When crock pots first walked the earth, appliances were in harvest gold and avocado, vivid orange or just plain brown. Nothing says "let's perk up your appetite" like serving food on or out of something that's the same color as an avocado that's been left out overnight on the driveway. In the rain.Yum!
The crock pot was another on the long list of appliances I was given, starting life as a 21 year old living in the big city of Los Angeles. This is the Big Long List of "Hell No! I'm never gonna need that stuff!" On it was my pasta maker, my espresso pot, my cappuchino maker, my fondue pot and a butt load of brown stoneware and brown glassware. Eating at my house back in the 70's there was always the mystery, did she ever wash that stuff? It was brown after all.
I was more interested in other things in the late 70's and early 80's. I was a rock DJ, and doing cartoon voices and going to clubs. '70s clubs mind you. Places under the freeway overpass that didn't open till like 3 am. Yeah, I was really gonna use that crock pot. I was taking advantage of the New Freedoms.
I actually did use it once. I had a large noisy party and I made mulled wine in it. I think. It was a good party. Two chairs were broken by a bunch of Italians who arrived with a notorious actress I will not mention who happened to live in my highrise. I don't even remember inviting her. She must have smelled the mulled wine, or something. I never ever used it again.
But for some reason, out of all the appliances I purged over the years, that Old Original Crock Pot still survived. No matter what I did or where I moved, I took it with me. Why did I donate everything else from those days to Goodwill (including a couple of Halston dresses I wish I still had) and still keep that damn Rival Crockpot?! Beats me. But, I did.
When we moved to Sonoma full time a few years ago, there it was in the bottom of a packing box. I plugged it in and damn if that thing didn't still work! Of course true to pattern, I'd forgotten about it and figured it was long gone. I'd purchased another crock pot, only this time it was the new millennium and they were calling them slow cookers.
There's a lot of opinions about cooking in slow cookers. Some say they turn everything to mush; others swear by them, but I think the secret to using them is cooking something that is suited to them and cooking it for the right length of time. Which is why I've found that certain types of hard dal that are often cooked in pressure cookers, work very well (and very easily) in the slow cooker. One of these is rajma dal, aka kidney beans. The other is urad (or black gram) dal. Most of the time when I use uriad dal, it's washed and split. It's essential in a lot of South Indian recipes. The whole dal however looks very different. Tiny, hard and black, it needs intense cooking to soften enough to eat.
I'd run across a recipe for Dal Makhani which is a Punjabi dish calling for both kidney beans and urad dal. It had intrigued me. Dark brown dal, rich and thick, spicy, studded with tomatoes and drizzled with a bit of cream and chopped cilantro. It seemed the perfect dish for the cold grey skies we've been having here in Sonoma. This is basic Winter comfort food at it's best. I decided I had to give it a try.
Since I don't own a pressure cooker (fear of the Big Bang) I thought the slow cooker should work just as well. I was reassured by Indian friends that since the dish is traditionally cooked over embers, the slow cooker would be a good substitute. besides, since it would be in a slow cooker on the kitchen counter, I wouldn't have to bird dog the thing all day long while it simmered away. I would be taking advantage of the New Freedoms. I'd come a long way baby. I was determined to give it a try.
Here's What You Need:
1 and 1/2 cups of dried whole unsplit urad dal
1/2 cup of dried kidney beans (rajma dal)
4 Tbs of melted butter or ghee
7 fresh green serrano chilies
One 2 inch piece of ginger peeled and chopped
1 large peeled chopped shallot
8 cups of water
3 or 4 Tbs of heavy cream
1 tsp of cumin seed
1/2 tsp of turmeric
1 tsp of garam masala
1/2 tsp kashmiri chili or 1/4 tsp cayenne mixed with 1/4 tsp of paprika 1/2 cup of chopped green onion (just the white part)
3 or 4 tomatoes chopped or one 16 oz can of tomatoes if you can't get good fresh ones
2 Tbs fresh cilantro chopped
1 Tbs heavy cream
Here's What To Do:
In a blender or grinder, mix together the 7 green chilies, the 2 inch piece of chopped ginger and the peeled chopped shallot.
Grind it all into a coarse paste. Set it aside.
Put 8 cups of water into a crock pot.
Add in the rajma dal and the urad dal
1 Tbs of ghee or melted butter...
...and the ground up coarse paste.
Turn the heat to high. Put the lid on the slow cooker and let everything cook for about 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes have passed, stir the dal well with a wooden spoon and make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the slow cooker.
Turn the heat down to low and let everything cook for another 6 hours.
This is the great thing about the slow cooker. While one's food is cooking. one can loaf about or work, or spend some quality time with Johnny Depp (the cat).
Now for the seasoning:
In a skillet, melt the remaining 3 Tbs of unsalted butter.
When the butter is foamy, add in the cumin seeds, the garam masala, the chili powder, and the turmeric.
Stir fry all the spices together for about a minute then add in the chopped green onion.
Cook the green onion for a minute or so, then add in the chopped fresh or canned tomatoes.
Cook everything until the tomato is cooked down and soft. Obviously if you are using canned tomatoes, this doesn't take long.
Add 3 or 4 Tbs of heavy cream to this mixture. Make sure the cream is thoroughly warmed, and then pour everything from the skillet into the slow cooker.
Put the lid back on the slow cooker and let it cook for another hour on low.
Stir everything well, and there it is, done! Or rather almost, for while you can enjoy this right away, Dal Makhani is a dish that definitely tastes better the next day after the flavors have had a chance to marry, or at least do some heavy petting.
Serve it up with a bit of chopped fresh cilantro and a drizzle of fresh cream to help cut the heat.
What can I add to this? Not much except maybe a bowl of rice and a chapatti. I served it with a side of spinach. Rich, hearty, and satisfying, it's also high in protein and fiber so there's that.
Once when I was cooking dinner in Malibu, our friend Aryun came into the kitchen, took one look around at what was on the stove and told me I was "a good little Punjabi wife." After seeing this, I think I know what he meant.
What's next? I mix up goat cheese and fine chocolate for a Valentine's Day treat. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori