Published Dec 9, 2003

It’s getting cold as winter hits even Southern California, so I wanted something nice and thick and warm for dinner this week. Lentils are a great winter treat, and I recently received a gift of some masala spices from Mauritius, so making Dal, an Indian sort of lentil stew, seemed like a great idea. I found a fun-looking recipe online and all would have been good from there had I not, you know, messed everything up.

There was no explicit disaster, just a series of mistakes that robbed my Dal of most of its flavor. It all started with my decision that I wanted to add some ground turkey to the Dal, to add a little texture and make it more filling (lentils are very high in protein but rarely fill me up). I tried to pump up the spices to bring flavor to everything, but my execution was just lacking.

The main error was to try to brown the meat with the onions and garlic. There was just too little volume in my pot to do it successfully, and the meat never got a nice crust on it (crusts are key to flavor!). I think I underseasoned as well but the mealy, light-colored ground turkey probably sucked up more flavor than it added. Next time, I’d brown the meat separately with some garlic and spices of its own, and add it into the Dal at a much later stage.

Of course everything smelled lovely throughout the cooking, so I didn’t think to worry about flavor. And it looked nice, too:
a bowl of lentils & rice

Flavor, however, was sadly lacking. Some salt (yes! I actually added salt, believe it or not!) and some Mexican hot sauce kicked things up to the tasty level, so I had perfectly fine food for a week, but the result still added up to something well short of good.

The thing about messing up a recipe is that lessons always abound. There’s always the immediate temptation to cook the same dish at the soonest opportunity to see if it can be made perfectly this time. I’ll have a repeat Dal-making experience in a few weeks, I warrant.