Split Lentil / Masoor Dal

Split lentils (masoor dal) are bright orange in color but they turn yellow when cooked. Mainstream grocery stores carry them. This is an easy, everyday dish, a source of protein in an Indian meal. Families have different dals and beans each day. We sometimes enjoy a bowl of slightly thinned out dal as a bowl of soup for lunch. Again, the list may look long but these are ingredients most of my friends have. It is just three steps: boil, puree, flavor. A beautiful meal for four, well under $10.

While the dal cooks, prepare the ingredients for tempering (vaghaar, tadka). Tempering is roasting spices, ginger, garlic, chilis in hot fat, blooming them, as their flavors are released in the hot fat. Keep everything ready and close to the stove when tempering as the process is fast and you do not want to go looking or preparing the ingredients and have the fat burn! While the dal is cooking, the rice can be cooking as well. There is little hands on work for a lovely meal for four under $10–probaby $5.

There is relatively little fat and lots of flavor. With brown rice and salad, it makes for a very economical, nutritious, vegan and gluten-free meal. It freezes well for a couple of weeks.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups split red lentils / masoor dal (orange in color, picked over and rinsed in cold water till the water is almost clear)
  • 3 large plum tomatoes cut into chunks
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 tablespoon oil (canola, grapeseed, avocado) or ghee
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
  • 2 whole cloves
  • a big pinch of asafetida (hing) (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1 minced green or red chili (or to taste)
  • 1 clove minced garlic (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro with stems
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 6 curry leaves (optional)

Steps

  1. In a large pot with a heavy bottom, place the rinsed lentils, chopped tomatoes, and water. Bring to a simmer and then partially cover the pot and simmer gently till well-cooked and soft. This takes 20-30 minutes. Stir every now and then to ensure even cooking and add more water if needed.
  2. When the dal is really soft and mushy, switch off the heat. Puree it with a stick blender or a whisk.
  3. This step is called tempering. Spices are roasted, or bloom, in hot oil. This is the flavoring mixture. Dals are bland and need to flavored. So keep everything that you need for tempering near you as this step goes fast and you do not want to go around looking for ingredients while the oil burns. In a large heat and flame-proof ladle or small pan, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and cloves. In few seconds they will turn a couple of shades darker and become fragrant. Add the asafetida, ginger, chili, turmeric, curry leaves and toast the spices  for 30-60 seconds till fragrant. Then add the  cilantro and salt to the oil. Stir and roast everything in the oil for a minute taking care not to burn it.
  4. Add all roasted spices and flavorings to the cooked lentils/dal. Stir and bring the dal to a gentle simmer for 3-4 minutes of minutes. Serve hot.

As the dal sits, it gets thicker. Thin it out with water and simmer before serving. The dal can be cooked a day or two ahead. It goes well with rice, quinoa, and Indian breads, or pita.

Serves 6. Preparation and cooking time: 40 minutes.

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