The combination of onion, bay, cinnamon, cashews and cumin is one I discovered many years ago, in a recipe by Julie Sahni for a basmati and broccoli pilaf. I’ve had a lot of fun using this quintet in a lot of different ways over the years. The white dal provide a pleasant, almost neutral background for the combination in this spread. You could use red lentils, but the white are better, because they hold their shape well. Moreover, they have a creamy, almost luxurious texture when pureed. Also, it’s important to use ghee, as its flavor is essential here. Make your own -- Frances RenHuang posted an excellent recipe for it here on food52 -- and let it get a little brown, for a rich, nutty taste. And if, on the outside chance, you have some of this left over (or if you do what I shamelessly would, which is to hoard some of it before putting it out for your guests), it’s terrific for lunch, stirred into cooked brown rice or whatever whole grains you have on hand. Enjoy!! —AntoniaJames
In a small, heavy saucepan with a lid, cook the onion, bay leaf and cinnamon stick in one tablespoon of the ghee, with a medium pinch of salt, over medium low heat, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, toast the cumin seeds in a small skillet until just fragrant, then immediately remove them from the skillet to a small bowl. Crush half of them with a mortar and pestle.
Rinse the dal in a bowl of water, four or five times, until the water runs clear. With about ½ cup of water remaining in the bowl, set it aside.
When the onion is translucent and soft, push it aside to make a bald spot in the middle of the pot. Add the crushed cumin and cook it briefly, then stir it into the other ingredients.
Add the dal, the water in the bowl and another 2 cups of water and turn the heat up to medium high.
Allow the mixture to come to a boil, stirring frequently, then turn the heat down to low.
Simmer the mixture with the lid on for about 30 minutes, checking and stirring every five minutes or so, to prevent the dal from sticking and scorching. Add more water if necessary to prevent them from drying out.
Toast the cashews until they are a mottled light and dark brown in color. Remove from the pan, cool for a few minutes, and then chop them coarsely, using a chef’s knife. They will be soft and easy to cut.
The dal will be done when they are tender, while retaining their shape.
Remove the bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Using an immersion blender (or in a regular blender or food processor), puree about half of the dal mixture.
Add half of the chopped cashews and stir well. Test for salt and correct, if necessary.
Warm the remaining ghee and toss the remaining chopped cashews and the remaining toasted cumin seeds with a tiny pinch of salt.
Put the dal into a serving bowl and top with the cashew and cumin seed mixture.
When I'm not working (negotiating transactions for internet companies), or outside enjoying the gorgeous surroundings here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm likely to be cooking, shopping for food, planning my next culinary experiment, or researching, voraciously, whatever interests me. In my kitchen, no matter what I am doing -- and I actually don't mind cleaning up -- I am deeply grateful for having the means to create, share with others and eat great food. Life is very good. ;o)