If you ever chance upon a dinner or lunch in India, dal or lentils is a must thing on the meal table. In north indian states it could be a choice between kaali dal (black lentils) or dal tadka (the yellow ones) but in other parts, quintessentially, it has to be the yellow one. Generously tempered with a fat (ghee, coconut,mustard or sesame oil) & the crackling spices – cumin, asafoetida, curry leaves or mustard seeds, it is further flavored with garlic, ginger, tomatoes, onions, chilies (both green & red),turmeric and even jaggery (sugar).Essentially dal is quite an aromatic and soul nourishing food.
I like to compare dal preparation in Indian homes to the roasted chicken in the west. It is such a simple thing to make but the taste of dal can vary easily between two cooks.Comforting and satisfying food compounded with warm, smooth texture and laced with hints of spices. Every home has its own way of making it and that recipe is no doubt the best, certainly better than how it is done in your home (in case we get into an altercation ever!). We eat dal on days when we are sick as well as on days when we want to feast.Mostly severed with a spicy pickle (green mango in our house) and dollops of ghee on top, steamed basmati rice is the best vehicle for dal. In India, dal sums up the daily protein chunk for majority of indians who are pure vegetarians especially the ones who refrain from eggs also.
Between me and the husband we are poles apart when it comes to a favorite dal. For me its the black lentils which, at some point, I could eat every day with rotis (flatbread) but he is more of a chawal (rice) – dal kind. Since I mostly lost a knack for lentils after my pregnancy (its both amazing & weird what giving birth does to you!), he is having it his way in the house now.I usually mix a couple of lentils whenever cooking and the toor/arhar (split pigeon pea lentils) are an important ingredient here. Sadly I haven’t spotted it in regular or bulk grocery stores here so you might want to visit an indian/pakistani store to get it.
Ingredients (Makes 4 servings)
- 1/3 cup arhar/toor dal (pigeon pea lentils,husked & split )
- 1/3 cup masoor dal (red lentils,husked & split )
- 2 tbsp moong dal (golden lentils,husked &split )
- 3 tbsp finely chopped onion (I use red onion)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped tomatoes (I use Roma tomatoes)
- 1 fat garlic clove,finely chopped
- 1/4 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger (optional)
- 1/8 tsp hing (asafoetida)
- 1/2 tsp ghee, melted
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 3 cups water +more
- 1/4 tsp amchoor (dried mango powder, substitute with fresh lime juice to taste)
- Chopped Cilantro
For Tadka (tempering)
- 4 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2-3 whole dried kashmiri red chilies
- 1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1/4 tsp red chilli powder (adjust to taste)
- 2-3 whole red chilies
- The cooking time mentioned in this recipe are for split lentils. If you use whole lentils the cooking time could be more. Also keep in mind that you use either all split or all whole when choosing lentils for this recipe
- Hing or asafoetida is a strong, aromatic spice available both in crystal and powdered form. It aids digestion & is used more often than not in indian cooking, also a little goes a long way. It gives a unique flavor to dal but can be skipped if you do not have it.
- If you are vegan, use any oil in this recipe instead of ghee. Coconut oil might not be a very good choice since the spice selection in the recipe does not go great with it but you can use any neutral oil.
Thoroughly wash all the lentils under running water 2-3 times. Drain and transfer the washed lentils to a pressure cooker and add 3 cups of water. Let soak for 10 minutes. Add chopped onion, tomatoes,garlic, ginger(if using), hing, ghee, turmeric and salt. Put on the lid and pressure cook the lentils on medium heat for 1 whistle (This cooking time will depend on the quality of lentils, so adjust). Take off the heat and let sit on the counter till the pressure releases out of the cooker.
If you do not have a pressure cooker, use a heavy bottomed pot with lid and cook the lentils for around 30- 40 minutes or till completely tender.
Once you open the lid, add amchoor to the dal. With the help of a whisk or a spoon, thoroughly mash the lentils so that they are creamy. If you like a thinner consistency of dal, add a cup or more of water.If you add extra water, return to the stove and let simmer for another 5-7 minutes on medium heat.
While the dal is simmering, make the tadka. In a small sauce pan, heat up the ghee. Add the cumin seeds and let crackle. Also add the whole dried chillies and let them turn darker in color. Lower the heat and immediately add the garlic and let it cook for 30 seconds or so taking care that it does not burn.(Tadka can become very hot very quickly, take care that you act fast so that nothing burns.) Put off the heat and add the red chili powder. Immediately add this tadka to the simmered lentils and close the lid so that the aroma infuses. Let sit undisturbed for 10-15 minutes.
Top with chopped cilantro and serve.