As much as I am a woman of the (gastronomic) world, the Indian in me always goes back to a hearty bowl of lentil dal when I’m in need of some quick comfort food.
Lentils are full of protein, cheap as chips, and vegan, vegetarian and coeliac friendly. Here is my recipe for a quick and deeply satisfying pot of dal that only gets better with age. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients – it is actually very easy to throw together.
The result is a delicately balanced, mellow dal that is a fragrant, hot, mildly sweet and a little tangy all at once.
A few pointers on this recipe:
- asafoetida (also lovingly known as devil’s dung) is a pungent powder derived from plant resin. You only need a tiny amount but it not only helps with enhancing flavour, it aids digestion too
- make sure you soak the lentils in plenty of cold water for as long as possible and rinse them well in several changes of water. This helps rid them of toxins and minimises the bloating that some people experience with lentils. Soaking also speeds up the cooking process
- coriander and cumin seed powders are simple to make at home. Simply dry roast the spices in a frying pan until fragrant and grind to a coarse powder when cooled. You can of course buy them in your local supermarket
- the quantities of onions, garlic and ginger may seem excessive but they are essential, don’t cheat!
- soy chunks are a bit of an acquired taste. They don’t actually taste of anything but absorb flavour from whatever they are cooked in. They add a bit of texture to this meal but by all means, skip them if you wish
- you can throw in some chopped, boiled potatoes and baby spinach at the end for a more filling one-pot meal
- I love using the roots and stems of coriander to add more flavour. Simply sit them in a bowl of cold water and let the dirt fall off, rinse and then chop finely for use
Lentil dal – serves 4 as a main with rice/ chapati
Start this recipe the day ahead if you can. Otherwise, allow at least 4 hours soaking time for the lentils.
You will need
- 2 cups of dry split lentils (I use red lentils, also known as masoor dal)
- 2 Tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil (vegan option)
- a pinch of asafoetida (optional)
- 2 scant teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 medium/ 2 small red onions, chopped finely
- 3 small green chillies (omit if you want a mild version), deseeded and minced
- 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2-3 inch piece of fresh ginger, crushed
- 1 Tablespoon cumin seed powder
- 1 Tablespoon coriander seed powder
- 1 scant teaspoon turmeric
- 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1½ cups dry soy chunks/ TVP (optional)
- 1 bunch, fresh coriander, leaves picked, washed and chopped (reserve stems and roots – optional, see note above)
- Cover lentils with plenty of cold water and allow to soak overnight (preferably) or at least 4 hours.
The lentils will swell and double in volume. Rinse well with several changes of water.
- Place washed lentils in a large stockpot or pressure cooker with six-eight cups of water (depending on how thick/think you want the end result to be). If using a pressure cooker, follow manufacturer’s instructions and cook until lentils are soft and mushy. If using a stockpot on the stovetop, bring to a boil then turn down heat and let lentils cook until soft and mushy. Skim surface of any impurities that may rise to the surface.
The cooked lentils will change from their red/orange colour to an unattractive beige goop. That’s ok, they will taste great at the end.
- In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan/ chef’s pan/ dutch oven, gently heat the ghee/oil. Add the cumin seeds and asafoetida when hot and stir quickly as seeds will spatter a little. Immediately add the chopped onions and stir well. The mixture will be quite aromatic by this stage.
- When the onions soften and start to take on a light golden colour, add the crushed ginger, garlic and minced chillies (and chopped coriander stems and roots, if using).
- Allow the flavours to infuse (about two minutes) then tip in the turmeric and seed powders and mix through. The fragrance will change again.
- Allow the mixture to cook for a few minutes and turn a deeper golden colour before adding the tomatoes.Cook, remembering to stir every now and then, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and the oil begins to separate. This is important, be patient – it will take a few minutes.
- Meanwhile, prep the soy chunks if using. Simply place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Place a sauce over the top and leave for 10 minutes – the soy chunks will swell and soften.
Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible from them using your hands.
- When the base mixture is ready (see #6), add the cooked lentils and stir well.
- Depending on how thick you like your dal, add some water to loosen it. I typically add about a cup or two as some of this will evaporate.
- Add soy chunks if using. Bring the dal to a boil then reduce the heat and allow to simmer gently (uncovered). Give the dal some time for all the flavours to infuse – about 15 minutes. Make sure you stir it every now and then to prevent the mixture from catching at the bottom.
- Serve topped with some chopped coriander and a squeeze of lemon. Dal is perfect with fluffy basmati rice or chapati.
I also like to eat mine with sliced radishes tossed with some sea salt and a dash of lemon juice.And I always save a tiny bit of chapati to mop up the last dregs of dal in my bowl.
Do you love a good dal?
How do you like to eat it?