Shove off sugar plums; this is the kind of Christmas lunch I dream of. Crispy crust filled with creamy dal curry and topped with sweet, caramelized, roasted vegetables. Our resident Little Person polished two of them off to himself and there are regretfully few leftovers to feast on later… The moral of the story is that for the amount of work this is: make lots at once!
Incidentally, if you don’t want to be bothered with the fussiness of the whole tart thing, then the dal on its own is amazing and mostly hands-off time – so consider making it as a stand-alone on an afternoon you’ll be home to let the pot simmer. (Or make it in a slow cooker, then you only need to be there at the very beginning and very end with almost no supervision.)
Yield: 8 tartlets
What you need for the chana dal filling:
- 1 cup chana dal (split, hulled chickpeas; if unavailable, split yellow peas are a good substitute)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons curry powder, divided (pick one you really love; S&B Oriental Curry Powder is what I used – it’s a favourite in our household)
- 3 whole cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 slices of fresh ginger
- 1 packed cup of chopped kale leaves (lacinato preferred)
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 shallot, peeled and sliced into fine half-moons
- 12 or so fresh curry leaves (optional, if available)
What you need for the roasted vegetables:
- 1 lb winter squash sliced into 1/2″ wedges (the wedges cut in half crosswise if your squash is big)
- a large carrot cut into 1/2″ slices (you can also use a flower-cutter to make’em pretty if you have one!)
- 4 shallots cut into wedges lengthwise
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- herb salt
What you need for the crusts:
- 2-1/2 cups besan (garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour)
- 2 tablespoons arrowroot or tapioca starch
- 1/4 cup tahini (sesame butter)
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon kala namak salt (black salt, use regular salt if unavailable)
- 1/2 cup + a tablespoon or two of water
What you do for the dal:
- 8 to 12 hours before you want to start making the dal, heat up a kettle of water and pour 4 cups of steaming water over 1 tsp of curry powder in a large measuring cup. Let it cool. Pour the cooled curry powder tea over the chana dal in a large bowl or measuring cup. Let soak overnight (or 8-12 hours). Drain, discarding the soaking curry tea.
- Place the chana dal in a 2 or 3 quart pot with 4 cups of fresh water. Add the bay leaves, ginger slices and whole cloves. Bring to a boil. Hard boil for 5 minutes, skimming off the foam and scum that rises.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and then add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of curry powder. Stir to combine and then simmer, covered with a lid left ajar to allow for evaporation and avoid the dal boiling over as it cooks. Cook until the split beans are very very soft and mushy, adding water as necessary to avoid them sticking. The process will take 2 or 3 additions of water and 3 or so hours (with chana dal). This is mostly hands off time, only an occasional stir and water check is required. As the cooking progresses, you will probably need to lower the heat to avoid the dal sticking to the bottom of the pot. It may seem like forever to cook something, but the time will reward you with melting and incredibly unctuous yumminess. If you’re in a rush, well, this is not your recipe… Or use a pressure cooker!
- When the dal is ready (which is when it is thick and sticky and soft throughout – no liquid as such – you’re using this to fill a tart after all), remove the bay leaves, cloves and ginger slices. Add salt to desired level and the chopped kale. Simmer on low, cover ajar, stirring often to avoid sticking and wilt the kale; another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- While the dal is doing its final simmer, heat a small fry-pan over medium heat. When hot, add the sesame oil, mustard seeds, sliced shallot and curry leaves. Stir and fry 10-15 minutes, until the onion is reddish and crispy (but NOT burnt).
- Pour the oil, onion and spices into the dal, mix well and cover the pot to let the mixture thicken and all the aromas get to know each other until ready to fill the tarts.
What you do for the crusts:
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour, arrowroot and spices. Work in the tahini using a fork or your fingers until even throughout. Mix in the first 1/2 cup of water a little at a time until a stiff dough forms. Use your hands to knead it into a solid mass. If necessary add a bit more water, a little at a time, until you have a play-doh-like ball in the bowl.
- Separate the ball into eight pieces. Press each piece into the bottom of an oiled tartlet pan being careful not to make the corners too thick – the dough needs to cook all the way through for crisp crust!
- Bake the tart shells for 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside until ready to fill.
What you do for the roasted vegetable topping:
- Keep the oven at 400F.
- Place the squash slices, carrot slices and shallot wedges in an 11″x17″ pan lined with parchment paper.
- Drizzle the veggies with oil and toss to coat evenly (hands work best here). Sprinkle with herb salt. You can also add freshly ground pepper if you like!. Toss again.
- Roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove pan, flip the vegetables over and roast another 15-20 minutes until browning, soft and irresistable. Set aside.
What you do to assemble and bake the tartlets:
- Turn the oven down to 375F.
- Fill each of the tart shells with a heaping portion of the chana dal mixture.
- Top each of the filled tart shells with an artfully arranged assortment of roasted vegetables (or not so artfully arranged – it doesn’t matter, it will be super-awesome anyway).
- Bake for 15 minutes to warm and unite all the component parts.
- Serve hot or warm. (Although I’ll vouch to the fact that they’re great at room temperature too.)
- If you’re into less crust and more filling, then halve the crust recipe and use it to line a 9″ tart shell instead. Or use the same crust recipe and line an 11″ or 12″ tart shell. Either way, serve it pie-style with steamed broccoli or a cauliflower mash alongside.
- Should you be worried that the dal won’t be stiff enough to hold a nice edge in the crust, you can give yourself a little insurance: dilute a heaping teaspoon of kuzu starch (or non-GMO organic cornstarch) in a tablespoon of cold water. When smooth, whisk it into the finished dal mixture. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Boil 3 to 5 minutes, to lose the starch taste and thicken. Remove from heat and let cool a little before filling the tards.