This is probably the most famous lentil dish coming out of India – yellow lentils tempered with spices and the usual holy trinity of garlic, ginger and chilli. It has always been a favourite of mine and it would grace our family dinner table at least once a week when I was growing up. There are lots of different recipes for flavouring the oil (tadka), so play around with your spice pantry and see what you come up with. If you haven’t got half of these spices, then don’t worry; just add a tablespoon of your favourite spice paste and it will taste just as delicious.
When I’m tired I crave dhal – it’s like a hug in a bowl. To bulk it out and make it more of a meal, I stir through some fresh greens such as spinach or watercress – a great way to use up old veg.
300g (101/2oz) dried toor dhal (yellow lentils/yellow split peas), washed in several changes of water
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 black cardamom pods (optional)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cinnamon sticks
4 green cardamom pods
2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 spring onions, finely sliced
2–3 chillies, any colour, deseeded if you don’t like it fiery, some chopped and the rest left whole
2 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp peeled and finely chopped fresh root ginger
6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
good pinch of salt, or to taste
1 tsp sugar, or to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
lots of chopped fresh coriander, to garnish
Gently boil the lentils in a large saucepan of cold water (around 1 litre /13/4 pints will do) and stir in the turmeric and black cardamom pods (if using) – this will add a subtle smoky flavour. Allow to cook for around 45 minutes, or until the lentils have softened and started to break down. Skim off any foam that sits on the top and give the lentils a stir every now and again in case they begin to stick on the bottom. If they boil dry, add more water.
Once the lentils have softened, turn down the heat and make the tadka. Gently heat the oil in a frying pan and add the cinnamon sticks, green cardamom pods and cloves. When the cardamoms have turned white and the heads of the cloves have swollen, you are ready to stir in the mustard and cumin seeds. When they are sizzling, stir in the spring onions, chillies, garlic and ginger.
After a minute, stir through the tomatoes and turn off the heat. Pour the tadka into the dhal so that it floats on top. This is the traditional way to serve it, with the scented oil sitting on top, but I prefer to stir it through. Season with salt, sugar and lemon juice.
Finally, stir through plenty of chopped fresh coriander and serve with some rice or fresh bread for the ultimate comfort food.
Recipe and images taken from Secrets From my Indian Family Kitchen by Anjali Pathak, published by Hachette Australia. Hardback RRP $39.99, Ebook $19.99.
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