Take a hearty lentil stew, pair it with steaming rice, and you have
the backbone of daal-bhaat, often cited as the national dish of Nepal.
Traditional accompaniments are simmered vegetables, meat–usually in
small portions–and at least one type of pickle or chutney.
Daal-bhaat is popular in Nepalese households and back-country rest
stops catering to foreign hikers. Because the ingredients, seasonings,
and techniques are compatible with Western kitchens, a daal-bhaat dinner
makes an economical, informal meal for guests or family.
In our version for 6 to 8 people, a garlic-scented chicken dish
with tomatoes and spinach is served with rice and accompanied by lentils
fragrant with coriander seed and tangy with lime juice.
Make the sour-hot lemon pickle in a microwave oven, a modern touch
that works well. Or buy an Indian lemon or lime pickle, or a favorite
chutney, at a supermarket, Indian, or Middle-Eastern grocery. Shop for
black (sometimes called brown) mustard seed at the same ethnic markets,
or go to a spice store. Or use regular white (also called yellow)
mustard seed. Though the mustards have only a subtle flavor difference,
the black seeds are more decorative with the yellow pickled lemon.
With the meal, offer refreshingly tart lassi, a Nepalese yogurt
Slice fresh oranges and pineapple for dessert; offer dark brown or
coarse Demerara sugar and lime wedges for juice to go with the fruit.
A daal-bhaat dinner
Chicken with Spinach and Tomatoes
Curried Lentil Stew
Sour-Hot Lemon Pickle
Nepalese Yogurt Drink
Sliced Oranges and Pineapple
Dark Brown Sugar and Lime
The chicken is served on hot rice, while the lentils, the pickles,
and the vegetables cooked with the chicken are presented separately.
Chicken with Spinach and Tomatoes (Palung-ra Golbheda-ra Kukhura Ko
Masu) 1 tablespoon coriander seed 1 teaspoon whole black pepper 1/4 cup
water 6 cloves garlic 1 piece peeled fresh ginger, 1 by 2 inches,
quartered 4 whole boned and skinned chicken breasts (about 2-1/4 lb.
total), split 6 tablespoons salad oil 2 large onions, chopped 1/8
teaspoon cayenne 1 can (1 lb. 12 oz.) tomatoes 1-1/2 to 2 pounds
spinach Salt Large, washed nontoxic leaves such as aralia (optional) 4
to 6 cups hot cooked rice
Whirl coriander and black pepper in a blender until finely ground,
about 2 minutes. Add water, garlic, and ginger; blend until smooth,
about 1 minute. Stop motor occasionally to scrape container; set aside.
In a 6- to 8-quart pan over medium-high heat, lightly brown
breasts, a few at a time, in 3 tablespoons oil; set chicken aside. Add
remaining oil and the onions to pan and cook, stirring occasionally,
until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add coriander mixture and
cayenne and stir about 30 seconds.
Spoon any excess oil from pan. Stir in tomatoes (mash slightly
with spoon) and liquid. Stir to scrape any browned bits free in pan.
Return chicken to sauce, bring to simmering, cover, and cook until
breasts are just slightly pink in the center (cut to test), about 8
minutes; turn once or twice. (If made ahead, let chicken cool; cover
and chill overnight; reheat in pan to continue.)
Meanwhile, cut off and discard spinach roots and any yellowed
leaves; wash spinach well and drain. Coarsely chop green leaves and
stems. Add spinach to chicken, cover, and simmer over medium heat; stir
often until spinach is wilted and breasts are white in the center (cut
to test), about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
With a slotted spoon, lift out spinach and tomatoes and place in a
bowl; set aside and keep warm. Line a platter with leaves, if desired,
and spoon the hot cooked rice onto the leaves, then top with the
chicken; keep warm.
Turn heat to high under frying pan and boil, uncovered, until sauce
is reduced to about 3/4 cup; stir often. Spoon sauce onto chicken.
Makes 6 to 8 servings. Curried Lentil Stew (Daal) 2 tablespoons
coriander seed 1 cup coarsely chopped shallots or red onions 1/2 cup
water 6 tablespoons salad oil 5 teaspoons ground turmeric 2 tablespoons
chili powder 1/2 cup thinly sliced chives or green onions 2-1/3 cups (1
lb.) lentils, sorted for debris and rinsed 2 quarts water About 3/4
teaspoon salt 1/3 cup lime juice Cilantro (coriander) sprigs Lime wedges
Whirl coriander seed in a blender until finely ground, about 2
minutes. Add shallots and water; blend to grind coarsely.
In a 5- to 6-quart pan over medium-high heat, combine oil and
shallot mixture and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has
evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add turmeric, chili powder, and chives;
cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Stir lentils, water, and 3/4 teaspoon salt into shallot mixture.
Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer,
stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender to bite, about 35
minutes. Stir in lime juice and salt to taste. (At this point, you can
let lentils cool; cover and chill up to 2 days. Reheat to simmering.)
Pour lentils into a bowl or tureen and garnish with cilantro
sprigs. Offer lime wedges to squeeze over individual portions. Makes
2-1/2 quarts, 6 to 8 servings. Sour-Hot Lemon Pickle (Nibuwaa Achar)
1-1/2 tablespoons black (or white) mustard seed About 1 pound lemons (4
or 5) 1 fresh hot chili (optional) such as jalapeno or serrano, stemmed,
seeded, and finely chopped 2 tablespoons salt 2 teaspoons cayenne 1/4
cup salad oil
In a 6- to 8-inch frying pan over medium heat, toast mustard seed,
shaking pan occasionally, just until seeds begin to pop, 2 to 5 minutes.
Trim ends off lemons. Cut lemons in half crosswise, then cut each
half into about 1-inch wedges; pluck out obvious seeds.
Place lemons in a nonmetallic 2-1/2- to 3-quart bowl; stir in
chopped chili, salt, cayenne, salad oil, and mustard seed.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap; cook at full power in microwave oven
until mixture is slightly thickened and lemons are easy to pierce, 16 to
20 minutes. Every 4 minutes, stir pickles (bowl is hot); let cool.
Serve; or store, covered tightly, in refrigerator up to 4 months. Makes
2 cups. Nepalese Yogurt Drink (Lassi) 1 quart unflavored yogurt 1 quart
water About 1-1/2 teaspoons salt or 1/2 cup sugar Ice (optional)
In a 2-1/2- to 3-quart pitcher, combine yogurt and half of the
water; whisk to blend smoothly. Stir in remaining water; season to
taste with salt or sugar. Serve over ice, or cover and chill as long as
overnight. Makes 2 quarts, 6 to 8 servings.