Written by Kaajal Philbrick
Serves 4-6 people
The aroma of my mum’s dhal recipe immediately conveys the feeling of comfort and delight like no other. Dhal is the staple of most Indian communities - a simple, nutritious soup. At its very basic, dhal often has seasonal vegetables added to make a more substantial family/community meal, while the very mild version is often a baby’s first introduction to solids, including mine.
Every family will have their favourite version or special spice mix. Here is my recipe, perfect for a cold Autumn evening paired with easy crusty bread or roti or rice as you like. The important thing is to make it yours!
For the Dhal:
2 cups Split yellow Pea Dhal – rinsed
1 Tablespoon of coarse salt
1 teaspoon whole cumin (jeera)
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
2 tablespoons of whole brown lentils
1 teaspoon hurdhee – turmeric
1 small tomato finely chopped
1 clove of garlic crushed
1 sprig of curry leaves
1 green chilli (optional)
For the Braise:
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 small white onion finely chopped
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon tomato puree
1 teaspoon mustard seeds and 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cardamom pods crushed, and outer husk removed
1 dry red chilli chopped into large pieces (optional)
A handful of Chopped fresh coriander to garnish
For the braising Masala:
1 ½ teaspoon red chilli powder (Kashmiri if you can find it). If you're brave, use two teaspoons for a tantalising hot option or remove completely if you don’t want any heat.
1 teaspoon paprika(powder)
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
Pour out your yellow lentils onto a flat tray and inspect for any little stones/ grains that are slightly brown. Remove these, rinse thoroughly and drain. Then place the Pea Dhal and three cups of water into a deep saucepan.
Add in the turmeric and salt and bring to a boil, stir well to combine – be careful that it does not boil over. Place a wooden spoon over the top of the pot to prevent this.
You can skim off any froth that forms on the surface if preferred.
After 20-25 minutes, check whether the pea dhal is almost soft, then add in the brown lentils (inspect and rinse first as above), chopped tomatoes, one teaspoon of both mustard seeds and cumin, curry leaves, garlic and curry leaves.
(Your kitchen will be filled by a fragrance that will have all family members emerging to trace its source. Tell them that patience is a virtue and send them off!)
Stir occasionally and cook through until the yellow lentils have melted into the water and the brown lentils are soft. You will now have the most wonderful base to work your own special magic into.
This is a guide to the braise, where the real alchemy takes place. Trust your instincts here. Smell and if necessary, taste the spices and use your gut to adjust according to your preference.
Place a small frying pan on the cooker/stove on medium heat. Once the pan has warmed up, add the oil. Next, add in the cumin and mustard seeds and when they start to pop, add in the onions and fry until golden brown. At this point, add in the masala spices, dry red chilli, tomato puree, sugar and mix well for 2 minutes on low heat.
Meanwhile, heat the pot of the boiled dhal and stir to avoid sticking.
Remove the pan of braising spices from the heat and add this to the hot cooked dhal mixture. The mixture should sizzle as the spices in the oil hit the dhal mixture.
Mix well, then simmer on a low heat while calling out (to the now very hungry family) to start washing their hands. This protein-packed meal is best eaten with rice or lovely crusty bread for dunking. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve with love.