

In our version for 6 to 8 people, a garlic-scented chicken dish with tomatoes and spinach is served with rice and accompanied by lentils fragrant with coriander seed and tangy with lime juice.

Make the sour-hot lemon pickle in a microwave oven, a modern touch that works well. Or buy an Indian lemon or lime pickle, or a favorite chutney, at a supermarket, Indian, or Middle-Eastern grocery. Shop for black (sometimes called brown) mustard seed at the same ethnic markets, or go to a spice store. Or use regular white (also called yellow) mustard seed. Though the mustards have only a subtle flavor difference, the black seeds are more decorative with the yellow pickled lemon.

With the meal, offer refreshingly tart lassi, a Nepalese yogurt drink.

Slice fresh oranges and pineapple for dessert; offer dark brown or coarse Demerara sugar and lime wedges for juice to go with the fruit.

A daal-bhaat dinner

Chicken with Spinach and Tomatoes

Curried Lentil Stew

Sour-Hot Lemon Pickle

Nepalese Yogurt Drink

Sliced Oranges and Pineapple

Dark Brown Sugar and Lime

The chicken is served on hot rice, while the lentils, the pickles, and the vegetables cooked with the chicken are presented separately. Chicken with Spinach and Tomatoes (Palung-ra Golbheda-ra Kukhura Ko Masu) 1 tablespoon coriander seed 1 teaspoon whole black pepper 1/4 cup water 6 cloves garlic 1 piece peeled fresh ginger, 1 by 2 inches, quartered 4 whole boned and skinned chicken breasts (about 2-1/4 lb. total), split 6 tablespoons salad oil 2 large onions, chopped 1/8 teaspoon cayenne 1 can (1 lb. 12 oz.) tomatoes 1-1/2 to 2 pounds spinach Salt Large, washed nontoxic leaves such as aralia (optional) 4 to 6 cups hot cooked rice

Whirl coriander and black pepper in a blender until finely ground, about 2 minutes. Add water, garlic, and ginger; blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Stop motor occasionally to scrape container; set aside.

In a 6- to 8-quart pan over medium-high heat, lightly brown breasts, a few at a time, in 3 tablespoons oil; set chicken aside. Add remaining oil and the onions to pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add coriander mixture and cayenne and stir about 30 seconds.

Spoon any excess oil from pan. Stir in tomatoes (mash slightly with spoon) and liquid. Stir to scrape any browned bits free in pan. Return chicken to sauce, bring to simmering, cover, and cook until breasts are just slightly pink in the center (cut to test), about 8 minutes; turn once or twice. (If made ahead, let chicken cool; cover and chill overnight; reheat in pan to continue.)

Meanwhile, cut off and discard spinach roots and any yellowed leaves; wash spinach well and drain. Coarsely chop green leaves and stems. Add spinach to chicken, cover, and simmer over medium heat; stir often until spinach is wilted and breasts are white in the center (cut to test), about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

With a slotted spoon, lift out spinach and tomatoes and place in a bowl; set aside and keep warm. Line a platter with leaves, if desired, and spoon the hot cooked rice onto the leaves, then top with the chicken; keep warm.

Turn heat to high under frying pan and boil, uncovered, until sauce is reduced to about 3/4 cup; stir often. Spoon sauce onto chicken. Makes 6 to 8 servings. Curried Lentil Stew (Daal) 2 tablespoons coriander seed 1 cup coarsely chopped shallots or red onions 1/2 cup water 6 tablespoons salad oil 5 teaspoons ground turmeric 2 tablespoons chili powder 1/2 cup thinly sliced chives or green onions 2-1/3 cups (1 lb.) lentils, sorted for debris and rinsed 2 quarts water About 3/4 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup lime juice Cilantro (coriander) sprigs Lime wedges

Whirl coriander seed in a blender until finely ground, about 2 minutes. Add shallots and water; blend to grind coarsely.

In a 5- to 6-quart pan over medium-high heat, combine oil and shallot mixture and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add turmeric, chili powder, and chives; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Stir lentils, water, and 3/4 teaspoon salt into shallot mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender to bite, about 35 minutes. Stir in lime juice and salt to taste. (At this point, you can let lentils cool; cover and chill up to 2 days. Reheat to simmering.)

Pour lentils into a bowl or tureen and garnish with cilantro sprigs. Offer lime wedges to squeeze over individual portions. Makes 2-1/2 quarts, 6 to 8 servings. Sour-Hot Lemon Pickle (Nibuwaa Achar) 1-1/2 tablespoons black (or white) mustard seed About 1 pound lemons (4 or 5) 1 fresh hot chili (optional) such as jalapeno or serrano, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped 2 tablespoons salt 2 teaspoons cayenne 1/4 cup salad oil

In a 6- to 8-inch frying pan over medium heat, toast mustard seed, shaking pan occasionally, just until seeds begin to pop, 2 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

Trim ends off lemons. Cut lemons in half crosswise, then cut each half into about 1-inch wedges; pluck out obvious seeds.

Place lemons in a nonmetallic 2-1/2- to 3-quart bowl; stir in chopped chili, salt, cayenne, salad oil, and mustard seed.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap; cook at full power in microwave oven until mixture is slightly thickened and lemons are easy to pierce, 16 to 20 minutes. Every 4 minutes, stir pickles (bowl is hot); let cool. Serve; or store, covered tightly, in refrigerator up to 4 months. Makes 2 cups. Nepalese Yogurt Drink (Lassi) 1 quart unflavored yogurt 1 quart water About 1-1/2 teaspoons salt or 1/2 cup sugar Ice (optional)

In a 2-1/2- to 3-quart pitcher, combine yogurt and half of the water; whisk to blend smoothly. Stir in remaining water; season to taste with salt or sugar. Serve over ice, or cover and chill as long as overnight. Makes 2 quarts, 6 to 8 servings.
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Title Annotation:includes recipes
Date:Mar 1, 1985
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