ORIGINAL RECIPE: “Red Lentils Hyderabadi” from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian*
TIMING: 50 minutes, mostly not doing anything
TOOLS: Nothing special
COOK TYPE: Stovetop
HEALTH: You really can’t go wrong with a pot of dal. Dal is basically just lentils, with a tiny bit of aromatics and sometimes veggies. This is bona fide, simple dal. No frills. Just plenty of health. Serve ideally with Basmati rice or chapatis. And other Indian things, like chutney and curried veggies. Or not.
EXPERIENCE: The first time I had dal, I was a college senior who had failed (read: gotten ill) trying out vegetarianism. A friend’s mother came to town from Malaysia and visited our home to make us an authentic Malaysian dinner. Among the various dishes, she made a dal. A what? A dal (also spelled dhal). Basically, a simple porridge of lentils, in this case red (which yes, turn yellow when they cook, and is officially masoor dal). (Okay, also, “dal” technically refers to just the lentil, not the cooked lentil porridge.)
I was inspired and wooed by dal, that something so simple could taste both exotic and homey. I loved it, and I asked for the recipe, which she had no idea how to give me since she always cooked by feel. Even so, I have made a whole lotta dal (during our vegetarian years and beyond) over the past 15 years. Some recipes have been better than others.
This dal is fine. It’s nothing too special, but it might be a nice place to start. For more recipes, just wait a little while and search “dal” or “dhal” at The Recipe Blogger.
NOTES: Lentils always need to be rinsed and picked through for stones before using them.
You will need mustard seeds, curry leaves, and dried chilies to make this happen, not to mention the red lentils. These are all helpful things to keep stocked for when you are making Indian food, but you may need to visit a specialty market to attain them.
- In a medium heavy-bottomed pot, place 1 cup red lentils (masoor dal) and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, then skim the scum and add 1/4 teaspoon turmeric.
- Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and cook for about 45 minutes, until lentils have become a sort of porridge, still fairly runny. Make sure you start checking on the lentils at 30 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and taste for saltiness.
- Meanwhile–when lentils are almost done–in a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds and shake until they begin to make a popping noise. Quickly add 1 dried chile and 10 curry leaves, then 3 peeled, smashed garlic cloves.
- Turn heat to medium and brown the garlic. Then pour the oil and aromatics over the lentils. Squeeze a lime over top and serve.
Serve with rice, chapatis, or naan, as well as curried veggies and a chutney or raita of choice. I also love me a mango lassi, but a chai or a sweet lime seltzer would be more appropriate.
*Recipe changed from the original.