Here’s a favourite recipe I’m working on for my book. I hope you find my ‘recipe at a glance’ illustrations helpful alongside my more conventionally written recipes. Let me know how you get on if you try it.
Dal is the ultimate comfort food in my house, loved by adults and children alike. We often have these softly stewed, spicy lentils with nutty brown rice, or scooped up with naan breads or popadoms…with a liberal dollop of lime pickle on the side of course. I am totally addicted to the stuff! You can’t go wrong with dal, it’s warming, hearty, nutritious and delicious, and all from the store-cupboard. We often include a diced seasonal vegetable, like carrot, winter squash or cauliflower if we have some in the house but this is completely optional. Dal is typically made with South Indian flavours but can be made in many ways. My favourite way is with coconut milk, curry leaves and tamarind, but we often have it simply with spices and water. There are two ways of spicing this dish. At the cafe we generally fry off the spices, garlic and onions in oil before adding the lentils and liquid, because it’s easier to keep it like this, especially in such large quantities. A lovely way to present this at home is to boil the lentils with a simple seasoning and some turmeric and then make a fresh, spicy tarka to drizzle over and stir through each portion just before serving. This way we can leave out the tarka for the kids and we still get to enjoy a good chilli hit! Whenever I can get them I also sometimes fry okra in the tarka before spooning it over the dal. I have included the tarka in this recipe at the end, but feel free to make it at the beginning instead, then add the lentils and liquid to the spices and simmer and stir until it’s done. This is a great recipe to make in the slow cooker. Dal is divine!
For the dal…
200g red split lentils
(or chana or urid dal)
salt & pepper to taste
2 tsp turmeric powder
4 cardamom pods
a handful of fresh curry leaves if you can find them, if not dried will do
1/2 400ml tin coconut milk (optional)
1 tsp tamarind paste (optional)
diced seasonal vegetable (optional)
For the tarka…
4 tbsp coconut oil (or light oil of your choice)
2 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds (optional)
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 large onion, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 cm piece fresh root ginger, grated
sliced fresh chilli to taste
lots of chopped coriander
wedges of lime
Measure the lentils out into a jug. Make a note of where they come up to. Put the lentils, salt and pepper, turmeric, cardamom pods, curry leaves (and tamarind if you are using) into a large sauce pan. Use the jug to measure out the coconut milk (if using) and water into the pan. You will need 3 times the volume of liquid:lentils. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat to the lowest setting and simmer with the lid on. Give it an occasional stir to make sure it’s not sticking on the bottom and add more liquid if it looks like it’s drying out before it’s done. This will take between 20 minutes and 40 minutes depending on the amount and type of lentils you are using.
Once the lentils are soft and at a texture that you are happy with (I like my dal the consistency of somewhere between a porridge and a thick soup) You can keep them warm while you make your tarka.
Put the oil in a small milk pan and heat it up. Add the onion and fry for a few minutes until it starts to colour. Then add the whole spices, garlic, ginger, and chillies. Fry for another minute or so and then spoon over individual bowls of the lentils.
Serve with rice, popadoms or Indian flat breads and a selection of chutneys. Lime pickle and mango chutney are our favourites.