I’ve been lucky to travel to some very interesting places, but a trip through South India was, for me, one of the best. 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 our trip with a culinary angle, visiting spice plantations, an organic farm, and two hotels that offered cooking classes. The pace of the trip was hectic, with activities scheduled 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.
An everyday dish in India, for a while, dal became an everyday dish for me, too. One pot of dal will provide me with breakfast for a week, and sometimes lunches, too.
Every family in India has its own unique recipe 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.
Red Lentil Dal
FOR THE LENTILS:
- 1 cup red lentils
- 2 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.