Pumpkin Dal…and the North Fork Valley International Food Club

Last year a group of foodie friends in the Paonia area created the North Fork Valley International Food Club, a monthly gathering featuring cuisines of the world, selected by the whim of a dial spun on a roulette board of a couple dozen different countries. From Thai, to German, French, Moroccan, Brazilian, Japanese and many more, the chosen Saturday night of the month is met with enthusiastic cooks coming together in long evenings relishing all sorts of amazing dishes, beverages and fun. So far we have avoided the White Trash American month – where there has been some excitement of chowing down on variations of Kraft Mac n’Cheese, tuna cassarole with potato chip topping, sloppy joes, fruit jello molds, and desserts involving marshmallow fluff and Nilla Wafers….. but tonight –

Tonight the theme is Indian. I had weeks to decide, but it finally came together yesterday. Using vegetables from the 2012 garden, I’ll be making Pumpkin Dal, a smooth, delicious Indian soup with yellow split peas (red lentils), pumpkin, coconut and spices. There are thousands of recipes for dal, known in every region of India from the Himalayas in the north to the tropical shores of the south.  It’s the name for any legume dish, every dried pea, bean or lentil. I was thrilled to find a pumpkin dal in the wonderful India, the Vegetarian Table cookbook by Yumana Devi, so I could make use of one of my sweet pumpkins from this year’s garden. I’m also putting together Punjabi Pan Fried Green (and yellow wax plus burgundy) Beans, an interesting dish with spicy garbanzo accents – perhaps I’ll feature that recipe in another post.

I started this morning with the dal, in perfect spicy food preparing weather, rain changing to sleet with a big snow storm on the way. Outside the  kitchen windows, the cold stuff pelted down sideways, for a while. Inside, I’m selecting my pumpkin and smelling masala blends….

collecting ingredients for the pumpkin dal

Making the dal is easy. Bring everything to a low boil and cook until tender, puree in a food processor or blender, taste and adjust seasonings.

the finished soup, pureed and returned to the pot

Before the dinner club meets, I put a bowl together for you, garnished lavishly with swirls of goat milk yogurt and cilantro:

Pumpkin Dal with Goat’s Milk Yogurt and Cilantro

Pumpkin Dal

Inspired by Yumana Devi, and my son – my most stalwart cooking fan. When he was 16 he gave me this cookbook, and wrote in the front: “Dear Mom, I hope that this will always give good flavor in life, and for your cooking classes.”  So thanks to him, you now are seeing this recipe.

Makes about 2 quarts.

  • 1   1/2 c. yellow split peas (red lentils)
  • 1   1/4 c. pureed pumpkin
  • 3 tbsp. fresh minced ginger
  • 2 tbsp. (or to taste) fresh or roast hot green chilies
  • 1 tsp. garam masala or curry powder
  • 3/4 c. dried unsweetened coconut
  • 1 tbsp. honey (or sugar)
  • water
  • 2 tbsp. ghee or butter
  • 1 tsp. cumin seed
  • 1 tsp. salt or to taste
  • 4 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
  • plain yogurt for garnish , plus whole cilantro leaves if desired

Rinse split peas (dal) in a colander. Pour into large pot along with alll the ingredients down to water. Then pour fresh water to cover plus about 3 inches above dal in pot. Bring to low boil, and cook, stirring often, until the dal is very tender, about 45 minutes.  Check during cooking time and add water as necessary. Add pumpkin, ginger, chilies, garam masala, honey and coconut, continue simmering until coconut is tender. Puree in batches in food processor or blender, return to clean pot. Turn heat to low, add 1 tbsp of the ghee or butter, and whisk, adding water to a nice soup consistency if necessary. Just before serving, roast the cumin seed in a separate dry small skillet until the seeds begin to pop, then add remaining ghee and chopped cilantro, warm herbs in the ghee, then swirl into the dal. Serve hot with yogurt if desired.

so close you can almost smell this spicy pumpkin dal

Along with the curries, samosas, chapati, saag, rice dishes and chutneys promised on the online calendar for tonight, this dal is sure to be savored. And by now our snow is falling right in town, the peaks around us already white. Out the upstairs window I can look down and see it in white swirls on the dry leaves I spread over the garden two days ago. The carrots are snug in layers in their box, herbs are hanging to dry, and everything else has come inside, except those hardy broccoli plants, still sending up tiny flowerettes for my salads. It feels like winter, and I think I’m ready.

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