For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted one. Its painted, glossy surface staring at me from behind a glass shop window still pulls at my heartstrings. It’s been a dream of mine to own this kitchen power-horse since I started cooking for myself. I’ve imagined bringing it out when friends come over to exclamations of wonder as I generously portion out hot mutton curry over rice out of my ‘flame’ coloured Le Creuset. Cue turns to camera and smile for my own cooking show.
While it’s certainly not an essential in a starter kitchen, it certainly helps to own one. If you’re the sorts who cook on a daily basis and believes in long-term investments when it comes to kitchen equipment, a French oven like Le Creuset is a good fit for you. Certainly, the most well-known perk of owning a Le Creuset French Oven is the lifetime warranty that it comes with. Say your Le Creuset is worn down from the everyday home use or cracks or chips from daily use, you can get a replacement even when you’re old and greying. That aside, there’s, of course, the quality that’s so astonishingly good and heavy-duty.
The true reason I would urge someone serious about cooking to pick up one of these is that of the way it conducts heat and retains it beautifully. This means food will stay hot in it for longer with the lid on. These pans must be warmed slowly over a medium flame because too high a flame and there’s a chance you’ll scorch the pan. These pans are tough as nails nonetheless and can last you a lifetime if maintained well.
This particular 18cm French oven or Le Creuset is a great pot to keep in the kitchen when you’re cooking food for two people. It’s really the perfect size and doesn’t take up too much space. Since it’s a heavy pan, I would urge you to store it in bottom cupboards than overhead compartments.
It’s a multipurpose pan that you can use to make a lot of great Indian foods that depend on creating a flavourful base at the bottom of a pan such as with meat curries that depend on a lovely browned onion flavour or one-pot rice dishes where the rice cooks evenly because of the distribution of heat across the surface of the pan. You can also shallow-fry and deep fry in it, or just transfer it to the oven to make things like lasagna or no-knead bread. Yeah, one pan can do so much, and I’m in full support of having fewer but sturdier equipment in my kitchen that will stand the test of time.
The Gulabani Toori Dal
Yield 4-6 servings
Toori or Smooth/ Ridge Gourd with split chana dal or Bengal Gram cooks best if left alone to cook long and slow for the flavours to deepen. A spicy dal, this one goes very well with plain white rice, some quick-pickled onions and a wedge of lime on the side.
Onions 2 large, chopped
Chana dal or split Bengal Gram 1 cup, soaked overnight
Toori or smooth/ridge gourd 250g, peeled and chopped into small pieces. If you find any with dark centres, taste to check if it tastes sweet. If it doesn’t, don't use it.
Garlic 6-7 cloves, bashed in and chopped
Turmeric powder 1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder 1 tsp
Tomatoes 2 medium, chopped
Green chillies 2, slit lengthwise and chopped
Coriander powder 1 heaped tsp
Cumin powder 1/2 tsp
Garam masala 1/2 tsp
Coriander leaves a large handful, chopped roughly and divided
Salt to taste
Vegetable Oil 4 tbsp
Take a deep 18cm Le Creuset and set it over medium flame to heat. When hot, add in the 4 tbsp of oil and let that get hot too. Add the onions and sauté with a wooden spoon or silicon spatula for a minute before turning the heat down and letting it colour slowly- for 15 minutes, stirring it in intervals.
Once the onions are a golden brown, not darker than that, add the garlic and the green chillies. Increase the heat to medium-high again and cook it for a minute, stirring it around the pan till aromatic. Add to this the smooth gourd and again work it around the pan till the gourd is well mixed. Add the well-soaked chana dal followed by the turmeric powder and red chilli powders and continue to cook it, stirring it constantly.
Add the chopped tomatoes, followed by the coriander and cumin powders, garam masala, a teaspoon of salt and half of the chopped coriander leaves. The reserved half is for garnishing. Tip in enough water to submerge the contents of the pan. Give it a good stir and bring it up to a bubble.
Clamp the lid on and leave it covered on very low heat to cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hour checking on it every half hour to stir things around and check if nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. At the end of the cooking cycle, you should have a well cooked dal. Taste and adjust salt before garnishing with the reserved coriander.
The dal will keep warm in the casserole until it is time to serve.