Dal, the generic word for any pulse used in Indian cuisine, is a food I have been eating since I was born. It is usually eaten as a side dish with a meal, and tends to be a soup-like consistency, although sometimes it is also cooked as part of a vegetable curry. Pulses are edible seeds that grow in a pod, and are a highly nutritious, high protein food, brimming with an array of nutrients, as well as being inexpensive to buy. There are so many varieties, and some are used more than others in cuisines around the world. Once a rarity in British cuisine, they have now become better known, although recipes often refer to all the different types of dals not by their individual names, but just as ‘lentils’. With the huge increase in interest in healthy eating, and with more people becoming vegetarian, dal is being experimented with by both health-conscious individuals and restaurants alike. Of course, in Indian homes, dal is eaten more or less daily.
My mother makes this mixed dal using 5 popular pulses in Indian cuisine, and it is just heavenly. Creamy, rich, and with just the right amount of heat, it is an absolute favourite of mine, and Ayurvedically a perfect food, as it contains all 6 tastes. It is a fine balance of nutrients, and is filling, satisfying and warming. It’s also easy to digest, and kind to our AGNI, or digestive fire, and importantly, it is affordable for anyone. I love this aspect of it, as wholesome food should be available to us all.
What are you waiting for?!
To make enough dal for 6-8 people
1 mug – around 150g toor dal (pigeon peas)
1/2 mug yellow split mung beans
1/4 mug Bengal gram/split peas
1/4 mug masoor dal (red lentils)
1/4 mug white urad dal
1 large onion, fine chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
1 small green chilli, finely sliced
2 level tsp turmeric powder
1 level tbsp ground coriander
1/2 level tbsp ground cumin
1/4 of a 400g tin chopped tomatoes
3-5 tbsp tamarind paste
1.5-2.5 tbsp jaggery
Salt to taste
For the tarka (tempered spices used to finish the dal)
2 tbsp ghee
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
3 large dried kashmiri chillies
A pinch asafoetida
A good pinch red chilli powder
A handful of fresh chopped coriander leaves to garnish
Wash the dal well in warm water, before draining, and adding fresh warm water to more than cover the dal. Add a good pinch of salt and a teaspoon of the turmeric powder. Leave to soak for at least an hour before cooking on a medium heat until all the dals are soft, but intact. This should take around half and hour, depending on how long you soaked the dal for. Leave aside for now.
When you are ready to cook the dal, saute the onion in a casserole pan on a medium heat until light brown, before adding the garlic, ginger, and green chilli. Mix well for a minute, before adding the ground coriander, cumin and the other teaspoon of turmeric powder. Mix everything together well, and cook for a further minute before adding the tinned tomatoes, and around one teaspoon of salt. Cook on a medium heat for ten minutes, until the oil and tomatoes separate when pushed to the side of the pan with a spoon.
Add the cooked dal and its water, and heat until it comes to a slow boil, stirring from time to time, before adding the tamarind and jaggery. This is where you need to add both in stages, little by little, and check the taste. It should be sweet/sour in a very subtle way. Keep cooking for around 15-20 more minutes, adding a little more hot water if it seems too thick. It should be pouring consistency- think of lentil soup. Adjust seasoning.
Now reduce the heat to minimum and prepare the tarka….
Heat the oil and ghee in a very small pan such as a milk pan, and once hot, add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the cumin seeds, followed by the kashmiri chillies, asafoetida, turmeric, and red chilli powder. Whilst still sizzling, gently pour into the centre of the dal, dunking the pan in so all the tarka gets incorporated. Give everything a good stir, and cook for a further 5-10 minutes on a low heat.
Serve with the chopped coriander scattered on top.
This dal can be eaten as part of an Indian meal, or on its own with rice and a little fresh plain yogurt.