Sunday 30 March 2008

Dahl, Panch Phoran and Candlelight

Susan wanted to sing from the hilltops like Julie Andrews. Michael and Cindy agreed with her raving. So I expected great things from Susan’s Cauliflower Dal with Panch Phoran. I had this dahl in mind when I purchased a packet of Panch Phoran (or Panch Puran as my packet says) from a local Indian grocery store.

Panch Phoran is a mixture of mustard, cumin, fennel, fenugreek and kalonji (nigella) seeds in equal measure. I thought this must be a fairly authentic Indian flavouring. But Wikipedia tells me that in Bengal, ‘the cradle of this mixture’ radhuni would be used in place of mustard seeds.

I find that spicy sludgy dahl is a great comfort food. It feels like the Indian equivalent of baked beans. This new spice combination interested me as a way of reinvigorating an old favourite. The seed mix is a pretty one with different colours and shapes. When I opened the packet I was hit by a heady fragrance that really was a change from the spices I habitually use. The liquorice smells of fennel and fenugreek were particularly powerful, possibly because these are spices I don’t use much.

When I tempered the seeds (which I have just discovered is when you fry them in ghee or oil until they start to pop) the smell was fantastic and had much more depth than just liquorice. I was really looking forward to this dahl. Unfortunately, once I had simmered the lentils and vegetables, the fragrant spices had faded into the background and I found this dahl to be a little on the bland side. E doused it with Tabasco sauce.

I was a little disappointed. Possibly it was because I neglected to follow Susan’s instructions and cook the lentils separately. It seemed a waste of another saucepan but maybe would have made sure more of the panch phoran flavour was imparted. I also added a few extra vegetables but I don’t think this would have made much difference to the spices. The recipe also required being a little prepared rather than chopping as I go, which is my usual way! A little more experimenting is in order, I think as I want to be able to taste these wonderful spices.

Not only was I cooking with an unfamiliar spice mix but I was also baking Ricki’s quinoa muffins against the clock while the dahl cooked. Why? Because it was earth hour when everyone was encouraged to turn off their lights at 8pm to raise awareness of global warming. I didn’t want to be cooking by candlelight so I was racing to have the dahl served and muffins in the oven by 8pm. I served dinner and managed to take a picture of the meal at 7.59pm. Then we sat and ate our dahl with rice and quinoa by candlelight.

Cauliflower Dal with Panch Phoran
(adapted from Fat Free Vegan)

1½ cups masoor dal or red lentils
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 tablespoon panch phoran
1 large onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chilli paste
1 teaspoon ginger, finely grated
400g tin of diced tomatoes
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
180g pumpkin, peeled and chopped
½ cup frozen peas
4½ cup water

Rinse the lentils and place in a saucepan with 4 cups of water and tumeric. Bring to the boil and simmer on low for 20 minutes or until tender. Add salt and set aside. (I did the lentils, water and tumeric with the vegetables but do not advise this as maybe this was why the spices didn’t shine.)

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the vegetables. Heat a large stockpot and add oil. Add panch phoran and stir til the seeds start to pop (this is the tempering). Add onions and ginger and fry 2 minutes or til onion is starting to soften. Add chilli paste and garlic and fry 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, cauliflower, pumpkin, peas and ½ cup water, and stir to coat vegetables with spices. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is just tender.

Add cooked lentils to the cauliflower mixture. Stir well, and add further seasoning if required. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend. I served mine with a mix of brown rice and quinoa and highly recommend this.

On the stereo:
Delius Orchestral Works: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra


  1. I have never heard of this spice mix, but it sounds delicious. I could almost smell it as I read your entry! Shame about the dahl, though. :(

    I am interested in quinoa, though - I bought some but have yet to cook it. Something to experiment with next time we have a lazy weekend at home, I think. I'd love some recommendations as to how to cook it, and what kinds of things it goes well with.

  2. You probably won't be surprised to hear that I enjoy cooking with panch phoran. I'd certainly enjoy playing around with this recipe!

  3. I've never heard of panch phoran. Sounds interesting! Thanks for the tip about adding extra pumpkin puree to soups.

  4. I'm often disappointed in the lack of flavor when I cook with Indian spices but can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. At first I thought I wasn't "tempering" the spices enough, then I thought I might be "tempering" them too much :) Panch Phoran is a mix I will eagerly try.

  5. I've noticed that the mustard seeds take a really long time to pop, while seeds like cumin, fennel need just 2 or 3 seconds if the oil is hot enough. So, i add the seeds separately - first mustard, when they pop, the remaining ingredients.

    Also, I add another layer of flavoring - like a tbsp of coriander-cumin powder. And i finish off the dhal with fresh lemon juice (1 tsp) and chopped cilantro. Good luck!

  6. What a shame that your dahl ended up bland! Ten years ago I would never have believed it, but now dahl really *is* a comfort food for me. :-)

    Quinoa muffins sound good - tell us more about them!

  7. Thank you for explaining that dal = lentils! I've been drooling over dal recipes all over the blogosphere with no idea what it is... and now the mystery is solved! *yay*


    I've tagged you for a meme, here.

  8. thanks Kathleen - you should check out ricki on quinoa (see my quinoa muffins for the links) as she is a fount of wisdom! I will be trying it more too so look out for more recipes. And I think you would love the panch phoran - I'm looking forward to trying it again,

    thanks Lisa - I had a look on your site and couldn't find any references - hope you will be blogging about it sometime, as you are a lot more comfortable with your spicy cooking than me!

    thanks Ashley - i am better with pumpkin tips than spice tips :-)

    thanks LisaRene - I have had more experiences with ground spices than whole spices so was wondering if this is why it was so different

    thanks LB - maybe that is why in Bengal they use radhuni rather than mustard seeds. If I find this happening again I will be adding more spices like you!

    Thanks cindy - I think my love of dahl is also a sign of how my food habits have changed - the quinoa muffins are now posted so you can check them out!

  9. thanks Mrs W - I find the different uses of dal a little confusing too which is why I left it in the recipe - to remind myself - but glad it is helpful to others too. And will have a look at the meme thanks

  10. I made this dish last night, having bookmarked it while travelling because it sounded great from the blogs. I didn't have all the spices, no fenegreek on my rack, but I followed the rest faithfully and also found the spices disappeared.

    Usually when I make dahl I make the lentils plain and temper the spices in oil separately pouring the hot oil in at the end. I might try that next time as I really like the cauliflower texture in the dahl.

  11. thanks Naomi - the cauliflower is great but I think I definitely need to tweak this recipe if it is not just me who finds the spices don't jump out at you - I like your idea about the tempering at the end of the meal.


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