Dhal, or Dal (or sometimes Dahl or Daal!), is simply the Indian word for lentils and this recipe is one the simplest I know. It is one of the standard dishes I make as part of an Indian meal, whether alongside rice or a bread with a curry for the family or as part of a multi-dish meal for a group of friends. It is quick and easy to make, warming and flavoursome without being hot. I have listed it as spicy, but it does not have to be very: the heat and flavour being adjusted according to personal taste.
The original recipe for Masoor Dhal came from a book I bought many years ago in a shot that was selling remaindered books. India is just one country whose most popular foods and eating habits are explained and sampled in Cooking and Eating Around the World by Alison Burt. The original recipe is called simply Dhal. Just recently I have started to add a handful of fresh coriander towards the end of the cooking time, although it does not appear in the original recipe: mainly because we like it so much! Such a lovely fresh flavour. It is a particularly good idea to add fresh coriander to the Dhal if you are adding very little of it, or none at all, elsewhere on the menu. The asaphoetida aids digestion, but can be left out if not available. I have also given instructions below for turning this lentil side dish into a main course vegetarian dish. This can be made earlier in the day and reheated, with the coriander added just before serving.
Masoor Dhal – Red Lentil Dhal
(Serves 2-3 – if one dish among many then this quantity will serve 3-4)
1 tsp sunflower oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
small clove garlic, crushed
115g/4ozs red lentils (masoor dhal)
½pint/10fl ozs/200ml water
pinch of ground chilli – adjust according to personal taste
pinch of ground ginger – adjust according to personal taste
pinch of ground turmeric (haldi)
pinch of asafoetida (optional)
handful of chopped fresh coriander, reserving one leaf for decoration if you wish
1. Heat the butter and oil together in a small saucepan and cook the onion and garlic gently together until soft but not browned.
2. Pick the lentils over removing any stray stones or twigs, rinse and add to the pan along with the water and salt.
3. Add the spices, which can be adjusted according to personal taste. I prefer to keep this dish rather bland, tasting of onion rather than highly spiced as I find it complements the spicier dishes it accompanies.
4. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to very low. Cook until soft and all the water has been absorbed. This will take about 40minutes. A little more water can be added if the misture starts to dry out before it is fully cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning. The finished dhal will be a thick puree.
5. Just before serving stir through the fresh coriander, reserving one leaf for decoration.
6. Serve as part of an Indian meal, with rice or an Indian bread and a meat, fish or vegetable curry plus a creamy yoghurt based raita and poppdoms (quickly cooked under a hot grill).
Vegetarian main course variation:
Vegetable Dhal with optional Egg and/or Tomato
Adding more vegetables at the same time as the spices will turn this dhal into a lentil based vegetable curry. The amounts of spices can be adjusted to give a stronger flavour: in particular increasing the chilli and ginger powders to taste. Added during the last 5-10 minutes, quartered fresh tomatoes are a particularly good addition and halved hard boiled eggs can also be added during the last five minutes of cooking, not long before the coriander.