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Raghavan Iyer’s ‘Unfolded’ makes Indian dishes more accessible

By Bill Daley
Chicago Tribune

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  • Smoky Yellow Split Peas (Tamatar Chana Dal)

    This dish of smoky yellow split peas, native to southeastern India, contains no oil but has a surprising warmth or richness with just a little zip of spice. A vegan and gluten-free dish, the dal may be served with a rice pilaf for a special dinner or with steamed white rice for everyday.

    1 pound potatoes, russet or Yukon Gold

    1 cup yellow split peas

    1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

    2 to 4 dried red chiles (such as chile de arbol), stems discarded

    1 tablespoon coriander seeds

    1 teaspoon cumin seeds

    1 medium-size tomato, cored and diced

    2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

    1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt

    PEEL the potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. Transfer the cubed potatoes to a bowl large enough to hold them. Add enough cold water to cover the potatoes to prevent them from turning black.

    PLACE the split peas in a medium-size saucepan. Add water to cover and rinse the peas, rubbing them between your fingertips. The water will become cloudy and may have some debris like the odd skin from the peas (even though they are skinless) or dust from the packaging. Drain and repeat several times until the water remains clearer.

    ADD 4 cups water to the pan with the peas and let it come to a boil over medium-high heat. Scoop off any foam that rises to the top.

    DRAIN the potatoes and add them with the turmeric to the peas, stirring once or twice. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender but still firm looking and the potatoes are cooked, 20 to 25 minutes.

    HEAT a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet feels hot, usually after 2 to 4 minutes, add the chiles, coriander and cumin. Toast the spices, shaking every few seconds, until the chiles blacken and smell smoky hot and the seeds turn reddish brown and smell aromatic, 1-2 minutes. Immediately transfer the spice blend to a blender and plunk in the tomato. Puree, scraping the insides of the blender as needed, to make a smooth, reddish brown paste with a smoky aroma.

    ONCE the peas are cooked, add the tomato and spice paste to the pan. Stir in the cilantro and salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and let the dal boil vigorously, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the flavors mingle and the sauce thickens slightly, 12-15 minutes. If you would like the sauce to be thicker, mash some of the peas and potatoes with the back of your spoon. Serve warm.

    PER SERVING: 177 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 35 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein, 490 mg sodium, 9 g fiber.

    Yield: 6 servings, or about 6 cups.



Raghavan Iyer is a born teacher who learned to cook the foods of his native India when he arrived in Minnesota as a college student. His latest cookbook, “Indian Cooking Unfolded” (Workman, $19.95), was born from memories of that experience.

“I’ve faced the challenges a person can face firsthand,” Iyer says. “I have been a teacher for over 22 years. It still comes back to what makes cooking more accessible.”

Iyer responds to that challenge in the new book. Seven of the eight chapters open with recipes displayed on pages that fold out, giving plenty of room to arrange step-by-step photographs that support the text. You can use the recipes to create a “get-started” Indian meal.

Also helping to make that Indian meal happen more easily is Iyer’s decision to limit each recipe to 10 ingredients or fewer – and all ingredients must be available at the average supermarket.

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