Asma Khan’s focus is on family and community rather than fine dining and she has garnered an international reputation for her London restaurant, Darjeeling Express, where the kitchen is filled with immigrant housewives rather than professional chefs.
The food, inspired by Asma’s memories of growing up in Kolkata, is bigger on flavor than finesse. And yet Khan is the only U.K.-based chef to have been featured on the Netflix show “Chef’s Table,” which has highlighted some of the giants of the culinary world.
If you want to try Asma’s cooking, you’re out of luck at the moment. Darjeeling Express closed for the coronavirus lockdown and she has no plans to reopen it, even when that lockdown is eased on July 4. She is looking for a new site.
“I am not opening because I need to protect my staff and that is my priority,” she says in an interview. “I can’t morally ask my staff to come and work. If someone asked my child to come into work I would just be so anxious. I can’t do that to someone else.”
The good news is that Khan shared a recipe for dal, a vegetarian Indian stew made with lentils and spices. Most of the ingredients are available in stores, though I did have to order the split yellow mung dal online.
Asma Khan’s Dal
Ingredients for the dal
8 ounces of mung dal lentils
4 tbsp. ghee or oil, divided use
1 tsp. chili powder
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
3 1/2 ounces fresh spinach or kale
Ingredients for the tempering:
2 tbsp. ghee or oil
½ tsp. black mustard seeds
2 dried red chilis
1 small onion sliced into half moons
Wash the lentils in cold running water, then place in a bowl and soak for a minimum of four hours in fresh cold water. Drain before cooking.
Place the lentils in a heavy-based pan that has a lid. Add cold water to about 2 inches above the lentils. Add 2 tbsp. ghee, chili powder, garlic, onion, turmeric and boil over a medium-high heat. When the dal starts to boil, lower the heat. Cover the pan and allow to simmer for 30 to 35 minutes.
Check periodically, removing any foam from the top. To check if the dal is cooked, put the dal on a flat surface and “break” it with the back of a wooden spoon. If it breaks easily, it is ready. Do not mash the dal. You want it to be like thick textured soup.
Once the dal is cooked, add the spinach, leaving it in for a minute or two to wilt. Taste and adjust the seasoning before the final tempering stage. You can make this in advance and chill it for later. When ready to eat, reheat the dal in a pan.
In a small frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. of ghee or oil over a high heat. Add the mustard seeds followed quickly by the dried red chilis and finally the sliced onions. You need to keep stirring to ensure the onions are cooked evenly. When the onions look caramelized (a dark orangish brown) pour the tempering oil, onions and spices over the warm dal in the pan. Next, take a spoonful of the dal and place it in the frying pan to absorb any remaining oil. Take care as the oil may splutter. This step ensures that all the flavored oil is used and not wasted.
This dal goes well with rice or any kind of Indian bread. It freezes well.