Our Passage to India: Spicy Daal, Basmati Pilaf, and Spiced Cabbage

What a joy it is to live, and eat, in a country which is the 'melting pot' of the cultures and customs found all around the world.  We can experience the best of places, and plates, we may not ever have the luxury of visiting, without even leaving the comfort of our own home. 

Today, Our Passage to India  will be found through the exotic colors and flavors of a full-on 'Meatless Monday' meal: 
  • Spicy Red Lentil Daal
  • Basmati Rice Pilaf with almonds and currants, and
  • Spiced Indian Cabbage
accompanied by our recent post's Coconut Cucumber Raita.

And it's all really very simple. A visit to your favorite market's spice section, or maybe a field trip to a local Indian grocer, if you're feeling adventurous, and perhaps an E.M. Forester novel, is all you need to be transported to far-off lands.

Spicy Red Lentil Daal
  • 1/2 Tablespoon, each, crushed red chile, cumin seed, brown mustard seed, fenugreek, and coriander
  • 1 Tablespoon mustard oil (or peanut oil, alternatively)
  • 1 teaspoon, each, ground cardamom and turmeric
  • 1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped, and browned in 2 Tablespoons ghee, (or peanut oil, alternatively)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Kosher salt, to taste
In a large saucepan, toast spices in oil until mustard seeds begin to pop. Add cardamom, lentils, and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomato paste, onion: stir well. As lentils thicken, monitor liquid level, and add water, keeping lentils covered, if necessary. Continue to simmer 15 minutes longer, or until cooked to desired consistency. (We like ours to be the texture of crunchy peanut butter, but can range from soupy to glutenous--your preference) Add lime juice, and correct seasoning with kosher salt, to taste, if necessary. Serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 main dishes.

Basmati Rice Pilaf
with almonds and currants
  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1 and 3/4 cup water 
  • 1 Tablespoon ghee, or peanut oil, alternatively
  • 2 teaspoons, each, whole cumin seed, coriander seed, melegueta pepper (optional, but worth the effort to procure if you have a source for bulk spices)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 cup whole, raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • Zest of 1 whole lime
Soak rinsed rice in water, to cover, for twenty minutes. Drain. Brown spices in ghee or oil, in a large saucepan, until fragrances are released. Add ground cardamom, almonds, currants, rice and  1 and 3/4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cover with well fitting lid or aluminum foil, snugly.  Simmer, covered, 20 minutes.  Remove from burner, and allow to sit, covered for 10 minutes. Remove lid, add lime zest, toss with a fork to combine and loosen grains. Serves 4.

Spiced Indian Cabbage
  • 1 large or two small onions, sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon mustard oil, or ghee or peanut oil, alternatively
  • 1/2 tablespoon, each, garam masala, brown mustard seed, crushed red chile, 
  • 1 small head red cabbage, sliced, divided
  • 1 can coconut milk, divided
  • 1 bunch cilantro,  stems chopped finely, leaves reserved
  • Kosher salt, to taste
Brown onion in oil, or ghee, until limp. Add spices, and saute until mustard seeds begin to pop. Add coconut milk and 1/2 sliced cabbage. Simmer until cabbage is limp. Add remaining cabbage and cilantro stems.  Simmer until second batch of cabbage is slightly tender-crisp. Toss with cilantro leaves just prior to serving.  Serves 4-6.

More, on Indian cuisine:

Our Passage to India

Just as India is a vast and exotic land, full of mysteries around each corner, each region a unique culture in and of itself, so it is with Indian food.

A cuisine with so many regional differences that one finds it difficult to put a finger on its commonalities, one thing you will find in all Indian food is spice. Countless spices. Visit an Indian food market and find the spice aisle redolent with the fragrances of cumin, mustard seeds, fenugreek, clove, chiles, peppers, coriander, turmeric, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, bay leaves, garam masala, and more.  The names, colors, scents, textures, boxes, bottles, packets, glassine envelopes, even barrels-full, combined with common ingredients of ginger, garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Commonly used oils are peanut, mustard oil, and ghee. Most Indian kitchen pantries are filled with as many as 25 different spices and seasonings in their pantry.

Dishes are largely vegetarian. If meat is eaten, it will be found on special occasions. Spicy, or not, daals, or lentils, and curries (which is the name the British used to describe the common use of some meats, but primarily vegetables, cooked in flavorful spices and seasoning in stewed sauces and gravies) are the building blocks of every meal, complemented with relishes, raita, chutney, fruit pickles, and pickled onions. Coconut meat, oil, and milk are commonly used, in curries and daals, and rice, grains, nuts, fresh and dried fruits, teas, and the delicious naan, the most common bread of India, round out the pantry.

Historically, a robust spice trade along with colonization by Aryans, Persians, Arabs, the British, and Portuguese have had strong influences on Indian cuisine, and culture, in which very literally, variety is the spice of life.


  1. What a gorgeous meal! I'm going to have to try that daal ASAP.

    1. Thank you, Chica! I love the daal because it really hits the spot, spice-wise, and sticks to my ribs without a lot of fat. Lemme know if you tackle it--I'd love to hear how it turned out for you!

      Thanks for stopping in, and commenting. You know how neat it is to get comments! lol

  2. I crave Indian food frequently (which supports my belief that I've had another life in India). It makes your house smell fabulous when you cook it and it's all at once the most simple, yet the most complex cuisine in the world. And so very satisfying any time of the day. Thanks for sharing your recipes. I would also recommend "660 Curries" by Raghavan Iyer for a veritable treasure chest of fabulous Indian food.

    1. With a moniker beginning with Vindaloo, I imagine you know a lot about Indian food. I love its complexity, and I like a little spice kick in most of my meals.

      I've seen that 660 Curries--now I'll have to look at it more closely, with your recommendation.

      Thanks so much for dropping by!

  3. You have inspired as you always do:) I've made Daal before, however I don't think I used the correct spices. Thank you for sharing these fabulous recipes.

    1. Awe Steph, thanks for the lovely compliment! The spice variations are endless, so you might just well have been using the correct ones for that type of daal, but with a little experimenting, I do like this combination. I've even doubled the spices before, but find that friends prefer it tamed a bit.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  4. OMG! So excited I have all of these ingredients in my pantry. Thanks for the recipes.

    1. I betcha these kinds of dishes are pretty welcome on your new regimen? Similar to that delicious soup you made us!

      Thanks for dropping by, sista!

  5. Beautiful! I love Indian food, but I confess I've never been able to cook anything as tasty as I can get in a (good) restaurant for takeout. Dal is the exception.

    1. Hey, Lauren! Thanks for dropping by. Nice thing about Indian food is that, even in restaurants, the price is usually very reasonable. I've been experimenting with several types of Daals. Maybe I'll get it together enough to do a post on different variations, too.

      Have a great week!


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