Dhals are great- cheap, relatively simple to make and packed full of goodness. They’re also vegan,so they tick that box too.
There’s quite a variety, and over the years I have tried quite a few- so what we have here is the result of my tinkering to produce a quick, easy dhal, that I can knock up from memory, using store cupboard basics (ish).
All times and measures are approximate- this isn’t science.
First- put the kettle on.
In a medium saucepan I put red lentils [measured up to the 200ml mark on a measuring jug] about a teaspoon or so of turmeric powder, and then 500ml of boiling water. Stir, and keep on a low boil.
Stir occasionally, and keep an eye on it. After about 10 mins, mash it a bit with a potato masher, it helps to break up the lentils a bit, whilst leaving a few whole[ish], add more water if necessary and when you get to your desired consistency [you can tell or taste a bit- remember it’s not flavour you’re testing for] turn off the pan.
Whilst all this is going on, I have chopped an onion- 1 large or 2 small- and a Red [or Yellow or Orange- Red looks better] Pepper, 1 or 2 green chillies and stalks of coriander [if using] and put in a suitable receptacle to be blitzed to a paste with a hand blender, this is where the red pepper looks good.
In another larger pan [I use a heavy cast iron casserole type effort- Le Creuset stylee] I have poured some oil and popped it on a medium high heat. Then add a teaspoon of brown mustard seeds, wait for them to pop, then add a teaspoon of Ajwain seeds, stir then add the onion mixture and a teaspoon of salt [this helps to draw the moisture out of the onion and reduces burning], now add garlic
and ginger [I use little frozen blocks that are made by Taj, that my local Asda stocks- one of each is fine, by all means use fresh grated garlic and grated root ginger if you desire, a couple of cloves and a thumb size piece of Ginger should suffice.] turn to low pop a lid on and allow to sweat down.
Ajwain seeds [or lovage seeds] look like small Cumin seeds and have a thyme-y aroma- they help with digestion, and indeed, a pinch of seeds washed down with water is an old Indian remedy for stomach upsets.
When the onion mixture looks done, give a stir, add curry powder- I use Bolsts, as I haven’t tasted anything better, and I use their mild blend, as I can always add more heat if needed [It also isn’t as mild as other powders, it does contain chilli], fry off for a few seconds or so [I usually add a small amount of water to help the mixture along] then add a 400g tin/packet of chopped tomatoes and stir, allow this to mix together nicely then add the lentils, combine, cook on a low heat adding water if you want a looser consistency. I often add a green chilli, sliced down the centre, at this stage for a bit extra heat, and a tasty treat at the end!
At this stage you can pimp your dhal. In my local Asda, they have an excellent frozen section for Indian cuisine. They have the garlic and ginger that I mentioned earlier, fantastic samosas- vege and meat- flat breads, chapati and paratha [these are great, they are frozen at the dough stage, so you get a frying pan [or tavawa if you have one], put it on a medium heat, and pop them on to cook, keep flipping them til done, about a minute or two, and they’re delicious] and chopped veg. One of the things I add at thisstage is chopped Menthi [fenugreek] leaves,
these are in a frozen block, so keep working at breaking it down with a spoon [I probably need to work out a way to make this bit slicker- pop the block in a small amount of water towards the beginning of this recipe? That might do it…] chopped spinach is something else you could use.
I also add a tin of chick peas or beans- borlotti, black eye, pinto whatever floats your boat. This adds more protein, which is a good thing.
When all is good and happy with your dhal, a final flavour flourish is needed- I add a teaspoon or so of Garam Masala, stir in, allow to cook for a minute or so, and then add salt, pepper and juice of about half a lemon to taste- these three seasonings work like magic.
That’s about it- serve with rice, or bread [chapati or paratha that I mentioned work great here], or even- which has become a firm favourite on the Precinct, in a wrap topped with grated cheese, or salad leaves, or mayonnaise or all three- there are no rules!]
Get it in yer belly!