Cauliflower Dal

When the cooler weather starts setting in, I start craving soup. Dal soup is a favourite with everyone: creamy, satisfying and infinitely adjustable to suit taste, spice and available vegetable. This version features cauliflower and winter squash along with a healthy dose of Jamaican-style curry powder (recipe provided: since home-made curry powder is just so much better than anything from the store!).

Yield: 6-8 servings as a side, 4-6 as a main + lots of extra curry powder to use in everything

What you need for the curry powder:

  • 1/4 cup whole coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons whole mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries
  • 1 tablespoon whole black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 5 star anise pods
  • 5 tablespoons ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground mace

What you do for the curry powder:

  1. Toast the coriander, cumin, mustard, fenugreek, allspice, black pepper and cloves in a dry cast-iron skillet over medium heat until everything smells divine and the colour is slightly darker. Stir constantly and when ready, empty immediately into a large, shallow plate or dish to cool.
  2. Grind the toasted spices with the remaining ingredients in a spice grinder.
  3. Use as desired. The mix is very aromatic, but not very spicy so it’s great to add flavour without a ton of heat. If you want the heat: just add some cayenne pepper or a bit of another hot pepper you like to the dish you’re making.

What you need for the soup:

  • 1-1/3 cup masoor dal (red lentils), washed in several changes of water until it runs relatively clear and well drained
  • 1 small cauliflower, cut into spoon-sized florets and stem pieces, about 3-1/2 cups
  • 1/4 of a small winter squash (butterkin is shown), small dice, 1-1/2 cups
  • 1 large onion, finely diced, 1 cup
  • 1 tablespoon (or as little as 1 teaspoon) virgin sesame or olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Jamaican-style curry powder
  • 6 cups water or unsalted vegetable stock
  • salt

What you do for the soup:

  1. Heat a 4 or 5 quart Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil and onion. Sauté the onion until translucent, lowering heat as necessary to avoid browning.
  2. Add the cauliflower, and continue to sauté until it loses the raw look some, 5 minutes or so.
  3. Not it’s the squash’s turn to join the party. Add it and give it a chance to mix in with the other guests for a while, another 5 minutes.
  4. Now add the drained dal and curry powder and stir to mix the lentils and spice throughout the vegetables.
  5. Add the water or stock and salt to desired level. For most people, that’ll be in the 1-1/2 teaspoon range, although it could be less or more depending on taste and inclination.
  6. Bring the soup to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer, cover, and let it go for 30 or 40 minutes, until the lentils are falling apart and the vegetables very tender.
  7. Serve as is, or remove 2 cups of the soup and purée using an immersion blender or regular stand blender, returning it to the pot to thicken.

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