A couple of months ago Marvin and I took an incredible trip to South India. I’ve been lucky to travel to some very interesting places in the last few years, but South India was, for me, just simply over the top. The cacophony of sites, sounds, smells, and tastes; the vivid color saturating everything; the way religion – Hindu, Christian, Muslim – is so tangible in everyday life; the humidity; the insane driving; the beautiful people; the food. Ah, yes. The warm, fragrant, spicy, complex flavors of the food. Amazing.
We actually planned this trip with a culinary angle, visiting spice plantations, an organic farm, and two hotels that offered cooking classes. Our schedule was packed with travel and activity from morning to night. Most days we were on our way by 8:00 am. Even though we were in tea country, I started off every day with a cup of strong Indian coffee… and a serving of lentil Dal. I got addicted!
Dal is essentially the Indian version of lentil stew or soup. Usually a fragrant mixture of spices cooked in ghee or oil gets stirred in toward the end of the preparation, infusing the the lentils with complex flavor and heat. Dal is a wonderful vegetarian dish that can be served alone, with vegetables, or over rice.
Dal is an everyday dish in India, and lately it has been an everyday dish for me, too. Since we got home from our trip, I’ve gotten in the habit of making a pot of Dal and heating it up for breakfast several days a week. Sometimes I’ve been eating it for breakfast and lunch.
Every family in India has their own unique reciep for Dal. The recipe I’ve been making is a variation of Aarti Sequeira’s Mum’s Everyday Red Lentils. One change I’ve made is to use split red lentils (available at Trader Joe’s). Red lentils cook more quickly than other varieties, and the split lentils are even faster. I can make this Dal in just about 20 minutes. This recipe is incredibly good for you! Check out the nutrition info:
Per serving: 203 calories, 31 grams carbs, 5 grams fat, 12 grams protein, 7 grams fiber and 3 grams sugar.
I’m totally hooked on Dal right now, and I can’t say enough good things about our trip through Southern India. If you’d like to see what some of our food experiences looked like, check out this little video I made…
- FOR THE LENTILS:
- 1 cup split red lentils
- 2 and 1/4 cups water
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 Tbsp. minced garlic
- 1 Tbsp. minced ginger root
- 2 medium tomatoes, cored and diced
- 1 to 2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced
- salt to taste
- FOR THE SPICE OIL:
- 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
- Place the lentils in a medium sauce pan with the water, onion, cloves, ginger, tomato, and serrano chiles.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- While the lentils are cooking, combine the cumin seed and mustard seed in a small bowl. Combine the turmeric and paprika in another bowl.
- Whisk the lentils with a balloon whisk to release some of their natural starch. The mixture will thicken. (Do not mix so much that all of the texture goes away – some split lentils should maintain their shape.)
- Season with salt to taste.
- In a small pan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat.
- When the oil is shimmering, add the cumin and mustard seeds. (Watch out, they may pop out of the pan).
- Add the turmeric and paprika. Stir the spices – they will sizzle and bubble, but should not burn. After 30 seconds, remove from heat and pour into the lentil mixture.
- Add the cilantro and stir to combine.
- Serve plain or over rice.