Celery Root and Okra Dal.

I’ve been hiding a recipe from you.  This is my second year of making it too, and I’ve made it more times than I can remember.  Dal.  Or I suppose that’s what it is, though I’m a real amateur at Indian cooking and I’ve never had an aficionado give me the thumbs up on whether this constitutes a real dal.

I’m not sure it’s authentic. I’m slowly turning away from the pursuit of authenticity, anyway.  I know I love this celery root and okra dal and that’s enough for me.  And I know that celery root is the star here, whether it belongs or not; it’s the reason why everyone I serve this to loves it so much.  It’s less bracing than celery stalks, brighter and fresher tasting—which is a lot to say, since it’s stewed for quite a while.  Sitting in a bowl with earthy, dense lentils, sticky okra, and cooked-down tomatoes, a fresh, bright component like celery root really does a lot.

Which is not to say the other players don’t matter.  If celery root is Michael Jordan, then okra is Scottie Pippen (Jim just gave me that metaphor, and I’m trusting him on it.)  If okra is Scottie Pippen, then the tomatoes are a player that none of us remember but who was actually quite a lot of help to the team.  Red lentils also made a few baskets.  Even the mire-poix of onions, peppers, and carrots can play a good defense.  I’ve taken this metaphor too far.

But you know what I’m saying.  My dal is the perfect balance, at least in my eyes.  Spicy, filling, a touch sweet, bright, with a lovely scent of garam masala.  Perfect on its own atop basmati rice.  Perfecter with a fried egg on top.  Great for vegetarians, but you’d be downright dumb not to serve this to anyone who likes food.

I like to slice up my okra—which is a bit of a slimy mess—and combine them in a bowl with diced tomatoes, some spices and white vinegar, and after it sits for 15-20 minutes, add it to the dal.  Pressed for time or energy, though, you could just add the okra and tomatoes straight to the dal with a splash of vinegar.

Celery Root and Okra Dal

Season to your tastes at the end.  Add more spices, more jalapeno, some hot sauce, whatever suits you.  The good part of throwing authenticity to the wind is you never need to sacrifice your tastes.

  • 3 tablespoons ghee, butter, or olive oil (or a combination)
  • 1 celery root, diced
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 1/2 cups red lentils, washed and picked over
  • 6 cups water or vegetable stock (1 cube vegetable boullion if using water)
  • 1/2 pound okra, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3-4 small hothouse tomatoes, diced
  • cilantro

Heat ghee, butter, or oil in 6 quart dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat.  Once melted, add celery root, onions, green pepper, carrots, jalapeno, and garlic.  Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until softening and beginning to brown.  Add garam masala, salt, and cumin and cook a few minutes more, stirring.  Add red lentils, stirring to mix, and then the water or stock.  Lower heat and cook, halfway covered, for about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, add okra and tomatoes.  Mix in garam masala, paprika, vinegar, and sugar.  Let marinate in the fridge until the lentils are cooked.

When lentils are done to your liking, add okra mixture and heat through.  Serve on basmati rice with lots of cilantro, a drizzle of olive oil, and maybe a fried egg on top.  Since it gets better with age, try to leave some leftovers for lunch.