Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Guyanese Staple : Dhal


What red sauce is to an Italian, dhal is to a Guyanese. It is truly a staple in our cuisine and is probably cooked at least once a week in any Guyanese home.  Dhal is a type of "gravy" made essentially from split peas and is commonly eaten with rice or roti.  It is topped with almost any type of Guyanese dish from chicken curry to fried fish, to various vegetables such as ochroes or spinach.  The simplest and most delicious way to eat dhal for me is with hot paratha roti.  Once the dhal has had a chance to soak into the roti, it ends up being a very filling and hearty meal for me. 




Dhal is made by boiling water with yellow split peas, onions, garlic, pepper and various spices then using a swizzle stick or some other appliance to make the dhal smooth.  In a metal ladel or a very small pot, oil is heated and whole cumin seeds (geera) and sliced garlic are fried until they are almost burnt.  This is then added to the already cooked dhal.  The burnt garlic and geera gives the dhal a hint of smokiness that is truly delectable and unique.  This method is known to many Guyanese as "chunkaying".   There are many people who do not like the taste of the burnt geera, but I love it and I feel it really makes dhal tastes like dhal!



My mom cooks her dhal in a pressure cooker and it is usually done cooking within 10-12 minutes.  What results is a smooth, slightly thick texture that can stand up to any rice or roti that it is poured on.  Because I do not own a pressure cooker (I know, the shame), I use a different method, an immersion blender! Let's face it, not many of us have the time to stand over a pot with a dhal "gutney" or swizzle stick trying to make the dhal as smooth as possible, so if you want to keep your sanity, use the immersion blender! 



Growing up in a Guyanese community, you can imagine that I have eaten dhal from many different homes and restaurants, but nothing beats my mom's recipe.  She adds just enough spices to develop a flavor that is really like no other.  I've made this a few times just to get the measurements correct for you. This will serve approximately four people with some left overs, well maybe, just depends on how many times you go back for seconds!  

Rinse split peas, chop onion, garlic, pepper, and tomato

Add to 8 cups of boiling water

Immediately after adding the above ingredients, add spices and salt.  I usually like my food a tad bit saltier than most people so you can start with 1 tsp salt and add more as needed

After about 45 minutes of boiling, the peas will become soft and break into pieces, this is how you know the dhal is ready to be blended.  If you are using a swizzle stick, you can begin to swizzle the dhal until it gets to your desired texture


This is an immersion blender, it is used mostly to blend soups or drinks.  It is wonderful because you can insert it right into a pot or large mug and blend away! 

Blend for about 1 minute (yes it's that quick!)

After dhal has been blended to desired smoothness, return to a slow boil for about 15-20 minutes.  You want some of the water in the dhal to evaporate so that you can achieve a slightly thick texture.  If your dhal is too "loose" it will sink to the bottom of your plate and have a watery texture when served with rice.  

In a ladel or very small pot, heat oil and add sliced garlic and 1 tsp of whole cumin seeds.  Fry until they turn slightly burnt.  Immediately add this to the pot and cover the pot as you drop the ladel in because the oil will pitch at you! Now you have "chunkayed" your dhal and are ready to serve. 

Dhal 

Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp masala
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp tumeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground geera
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup split peas
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 whole onion
  • 3 wiri wiri pepper
  • 1 small tomato
  • 1 tsp whole cumin (geera) seeds
  • 1 garlic thinly sliced

Directions

1. Bring 8 cups of water to a rapid boil.  Rinse split peas and add to the water. 
2. Chop onion, garlic, tomato, and wiri wiri peppers (or scotch bonnet) and add to boiling water.
3. Add spices and salt (I usually like a bit more salt in my food so start with 1 tsp and add more if needed).
4. Boil peas for 45 minutes until peas are soft to the touch. Blend with immersion blender or use swizzle stick to achieve a smooth texture.  Return to a slow boil for another 15-20 minutes until dhal gets slightly thick.  Turn heat off when you have reached your desired texture. 
5. In a metal ladel or very small pot, heat oil and fry sliced garlic and geera until they become slightly burnt.  Immediately add to dhal, being careful to cover the pot as you add the garlic/geera mixture as the hot oil will pitch out at you since it is being combined with a water based liquid. 


27 comments:

  1. I was waiting for this recipe. Looks great....thanks Alica.

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  2. This was great, i loved it, best recipe for dhal! thank you !!

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  3. You are both welcome! I'm glad it turned out well Anonymous :)

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  4. I made this today. It came out really good, although I will continue to tinker and personalize it. Where do you get your spices from? I am finding that supermarket spices are subpar and am turning to dried spices and those available from specialty markets and ethnic stores. If I don't have those on hand, (like today!) I basically double the amount of spice I use.

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  5. Hi Anonymous!

    I buy my spices from West Indian/ethnic stores only. My mother makes her own masala and I usually get a batch from her. I have also experienced that the spices from the "international" aisle in supermarkets are not as strong. I think this has to do with the mass production that needs to happen in order to distribute certain brands to grocery stores around the country. For example, McCormick makes curry powder but it is nowhere close to the curry powder that you can buy at a West Indian store b/c as they continue to mass produce the quality gets lost. West Indian stores typically import their spices from the Caribbean are distributed to specific target markets in the US unlike McCormick which can be found at every store in the US! Anyhow, I am glad that you personalized this recipe to your taste, as with most dishes it is best enjoyed when tailored to suit your taste buds! Thanks for visiting!

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  6. I am very happy to read your articles it’s very useful for me,and I am completely satisfied with your website.All comments and articles are very useful and very good.
    Your blog is very attention-grabbing. I am loving all of the in turn you are sharing with each one!…
    Spices

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  7. Great, I also had some spinich in mines (bhagie).. taste yummy.

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  8. I also love the Hazel Atlas Criss-Cross mixing bowl you started out with. :)

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  9. How many cups of split peas goes into this recipe? Thank you!

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    1. Hi Anonymous, 3/4 cups as stated above, enjoy! :)

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  10. Should I boil the peas covered or uncovered? Thanks! Great recipe.

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    1. Hi there,

      Boil the peas uncovered. If you cover it, it will flow over the pot. Thanks for visiting!

      Alica

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  11. I'm not sure what it was like in your household, but in mine, my parents did all of the cooking up until I was about 20 or 21, I'm now 25. My parents work magic in the kitchen, especially my dad, he could prepare food for the Gods, and this isn't just me being biased, our family and friends love his cooking. I seem to have inherited some of his talent [ahem]. However that may fall a little short when it comes to the Art of Dhal-Making. Just as you think your mom's is the best, I also think my dad's is the best, even my mom requests that he make it. If I may, he's the MC Hammer where Dhal is concerned [You can't touch this! lol ;)]
    I've been wanting to try it for a while now, but I have been petrified! Needless to say, this fear stems from me trying to live up to dad's dhal standards. I've tried a few of your recipes before, with great success, so thank you! It's often difficult to find Guyanese recipes that incorporate traditional methods and ingredients. So essentially, there's some level of trust here and I will be trying your recipes, with a few tweaks of my own [including letting it boil slowly and using a dhal 'gutney'], but using your general guideline. Thanks a million again and keep your fingers crossed for me! lol :D
    P.s. Nice name, how do you pronounce that?

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    1. Hi Amelia,

      Sorry it took me so long to reply, I totally understand where you are coming from on all accounts! I think it's great that you are trying and still learning. However I can help, please let me know :) Also, thanks for your compliment- my name is pronounced as, Ah-lisa.

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  12. Wonderful blog. From my Bengali 'sister' I found out that "chunkay-ing" is the equivalent of "to choonk" in her culture. From her and another 'sister' from Kerala I have picked up many tasty variations of Indian dishes also made in Guyana.

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  13. How do you use this receive using a pressure cooker? How are the ingredients added and how long should it cook for? Thank you.

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    1. Hi Michelle,

      My dad cooks this in a pressure cooker sometimes, I will ask him and reply to you!

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  14. I am so thrilled to find your blog. My husband is from Guyana and I surprised him and my in-laws with a full Guyanese lunch on the weekend, mostly using your wonderful recipes. Everything was so delicious! I made pholourie, fried fish, chicken curry, mango sour, roti (they turned out more like pita bread but I know, it takes practise!) and this delicious dhal. Really appreciate the detail of your recipes, and your lovely writing.

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    1. Hi Julia,

      Wow! Your husband is lucky to have such a wonderful wife that will make a dinner spread like that all in one night! I hope your in-laws enjoyed the food along with your effort! I don't even know if I can cook all that in one day lol. I am glad I was able to help, thanks for taking time to write me a message :)

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  15. I to am an American-Guyanese. I grew up eating these wonderful foods and learned how to make them without a recipe. Learning that way worked for a while but after not cooking for a certain dish for some time you forget measurements. Its nice to have your blog as a go-to. It also helps with the consistency of the food. I have YET to master anything with dough - especially my most favorite food, roti. Kneading is just not my thing. But, I'll continue to try. Thank you for painstakingly putting together each of your recipes along with photos. To those that don't steal other peoples work, it is greatly appreciated.

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    1. Hi there,

      Thanks so much. I'm glad you are enjoying the site. Even I come back to some of the recipes to see measurements because I also forget after a certain amount of time! Yea, people just like to take the easy way out and steal other people's photos, unfortunately it is something common that happens in the digital world. Thanks for stopping by!

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  16. haha i don't have a pressure cooker either. and though hubby can cook really well, his dhal, and mine, not so great. i will try your recipe for sure girlfriend!

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  17. This is a brilliant recipe. I have used it several times now and my family loves it.

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  18. You dont put Tomatoes into dahl

    But this will get deleted, because this blogger did not grow up cooking and recently learned to cook. She feels threatened when people comment and tell the truth

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    1. Hi there,

      You are correct I did not grow up cooking as much as I do now. I did help my mom a lot in the kitchen, but it wasn't because I wanted to, I didn't have much of an interest until I moved away from home. This is my mom's way of making dhal and it is fantastic to me. Every Guyanese person cooks differently. If you ask 10 different people to cook chow mein, all 10 dishes will taste different because people have different methods and that's the beauty of cooking. Recipes in general are just a guide, ingredients can be added or removed based on preference, I'm sure you can agree right? This recipe contains a very small amount of tomato so it doesn't taste like tomato soup, it's a background flavor. Try it you might like it :)! Thanks for taking time to leave a comment!

      Take care,
      Alica

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  19. Trying this recipe now, thank you for sharing!

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