If I’m gonna cover a song, I want to put my own spin on it, and not play it exactly the same as someone else. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a time and place for traditionalists, and a reason to preserve things. It’s just that I’m not very good at following directions, or doing what everybody else is doing.
The definition of creativity, according to Dictionary.com, is “The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships or the like, and to create some meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.”. In other words, thinking about, or doing, something in a way that no one else has thought of before. Even though most of us tend to associate creativity with artists, many people not in the art world are very creative. So whether or not you are artistic, I encourage you to embrace your creativity and start thinking outside the box. And just as importantly, supporting and respecting others for doing the same.
If you are a traditionalist when it comes to Indian food, I hope you can respect my creativity with this recipe. I call this Saag dal, even though it contains neither saag (spinach) or dal (lentils). What it does contain is any green leafy vegetable I happen to have purchased too much of this week, and usually some yellow split peas (or occasionally chana (chickpeas). I have been cooking and tweaking and cooking this dish again and again and even though it’s not very traditional, I think it’s more than delicious.
I used collard greens in this incarnation, but I’ve used all types of kale, chard, spinach, turnip greens, etc. Whatever you like, or have, feel free to use here. Also, I like my split peas/lentils soft, so I soak them overnight, if I remember to. If you don’t have time, or forget, don’t worry about it. The peas may be a bit hard, depending on their age, but should be fine. Or feel free to use any kind of lentil here. None really need to be soaked, but it can help with digestibility if you have a problem with that kind of thing. And I know it looks like a lot of ingredients, but it really comes together pretty easily.
1 c. yellow split peas, or lentils, soaked for a few hours, drained and rinsed
1 big bunch (or 2 small bunches) of any leafy green
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. brown or black mustard seeds
1 cardamom pod
1-2 T. ghee, butter or coconut oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1″ piece of ginger, minced
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 – 1 1/2 c. coconut milk (full or low fat)
basmati rice or naan, for serving*
Place the split peas in a large, heavy bottomed pot with 3-4 cups of water. Cover, bring to a boil, then turn down to low and simmer until tender, anywhere from 35-50 minutes, depending on how fresh your peas are. Drain, and set aside.
Meanwhile, combine all the whole spices (cumin through cardamom) in a small skillet over medium heat, and toast until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind to a powder. Set aside.
Also, while you’re waiting for the peas to cook, you can prep the greens. Cut out the large middle stem, then, using either a knife or a food processor, chop the greens into fine, confetti-size pieces.
When the split peas are done, melt the ghee/oil in the same pot (or a new one if you like doing dishes), over medium heat. Add the onions and let them cook until translucent, then add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, pepper flakes, salt and the spice mix from earlier. After about a minute it will smell like heaven, then you can add the greens and stir to coat them in the oil and spices. Once the greens have begun to wilt, stir in a cup of coconut milk. Finally, add the split peas and stir again to combine. As the mixture continues to cook, the greens will release more liquid. At some point some liquid will begin to evaporate, that’s when you know it’s done. You’re looking for a sauce-y consistency. If it’s too dry, add another splash of coconut milk, if it’s soup-y, keep simmering until it dries out a touch.
Serve with naan or basmati rice
* for the basmati – combine 1 c. rinsed rice with 1 1/2 c. water. Bring to a boil, reduce to low, simmer, covered for 20 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes then fluff.