Dal – cooked, spiced lentils – is absolutely central to Indian cuisine. Despite the breathtaking culinary diversity of India, dal – along with white rice -, is the basic everyday meal of many Indians. The lentil used to make dal will differ according to the region you come from – western and southern India eats toor (split pigeon peas), north Indians love to eat moong dal or split yellow lentils and eastern India prefers masoor (red lentils).
Dal belongs to the holy pantheon of dishes like pasta, noodles and sandwiches that are endlessly malleable. Once you get the basics, you can create a new recipe every single time. The red lentil dal is easy, quick to cook and silky like butter!
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
Spices, seasonings and alliums
1/2 cup red onions, diced into 1/2" pieces
2 medium garlic cloves chopped into coarse pieces
1 dry whole red chili
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup tomatoes, diced into 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup masoor dal aka red lentils
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
Chopped cilantro for garnish. Use the stems as well, just discard the bottommost woody part.
Cooked white rice, brown rice or quinoa
1 thick-bottomed saucepan
1 sauté pan
Wooden stirring spoon
Wash the red lentils in water till the water you drain out runs clear.
Place these lentils in a thick-bottomed saucepan and add 2 cups of water. Let the lentils soak in water for 10 minutes. Soaking is optional though.
Place the saucepan with lentils on a burner and turn the heat to medium.
After about 10 minutes of heat, whisk the lentils. Add another ½ cup water. Whisking makes the dal creamy.
Turn the heat off after another 10 minutes and whisk again. Most lentils should have broken down. It's okay if some have not , its beauty is in the uneven texture. Add 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder and mix well.
Now place a small sauté pan on medium heat and pour ghee or vegetable oil. After 2-2.5 minutes, add 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds and 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds. These seeds can fly and sting while sizzling, so please be careful.
Once these seeds stop popping, add 1 whole dry red chile and onions. Sauté. Let the onions acquire brown edges, this will take 7-8 minutes.
Add garlic, tomatoes, 1/4 teaspoon red chile powder, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon sugar.
As the tomatoes break down, wait for the moisture in this mixture to evaporate. When the onion-tomato mixture starts secreting bubbles of oil at the edges, you will know that the moisture has evaporated. Pour the cooked lentils into this mixture carefully.
Add some water if you find the dal too thick. Turn the heat off after a full boil.
Garnish with chopped cilantro.
Pour over cooked white rice and serve right away.
Turn the leftovers into a red lentil soup. If you have a cup of dal leftover, pour in ½ cup of coconut milk, re-spice with salt and pepper. Temper the consistency to your liking by adding water. Heat till the soup comes to a boil.
Garnish with fresh cilantro, squeeze some lime juice and enjoy.