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.
- Pressure Cooker or Instant Pot
- ⅓ cup archer dal split pigeon pea lentils
- ⅓ cup masoor dal red lentils,husked & split
- 2 tablespoon yellow moong dal golden lentils (husked &split )
- 3 tablespoon onion finely chopped (I use red onion)
- 1 small tomato finely chopped (I use roma tomato)
- 1 large garlic clove finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ginger finely chopped, optional
- ⅛ teaspoon hing asafoetida
- 1 teaspoon ghee or use oil for vegan
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ¼ teaspoon amchur dry mango powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt or to taste
- 3 cup water plus more to adjust consistency later
For Tadka (Tempering)
- 4 tablespoon ghee
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3 whole dried kashmiri red chilies
- 2 garlic finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon red chilli powder hot, adjust to taste
- 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 10-20 minutes.
- Without draining, place the pressure cooker on stove and let water come to a boil. You will see white foam on top. Skim it using a slotted spoon. Add ½ cup water more.
- Add chopped onion, tomatoes,garlic, ginger(if using), hing, ghee, turmeric and amchur powder. Add the salt. Put on the lid and pressure cook the lentils on medium heat for 1-2 whistle Soaked lentils cook fast and we dont want mushy lentils. That said, the cooking time will depend on the quality of lentils, so adjust.
- Take off the heat and let sit on the counter till the pressure naturally releases. 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. With the help of a whisk or a spoon, thoroughly mash the lentils so that they are creamy. If you like a thinner consistency , 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.
- Make the tadka. In a small sauce pan, heat up the ghee. Add the cumin seeds and let crackle.
- Add the whole dried chillies and let them crisp and turn slightly dark 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 get very hot very quickly, take care that you act fast so that nothing burns.)
- Switch 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 5-10 minutes. Top with chopped cilantro and serve.
- The cooking time mentioned in this recipe are for split lentils. If you use whole lentils the cooking time could be more. 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. A little goes a long way. It gives a unique flavor to dal and has no substitute. Skip if you do not have it.
- If you are vegan, use any oil in this recipe instead of ghee. Coconut oil is not a good choice since it will make dal taste of coconut(unless you prefer so).