Greetings sous-vide adventurers, and welcome back to a warm and comforting instalment of Will It Sous Vide?, the column where I make things to with my immersion circulator.
Photos by Claire Lower.
Delicious dal won out in last week's topic-picking session, which was initially kind of overwhelming because there are a lot of different types of dal. The word is used to refer to any dried, split pulse, including lentils, chickpeas and peas, but it also refers to any of the delicious soupy dishes made from those pulses. I eventually settled on this simple recipe from the very successful New York Times because it didn't require me to soak anything overnight and because it was simple enough that I would have the time and faculties to make another, stove top-prepared batch for comparison. I did however end up using red lentils instead of brown, simply because I grabbed the wrong bag.
There were really only two steps to making this dal: Cooking the lentils, then combining them with some tasty, toasted spices and cooking them some more until they have reached the desired consistency. Though the original recipe suggested cooking the lentils until they resembled refried beans, I stopped short of that, because I like soupy lentils.
Does that kind of look like a face to you?
For the sous-vide batch, I made very few adjustments. Besides changing the cooking vessel from a pot to a bag, I halved the amount of water and chucked the onion, garlic, salt and (rinsed) lentils into a 85C bath, checking every once in a while to see how they were faring.
While that was happening, I turned my attention to our stove-top batch. Though the recipe had led me to believe it would take a full 45 minutes for the lentils to become "falling apart tender and fragrant", I found that they achieved that state in about 15 minutes.
It turns out this quicker cooking time was due to my choice of lentil. Red lentils get mushier than their brown counterparts but, as a fan of fragrant bowls of warming mush, I was not at all upset with this development. (And I didn't hate the quicker cooking time.) I then bloomed the spices in a bit of hot oil in my only clean pan, transferred the lentils and their liquid to that pan, and cooked it all down to a nice, thick, soupy consistency. (This took about half an hour.) This made for some tasty dal.
Our sous vide pulses on the other hand, cooked up quite differently. After an hour and 45 minutes in the bath, they were tender — and would fall apart when pressure was applied — but they didn't have the obliterated look of our stove-top babies. They were, however, much more fragrant and flavorful, and would have been good eating even without the next step.
I removed them from the bag briefly to mix them with some bloomed spices, then returned them to their plastic prison and had them hang out in the tub for another half an hour. Since we were already working with less liquid, we didn't really need much in the way of reducing; I just wanted to give everyone a chance to get acquainted and familiar.
That little guy is getting tired.
The resulting dal was packed with super-flavorful lentils that, while tender, still kept their shape and their toothsome quality. I topped them with yogurt and coriander and enjoyed them immensely.
So now it is time to answer my favourite question of all time: Will dal sous vide?
The answer? Yes, and the result is quite pleasant. I found the the sous-vide lentils to be a bit more flavorful than the stove-top dal, which makes sense if you consider the fact that they hung out with their respective aromatics a whole lot longer. The cooking time is a lot longer though and, if you prefer super soupy dal, you're in for a long evening if you take the sous-vide route.
Basically, this is one of those cases where things simmer down to preference. The traditionally cooked lentils got dal on the table much more quickly, and it had that great, mushy texture that I happen to love. This is not to say I didn't enjoy the tender-but-toothsome sous vide dal. In fact, I think I preferred it overall, as it was absolutely infused with every aromatic it came in contact with. It did take a bit longer — over an hour longer — but that time is completely hands off, and required no stirring or watching of boiling pots or simmering pans. It also required on less dish, and every dish counts when you don't have a dishwasher.