Channa Saag Dal

by sherri on January 29, 2012

** This Recipe is Only a Test and is Still in Progress **

This recipe was inspired by a recipe we found in Kathy Hester’s book, The Vegan Slow Cooker. Her recipe calls for a slow cooked dal featuring a sweet potato, yellow split peas and chard. Check out this cookbook, by the bye, it is given us a lot of ideas for new ways to use our slow cooker.

During our first year of produce delivery we received enormous piles of it from Organics to You. We also had volunteers of it coming up all over the garden. We steamed it, braised it, baked it, put it in soups, stir-fried it…. and by the end of that season we had come to the rather embarrassing decision that we really don’t like chard. Beet greens too, for that matter. Mustard greens aren’t entirely a fave either, although I like them more than Christie.

So that was the first thing we wanted to change. No chard, but we did have collards on hand and decided to use those instead for our green.I thought this was a good choice since classical saags often feature mustard greens or spinach. Collards have such a great combination of that mustard note with a green sweetness, that they’d be perfect against the rich, earthy dal.

Two reasons we changed out the pulse used. Kathy Hester calls for yellow split peas, which are easy to find and tasty. We happened to be out of them, but I’d just picked up a bag of channa dal when we were at a Desi market shopping for spices. Channa dal are split black chickpeas (really just a very dark brown) and they have a wonderful texture. You could just use yellow split peas, but if you happened to have a pan-Asian or Desi market, it is totally worth the trip to use the more authentic channa dal. You can find all the spices I mentioned while you’re shopping for this particular dal.

We go out fairly often for Indian food at family restaurants. One of our favorite places features various Southern India specialties, which are usually far spicier. With this palate we found the mix of spices used in Kathy’s recipe to be far too mild and tame to bear much resemblance to the richly spiced dals we’re accustomed to. Christie asked me to change up the spices to something closer to our favorite restaurant dishes.

The resulting dal still owes inspiration to Kathy Hester’s, particularly with the inclusion of a large sweet potato that eventually melts into a thick gravy for the dal. Her cookbook has been inspiring us to find more slow cooker recipes, this dal being one of the first.

The Stuff

  • 1 small onion, medium dice
  • 1″ fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 1/2 cup channa dal, picked over and washed
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced
  • 2 bunches of collard greens or kale, de-stemed, washed and sliced up small
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 t garam masala
  • 1 t ground turmeric
  • 1/2 t ground cumin
  • 1/2 t hing
  • 1/2 t amchur
  • 1/2 t ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 t cumin seeds
  • 1/4 t panch poran
  • 1/4 t brown mustard seeds
  • salt, to taste

The Making

Heat a saute pan and spray a little canola oil, add onions and saute 5 minutes. Onions should be translucent. Add the seeds and saute for a minute. Sprinkle in the powdered spices, and stir everything to coat the onions, being careful to not burn any of the spices. Saute for a minute, stirring constantly and heat all the spices. You will have a very dry mixture at this point with the onions well coated. I recommend a cast iron skillet for the kind of dry frying of spices this step takes.

Add sauteed onions and spices to the slow cooker along with the remaining ingredients. Cook on high for 9 hours. After 8 hours of cooking add the washed, chopped greens and let them cook into the dal. Stir occasionally to help the greens cook in evenly.

If you want to make this with yellow split peas you will want to cook on low setting and for less time, 6-8 hours.

You could make this a lot spicier by throwing in some dried, red chili pods. A channa dal we’re served at the South Indian place has little hot chili pods floating in it and the flavor is pretty awesome. A green chile, chopped small, would also add a pleasant spice.

Serves 6-8

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