Sometimes the best things are also the simplest. I have many Indian cookbooks, but there is one dish I always come back to. Dal was the first Indian dish I learnt how to make, and it continues to be my favorite to eat.
The red masoor dal used in this recipe is mild and almost sweet and buttery, and turns yellow once it’s cooked. You can also make this dal with toor/tuvar dal and split green mung dal. It’s fun to mix them, for example half masoor and half split green mung.
You can get dal and spices at any Indian grocery store, but you can also try large grocery stores that have a good bulk section. Here in Seattle I have seen a good selection at both Madison Market and Whole Foods.
Dal is usually served with rice, one or more vegetable dishes, and plain yoghurt, but I often have it like soup with some whole wheat tortillas.
Serves 6-8 as part of an Indian meal.
1 1/2 cup masoor dal, rinsed over three times
6 cups water
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
Pinch of red chili powder
1 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 green chilies
1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
Pinch of asaefoetida (hing)
2 tsp ground coriander
Juice of one or two limes (depending on size)
Handful of fresh chopped cilantro
Salt as needed
1. Prepare the dal:
Add dal to the pot of a pressure cooker.* Rinse in cold water and drain, repeat a few more times until the water runs clear. Add water, tomatoes, salt, turmeric and chili powder. Set aside to soak.
2. Make the chaunk:
Heat the oil in a small pan until hot but not smoking. (The cumin and mustard seeds should pop, test with a couple of seeds as the oil heats up.) Add the cumin and mustard seeds, stir for 10-15 seconds, then add the chilies and ginger. Stir for another 10-15 seconds, then add the onion. Turn down the heat a bit if necessary, the onion shouldn’t get brown. Sauté for about 5 minutes until the onion starts to become translucent. Add the asaefotida and ground coriander. Remove from the heat, and scrape all of the chaunk into the pot with the dal and water.
3. Combine the dal and chaunk and cook:
Attach the pressure cooker lid and cook for 7-8 whistles. Remove from the heat and carefully release the pressure and check that the dal is cooked. The lentils should be tender, and the liquid yellow. (If the liquid still looks transparent and watery it needs to cook more.)
4. Before serving:
Add the lime juice and fresh coriander. Taste for salt, usually quite a bit is needed. It’s amazing to me how much salt you have to add to dal before it tastes right, but add it gradually so you don’t risk ruining the whole pot of dal.
* If you don’t have a pressure cooker you can simmer the dal on the stove in a thick-bottomed pot, just make sure you stir often so it doesn’t burn.