September 11, 2018
A simple dal is a staple of the weeknight cooking routine in our house. We almost always have the ingredients we need on hand to make it, and it provides that rare combination of flavorful, comforting and healthy.
This basic recipe is not too spicy or hot. It includes a smidge of asafoetida powder, an ingredient that is essential to Indian cuisine. Asafoetida powder is derived from a plant resin. In its raw form it has an extremely pungent odor. When cooked, asafoetida transforms into a delicious garlic-onion flavor. It is a natural umami-booster.
The recipe also calls for curry leaves (optional), which in the Bay Area can sometimes be found at Lakeshore Produce, Farmer Joe's or Berkeley Bowl.
Photo and recipe credit: Rumin Jehangir
In the pot:
1 cup moong dal (split mung beans)
6 1/2 – 7 cups water*
Vaghaar/Taarka/Hot Oil Infusion:
2 tablespoons (heaping) ghee or sunflower oil (any season) or coconut oil (summer)
1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
1 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon grated ginger (heaping)
1 medium garlic clove, very thinly sliced (optional)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
8-10 curry leaves (optional)
1/2 fresh serrano chile, sliced or 1-2 dried red chiles or 1/4 tsp Kashmiri chili powder (optional)
1 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
juice of 1/2 a lemon or opt for lime in the summer
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro (with stems)
Rinse and soak moong dal for a minimum of 20 minutes to overnight if possible. This aids with digestion and can reduce cook time.
In a 4 quart pot, add water and rinsed moong dal (throw out the water it was soaked in). Bring the dal to a boil on medium-high heat with the lid slightly uncovered. Remove foam, if any. Cover and let the dal simmer on medium heat. Be careful it doesn’t overflow. If this happens, lower heat and/or leave it slightly uncovered. While the dal is cooking, prep your spices and bring them close to the stove. The oil infusion is a fast process, so having all your spices measured out and nearby is really helpful.
While the dal is simmering, in a small pot, warm the ghee or oil over medium heat. When it is nice and warm, add the mustard seeds and keep a cover nearby. The seeds need to pop to release the flavor, so covering the pot can help prevent getting seed stung. Once the mustard seeds begin to crackle, they are activated! Then add in the following order: the asafoetida, cumin seeds, curry leaves, dry red chile or green chile, and garlic. Once the garlic starts to turn a light golden brown, add the ginger and stir. Then turn off the stove and add the turmeric (and the optional red chile powder)—this will activate the spices, but won’t burn them.
Immediately, but gently, pour the infused ghee into the simmering dal. It will sizzle and you will see lots of steam. Get every last drop of the infused ghee into the dal. Give the dal a good stir. Continue to simmer with the pot slightly uncovered until the lentils are well blended & creamy.
Once the lentils have dissolved, add the salt. Continue to cook until the lentils and the water are melded together. If dal is too thick, add a little warm water. If it’s too thin, continue to cook with no lid until you get the consistency you like.
After the dal is nicely blended and creamy, turn off the stove. Add the cilantro and lemon juice and cover for 3-5 minutes before serving.
Notes: The total time ranges from 30-40 minutes. If you live in high altitude, times may differ—consider using a pressure cooker to cook the lentils first. If you prefer a really smooth daal, once the lentils are cooked and the foam has been removed, blend the daal with a hand blender.
*This recipe is for a dal on the thinner side, like the consistency of a soup. If you prefer a thicker dal, reduce water (you can always add more water).
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