India, part 3. Dhal and Khima (pigeon peas, pink lentils, meatballs with dried apricot


In the most beautiful of times, Autumn, we crave hearty and easy to heat or reheat foods. In Southern tradition the tailgate, campfire, back porch and by the fire foods have to be able to rest easy to eat, keep warm and/or fit inside a bun. Wanting to keep the focus on Indian cuisines for America the options were very easy to choose from for this colorful, cool season.

Meatballs and beans comes to mind. Pigeon peas (tur dhal) with diced pumpkin and fried pink lentils (masoor dhal); and ground beef, garam masala, and dried apricot khima. Our exploration of making the unfamiliar familiar and raising the familiar to the new or unfamiliar is a perfect project for kofta or khima in Mombai Parsi cuisine (keftedes, polpette, boulette de viands, meatballs) and dhal/dal (pulses is the culinary family name for legumes, peanuts, beans) which refers to vegetarian cuisine of the South or Dakshin, in this case of the Andrah region. As with all comfort foods the dishes may vary from region to region, home to home, mother to mother. The words may seem strange but the delicious is not.

Here we are in part three of a set of foods native to Indian cuisines that are items we regularly use in the Western Hemisphere. The more I learn the more these once mysterious ingredients and dishes arrive in my rotation of meals. This is as much fun as I have had in a very long time in discovering new ingredients and new ways of cooking. The dishes I have chosen are ones that friends have prepared in the past or that became alluring to me the more I learned of them. Please forgive if these are not completely of their home, the attempt is to familiarize for the ease of the American kitchen. Every time you shake a bottle of Worcestershire, use a chutney or cook split peas you are giving a nod to the vast continent of 33 distinct cuisines, India. Not only in dedication to Suyauta Winefield, Mariam & Wes Qureshi, Dot Whitelaw (Mother), Melanie P., Jordan T., Don Chambers, Jarad Blanton, Cindy and JP of Southern Distinction, Tom and Mel of Atlanta Food & Beer, but dedicated to the vast world of inspiration that is our world of food, inclusive and loving, from the ground to the plate in kitchens unhindered. I do this all for the pleasure of the plate without remuneration, simply so that all may enjoy the fruits of life.


Pigeon peas (tur dhal) with diced pumpkin and fried pink lentils (masoor dhal). Indian cuisines use only pink, green and yellow lentils. The pink cooks quickly and binds well for reforming to fry. You can use brown/green lentils with longer cook time. The brownish lentils we are familiar with are unhulled, which can be slightly bitter if not soaked and repeatedly rinsed in cold water. If you cannot find pigeon peas (in Athens area they are at Publix, Taj Mahal or at any Indian and Middle Eastern grocers) then use garbanzo, black beans (the closest in flavor) or kidney beans. Pigeon peas are used in Latin, Caribbean, Indian and most equatorial cuisines. The garbanzo is native to countries west of India, most notably Afghanistan, Turkey, Israel/Palestine and Lebanon. They are the primary pea used for humus, Latin dishes and Middle East recipes in America. Remember fresh cheese, paneer, from last month? Make it again or buy queso fresco as this dish is best garnished with crumbly paneer.

We are most familiar with pulses (traditional French cuisine term) or dhal as split peas, lentils, pigeon peas, black beans, peanuts, black eyed peas and various mung beans. Think of pulses/dhal as being the edible seed inside of a pod. When you see a recipe for various dhal dishes you are already familiar with some of the ingredients, the name dhal simply refers to it’s being an Indian dish.

The khima/meatball will be ground beef, garam masala, chilies and dried apricot. Middle eastern and Kerala (Southern India Christian and Muslim) cuisine uses lamb for the meat. The price and availability of ground lamb can be high here so I am using beef. Hunting season has begun so you can certainly substitute ground venison. The only ingredient change from traditional is the use of beef. Dried fruits are common across Asia to the Middle East, apricot is one of the most versatile stone fruits, welcoming in recipes from jams to hams.

Who doesn’t have some kind of meatball dish in their cuisine? Rhetorical question there. Meatballs are good anywhere from side dish to kebabs and pastas, sandwiches and on top of potatoes. You can use any meat, fowl, seafood or textured soy protein (tofu). The technique is the same from land to land. Grind, mix and gently roll into shape. They can be pan sautéed, grilled as kebab, roasted dry or in sauce. Who doesn’t like meat/food on a stick, so if kabobs are your thing then put them on skewers and cook over a grill or fire. If the meat is very lean you will need to add some kind of fat or oil to help it bind together. And now, time to cook!


You will need an inexpensive coffee grinder used only for spice grinding, a cutting board, sauce pot or slow cooker, and an iron skillet. The finished pigeon peas will be moist and soft, just a small amount of liquid. The pink lentils will be crisp and used as a garnish on the peas. Recipes are for four as a side dish so adjust as necessary for more people. Arrange ingredients for these recipes before you start prepping.

Asafoetida is derived from a kind of fennel, somewhat pungent, tastes of shallot, is used to help digestion, maintain color in the peas, and as a slight baking soda action that elevates the flavor. It is dark brown and hard. You will need to use a microplane grater. If you do not want to buy any then use 1/3 teaspoon baking soda and 10 crushed fennel seeds. If you have curry leaves use 4 in this dish.


1 cup dry pigeon peas (small, round and off white color)

2 ½ cups water, soak peas for 6+ hours

1/3 teaspoon cumin, powder

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons asafoetida

1 teaspoon red chili powder

2 teaspoons salt

.25 ounce cilantro, leaves and stems chopped

10 ounces pumpkin, peeled, fine dice

4 ounces white onion, chopped

6 ounces tomato, chopped, use juice and seeds

1 tablespoon lemon juice

6 ounces coconut milk

Pour peas and water into pot. In a mortar and pestle crush cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger, cilantro, asafoetida, chili and salt into a paste. It will be a paste. Put everything into a crock pot. High for 90 minutes and low for 90 minutes. You can add sliced okra, green beans or any other gourd.


If you have black mustard seeds then use them. When you crush the seeds do so between sheets of plastic wrap so that they do not fly all over the kitchen.


½ cup pink lentils (turns tan when cooked)

2 cups water, soak for one hour

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 teaspoon coriander, ground

¼ teaspoon black cardamom, ground, use a zester on whole pod

1 serrano pepper, minced

1 garlic clove, smashed and pressed into paste

¼ teaspoon mustard seeds, crushed

During last 3 minutes add:

3 tablespoons yellow fine corn flour, (Mills Farm Red Mule)

For pan frying:

3 tablespoons corn oil

1 tablespoon butter


Pour lentils and water into pan, add rest of ingredients except oils, corn meal. Boil and then turn down to low, cover and cook 45 minutes. Remove cover, turn up to medium, add cornmeal, stir. Dust a plate with corn flour and transfer lentil paste. If it is too loose add more corn meal.

Shape into 12 quarter sized discs, not very thick. Dust again with corn flour. Refrigerate for minimum one hour.

Heat butter and oil to 350 degrees. It will sputter. Add discs one by one to the oil. Cook on medium high until they are crispy and light brown color. Place 3 with each serving of pigeon peas. This is a very filling dish. Garnish with fresh cheese, cilantro leaves, crushed peppers and lime wedges.



The combination may sound extreme but the results are in the rich and complex flavor. Perfect to match up to any bean dish. Good as sandwich, pasta, rice or our pigeon pea recipe.

Makes 16.

1 pound sirloin, ground

1 1/2 teaspoon garam masala (re, August Southern Distinction)

1 teaspoon curry powder

¼ teaspoon cloves, ground

½ teaspoon red chili powder

1 tablespoon jalapeno, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 1/2 ounces apricot, dried, chopped

1 ½ ounces almonds, ground

3 ounces onion, minced

2/3rd cup fine bread crumbs


3 tablespoons corn oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Mix all ingredients together in bowl. Do not over mix, just enough to combine. Roll into 16, 1 1/2 ounce balls. If they are not holding form add more bread crumbs.

Heat large cast iron skillet with 3 tablespoons corn oil and 1 tablespoon butter on high. When it is 350~ add the meatballs one by one. Let cook a minute all around so that it browns. Heat oven to 350~ and transfer skillet and meatballs to oven. Turn after 10 minutes. Cook 1o more minutes. Remove, set meatballs on paper towels to drain any oils.

Serve with our pigeon peas and fried lentils with paneer (queso fresca). Serve with naan for your bread. You can find this bouncy, soft, perfect flat bread in most grocery stores.

Khima can served in any number of ways such as sandwich with spicy tomato sauce, on buttery rice noodles and vegetables, brown basmati rice and roasted red bell pepper puree, roasted with chopped sweet potatoes

I know there are a few ingredients new to home cooks. Once you purchase in the smallest amount, use them a few times and your senses will tell you why these are such magnificent additions to the pantry. I can’t even cook black eyed peas without asafoetida! Comfort foods arrive when we least expect it, really. Take your time familiarizing yourself with the recipes, if you rush it then you open yourself up for mistakes.

With all hope for a beautiful season that you may eat well, freely converse and spread the love.


Picking Up The Scent Of Near October

Closer in from the treetop shouts

Of blaze and color against bluest sky,

The roses and tomatoes, fueled by rains

And August mulch bloom their strongest,

Brightest, longest on into November.

Friendships seem more conversational,

Politics more interesting and intriguing,

Weekend afternoons vibrant with the rush

Of collegiate football and home barbecue.

Staking out a crossroads in the woods

For the perfect tree, the perfect deer.

The smell of rows of rolled hay

On a backdrop of barbwire fences,

A herd of Herefords cattle gaze and laze.

And the stones in my pathway

Fall to the side beneath Octobers warmth,

Where for one last long gasp the season

Holds us before the first frost,

Carving pumpkins, telling ghostly lies,

Playing out the role of a Southern

Joy where one smile can change a life

And all loves have first and last names.

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