Dal and rice is comfort food, Indian style. There are many variations of the master recipe. You start with the hulled lentils cooked till they are mush with a little turmeric and asafetida, temper them or not with various spices add a souring agent or not, lastly add a garnish or not and then serve piping hot, usually but not always with rice. Dal can be pretty basic or elaborate. This recipe is my take on this Indian classic. It uses ingredients that you will find in your regular grocery store, however spices at your Indian grocer will be much cheaper and fresher, so if you plan on making a lot of dal, a trip to your friendly neighborhood Indian/Pakistani grocer may be in order. This dal uses red lentils, I usually buy the Goya brand, since it is easily available. Red lentils cook relatively quickly without a pressure cooker.
For the lentil mush
3/4 cup red lentils
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon asafetida (optional)
1 small Serrano pepper or Thai birds eye chili or red dried chili
3 cups water
Salt to taste, I put about 2 teaspoons kosher salt
For Tempering the oil (Phodni or Tarka)
1 table spoon oil with a high smoking point such as canola or peanut oil
1 red or green hot chili
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
curry leaves (optional)
Juice of l lime or lemon
Fresh chopped cilantro
Step 1: Making the Mush
In a sauce pan put the lentils and all the other ingredients for the mush including water and bring to a boil, skim off any froth, these are insoluble proteins. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about half an hour to 40 minutes or until the dal is completely cooked and mushy, discard the whole chili.
Step 2: Tempering the Oil
Heat the oil in small skillet with a heavy bottom, when the oil is translucent add the mustard, cumin, chili and curry leaves if you have them. When the mustard begins sputtering, turn off the heat and add the hot oil with all the spices to the lentil mush.
Step 3: Finish with the acidic element and a garnish
If you want you can add a little water to thin the stew or heat it some more to thicken it. Add the lime juice and the garnish with fresh cilantro. Check the seasoning, you can add a tea spoon of sugar if it is too sour. Serve hot with rice, add a pat of butter, ghee or even extra virgin olive oil. Also, a great side dish to serve with an Indian dinner.
1. Add sliced onion and/or garlic when tempering the oil.
Note : The whole chili and curry leaves are not meant to be eaten.
Coming up next, sambar, a south Indian variation of dal, slightly more involved than this recipe.