Basic Dal

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Disclaimer: This post has a somewhat ranting tone but does not mean to offend anybody and only expresses my views, observation and opinion.

Upon my return to North America (from India), I have noticed that Dal has become quiet popular. Pretty much anybody who is a little savvy of Indian cuisine knows what dal is. However, I have seen and tasted many versions of this recipe that doesn’t taste anything like what dal is supposed to taste like. The north American version of dal is far far away from the real stuff. First of all nowhere in India is dal made with coconut milk – please stop putting coconut milk in it. I understand the concept of tweaking flavors to match your taste palette – trust me when I say in India Paneer Makhni is a very popular flavor in Pizza….but at the same time people eating it know that that’s not how its made in Italy….well, most of them!!

As a person who grew up eating dal everyday I feel its important to put a recipe out there that does justice to the original recipe. I have had some really weird variations of dal and feel the need to post an original recipe which is simple, nourishing and delicious. Dal is best enjoyed with either rice or Indian flatbread roti/chapati. The tempering varies as you move around in the country but the basic method of making dal and the consistency remains the same everywhere. It is not supposed to be so thick where it starts resembling porridge or oatmeal in its consistency – it is runnier than what you get at an Ethiopian restaurant because otherwise it will be difficult to eat it with rice. You will of course get some variation in the consistency in different parts of India even from one household to the other….but mostly it shouldn’t be too thick or too watery.

The recipe below is generic and can be made with any kind of lentils – do keep in mind that the cooking time differs as some lentils take longer to cook and may require soaking for an hour before you cook them. Ideally, invest in a pressure cooker to make lentils or any other beans faster but if you don’t want to spend money on a gadget then dal can also be made in a pot or you could experiment with a slow cooker as well. One thing you will have to do before making this is make a trip to an Indian grocery store – if in Vancouver, there are a few Indian stores on Fraser street and pick up a few essentials like hing (asafoetida), cumin seeds, ghee, turmeric and lentils of your choice.Give this recipe a try before you decide that you love your thick dal made with coconut milk and that’s how you want to eat it for the rest of your life.

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Serving for 3 people

Ingredients

1 cup red lentils (dry)

3 cups water

1 small piece of ginger, peeled and grated

1/2 serrano chili, chopped

1 large tomato, diced

1/2 tsp turmeric

salt

For Tempering

1 tbsp ghee

1/4 tsp asafoetida

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 dried red chili (optional)

1 medium size onion, diced

  1. Wash lentils a few times under running water till the water does not look muddy anymore. Soak the lentils in water (enough to cover the lentils) for 30 minutes.
  2. In a medium size pot add washed lentils (sans soaking water), 3 cups water, chili, ginger, turmeric, salt and tomatoes. Give it a good stir and place on medium heat, covered.
  3. Cook the lentils covered (stirring occasionally) till the lentils are cooked through and turn soft but not mushy. You want the consistency to be thick enough so that its scoop-able with bread and thin enough to be eaten with rice. Turn the heat off and temper the dal.
  4. In a non stick pan heat ghee over medium heat. Add onions and cook stirring frequently till they turn golden brown. You basically want to caramelize the onions.
  5.  Once the onions are ready, add asafoetida, cumin seeds and dried red chili. Stir till the cumin seed turn slightly golden and fragrant.
  6. Add the tempering to the lentils and stir to mix well. Taste your dal at this point and adjust any seasoning like salt or add some lemon juice if you like. Serve hot with flatbread or over rice.