Dal was always a staple in my household growing up. Usually my dad would cook two curries a night, one of which was always dal. When I visit my family in India dal is served at most meals, including breakfast. It is one of the cheapest and easiest meals to make so I recommend this to even kitchen novices. It’s also a great source of protein, which is one of the reasons I also like to make it a lot! Dal is also a staple in Nepal in the dish Dal Bhat, which I served as part of the menu at my Nepal earthquake fundraiser.
This basic dal is a mix of green and brown lentils, although you can interchange different types of lentil. I would strongly recommend straying away from the usual western take on dal of just red lentils, as it’s pretty boring, and not very authentic. I’m not dissing red lentils – they are a staple in my kitchen but I would more likely use them in soups, lentil lasagne and other lentil creations. But if that’s all you have in, or want to experiment before branching out with other lentils, then it will work with red lentils too. The basic yellow dal you get in UK restaurants is often made with yellow split peas which is another option of a type of lentil.
As always, I recommend experimenting with your flavours and spices to suit your tastes. I rarely make a curry or dal that tastes exactly the same twice! Like all curries, it will taste even more delicious on the second day.
Basic dal (lentil soup curry) recipe
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 white onion, chopped
- 1/2 inch fresh ginger
- 2-4 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
- 1/2 inch fresh green chilli, chopped finely (optional – or lessen/increase the amount)
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 cup of lentils*
- 2 cups of vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp of almond milk or regular cream (optional)
- Salt, to taste
- Handful of fresh coriander
*I recommend 50:50 brown and green but you can also use red if that’s all you have got. Note that red lentils cook quicker than other types of lentils.
Dry fry the cumin seeds in your pot until they are browned and give off a warming smoky aroma. Add a little oil and once it’s hot, add your onion. Cook this on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes until soft. Then add two cloves of the crushed garlic, ginger and fresh chilli and cook until the garlic is lightly browned.
Add the lentils, garam masala, coriander powder, turmeric, salt and mix well so the lentils are coated in the spices. Add the stock and bring to the boil then simmer for around 30 minutes until the lentils are soft. Keep an eye on it, stirring occasionally, ensuring that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. You may need to add more water if it evaporates before the lentils are cooked and broken down. You are after a thick soup, almost sauce like consistency.
Stir through the milk or cream if using. Taste and add more spices, if required.
I like to slice then lightly fry in oil until brown and crispy two more cloves of garlic to serve on the top with fresh coriander. In my haste at the Nepal fundraiser I forgot to garnish the curries with fresh coriander – I was absolutely mortified! I’m sure nobody cared but I did, and in my (i.e. my father’s) eyes it is a cardinal (or Hindu god equivalent) sin.
What are your favourite curries? Are there any Indian dishes you’d love to know how to make? Let me know and I’ll see if I can get a recipe created for you.