Recipe: Niloufer's Everydal Dal

In my opinion, Niloufer Ichaporia King is one of our terribly undervalued culinary greats.  And her book, My Bombay Kitchen, is my subcontinental reference manual.  Part memoir, part cookbook, part history lesson, it's just one of those books that never goes out of style.

This is my go-to dal, or Indian red lentil, recipe, and it couldn't be easier to make.  Plus, it's DELICIOUS.  Served with plain rice, yogurt, and mango chutney, it makes a totally respectable and comforting dinner.  Add vegetables, chicken, lamb or seafood and call it a feast.

The beauty of lentils is that they require no soaking, and they cook up so quickly.  Keep red lentils on hand for legume emergencies--I do.

photo by Emily Nathan

Everyday Dal
from My Bombay Kitchen

1 cup red lentils (masur dal), husked split pigeon peas (tuvar dal), or mung beans (mung dal)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon (or more) salt
1 onion, quartered (optional)
1 green chile (optional)
4 cups (or more) water
1 to 2 tablespoons ghee or butter
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion or shallot (optional)

Pick over the dal to remove stones and chaff. Rinse the dal and transfer to a pot; add the turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon salt, quartered onion, and chile, if using, along with at least 4 cups water. Bring to boil; reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, until the dal is tender. (Masur and mung dals soften in about half the time it takes to cook tuvar dal, which needs a good 45 minutes to 1 hour.) Watch out for overboiling, even with the heat down.

When the dal is soft and mushy, pass through a sieve or a food mill or liquefy in a food processor or with an immersion blender, which saves you the trouble of pouring and transferring. The texture of the dal should be thick, smooth, and pourable. Taste for salt.

To finish, heat the ghee in a small skillet over medium heat. Sizzle the seeds, garlic, and onion, if using, until the garlic begins to brown around the edges and the seeds start to crackle. These sizzling seeds and garlic are known as vaghar in Gujarati, tarka in Hindi. Tip the vaghar into the dal and stir.

Dal Soup: Dal without vaghar makes an excellent cold soup. I've served it with a blob of yogurt and chive blossoms, or snipped chives or green onion tops.

Note: In my mother's house, it was considered good practice to send dal to the table in a tureen with the vaghar floating on top, a last-minute affair, although the flavors have a better chance to combine if you stir in the toasted spices ahead of time. If you're having dal as a first-course soup, you can serve individual portions with a little vaghar poured over each one.

Serves 6

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