Adventures in the Kitchen: Doing the Damn Dahl

Everyone said dahl would be an easy recipe – and it was. The problem may be that I just don’t like it. Some might joke that I don’t know my way around the kitchen – and if you’re talking about making pancakes from scratch without the aid of something like Bisquick, you’re right. (And, okay, I occasionally forget that the stove-top is on until the smoke alarm goes off, and some things have unintentionally burned – NEVER food though, just pans or cork trivets or plastic ladels). But for most everything else, I’m pretty damn serviceable. If you’ve graduated from high school, you should be able to follow a recipe. (Those are always my famous last words before a cooking disaster.)

Sometimes though, either the recipe is off, or mistakes are made, or a lack of professional training comes in as far as flavoring and tasting goes. I’m going to blame the recipe this time. I wanted to make a simple dahl. I got the recipe online (which is always going to be a crap-shoot no matter how many stars or reviewers have glowingly rated it) and I liked it because it did away with the coconut milk.

Which brings to mind a question for FUSSYLittleBLOG: is coconut milk a dairy product? I’m guessing no, as it comes from a plant source, not a mammal, but does that mean it doesn’t have any lactose in it? I believe the lactose is the issue for me, so I avoided it just in case. However, that may have proved fatal to this recipe.

I obtained the necessary ingredients from the Asian Supermarket. We had most of the spices on hand, with the exception of cardamom, but we don’t have a supply of red lentils. I rinsed them off, assembled and cooked the onion and garlic, then added the water and other ingredients. It looked and smelled like it was coming together nicely. I brought it to a boil, then turned it down to low and covered it, allowing it to simmer for 45 minutes or so. When I returned, the lentils had softened and expanded, and the soup had turned wonderfully rich and thick.

But here’s where I’m a bad cook, and my amateurishness would be blasted by anyone of those scary chefs on the Food Network: I don’t taste until the end. The reason being is that, apart from salt and pepper and possibly sugar, I wouldn’t know what else to add or change to rectify things. I’m not Julia Fucking Child.

In this case, the taste was just off. Well, maybe not off so much as unimpressive. It reminded me a little bit, in its blandness, of the mung bean dish that I used to try, and hate, at family dinners. Maybe that’s what dahl tastes like, but with all the spices involved (coriander, cardamom, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, and fresh ginger) I expected more. At that point, I could have added a ton of salt and pepper, but that always seems like cheating to me. If a recipe’s no good without having to add a shitload of salt to it, then the recipe’s no good. This one was bland, and bad.

Never one to dismiss anything before it’s plated up properly, I poured the dahl over some rice. It looked good. It looked hearty. It looked like how I wanted it to look. Unfortunately, it still tasted the same. If anything, it was more disappointing because the appearance was so at odds with the lack of flavor. I was bummed. Andy was kind and blamed it on the recipe. I chalked it to up to a failure not quite on a par with pancakes from scratch, but a waste nonetheless. However, my next cooking adventure would prove far more successful…

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