Dhaba Dal – Mixed Lentils

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A very happy new year to all of you from veggie zest. I have been MIA for a little bit now, mostly because of work and also because its been insanely cold in Delhi. Lack of sunlight restricts me from taking pictures….and I hate gloomy weather. This recipe happened on one of the lucky days when the sun was out.

Before I get into talking about the recipe, I would like to give you a small brief on Dhabas or roadside restaurant found mostly on highways. Now, there is nothing that would compare to a dhaba in the Western world. A diner is way more sophisticated and a food truck is a lot smaller and does not provide seating. Dhabas are small eating joints that are made with basic equipments needed to feed people. Mostly an open-ish kitchen with clay oven and big pots and pan in which prepared food for lunch or dinner is kept. The menu is mostly Indian food and typically has dal fry (lentils with tempering), some kind of dry vegetable preparation (aloo gobhi, bharta, mattar paneer etc.) and flatbreads. These roadside restaurants were created to feed the truck drivers and people riding on the highways. They are pretty much open 24/7 and can give you a hearty, warm meal at any time of the day. The food is affordable and the service is quick. Since these dhabas are cheap they aren’t necessarily very hygienic. People visiting India should NEVER eat their unless you have a kick ass immune system and a strong stomach to digest the food served here. Its only for people who have been here for a while and have built a resistance to street food.

Dal fry with a dollop of butter and tandoori roti  (flatbreads made in the clay oven) is my favorite thing to order at the dhabas. Its safe and flavorful…and most of the dhabas make pretty awesome dal. For years I have been trying to make lentils to match the flavors of the dhabas….but only recently I have come close to it. Now, I cant exactly replicate the flavor as they cook lentils in big iron pots with their own mix of spices and tempering….but this version is good enough to satisfy the cravings till the time you get to visit a dhaba next.

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Serving 4 people

Ingredients

1 cup urad dal or black lentils

1/2 cup toor dal or yellow lentils

1/2 cup chana dal

2 medium size tomatoes

2 large onions, finely chopped

1/2 inch piece ginger

2 to 3 cloves garlic

1 dried red chili

2 tbsp ghee or clarified butter – can be substituted with vegetable or coconut oil if making it vegan

1 bay leaf

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tbsp chaat masala

2 tsp garam masala

salt

4 cups water

  1.  Soak urad dal (black lentil) overnight in a large bowl with enough water to cover the lentils and a little extra.
  2. In the morning add the other two lentils into the same bowl. Rinse the lentils a few times and soak again for an hour.
  3. Discard the water after 1 hour and transfer the lentils into the pressure cooker and add 4 cups of water. Add 1 tsp of ghee (clarified butter), salt, 1 tsp of garam masala and bay leaf. Cook on medium heat for upto 4 to 5 whistles. If you don’t have a pressure cooker then just cook everything the same way in a deep pot. The cooking time will be much longer but you’ll get exactly the same result. Cook the lentils covered on medium low heat till they are cooked through.
  4. In a blender add tomatoes, ginger and dried red chili and turn into a puree.
  5. Heat a wok or a deep pot on medium low heat and add 2 tsp of ghee. Smash garlic cloves and add to the ghee. Cook till the garlic gets all fragrant. Add ground cumin and cook for 30 seconds. Add tomato puree to the pan and increase the heat to medium. Cook tomatoes till all the water evaporates.
  6. Add garam masala and chaat masala to the tomatoes and continue to cook till you start seeing the ghee on the sides of the pan.
  7. Add boiled lentils to the pan and mix gently. Let the lentils simmer on low heat.
  8. In a separate pan add 2 tsp of ghee and caramelize chopped onions on low heat with some salt and a little sugar.
  9. Add the onions to the simmering lentils and cook for about 10 to 15 min on low heat. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
  10. Serve with a dollop of butter and some chopped up cilantro. The dal would taste best with tandoori roti but will also taste good with naan, rice or any other Indian flatbread.