Red Lentil Dal

For the last couple of days we have been living with a sudden cold snap. While I have been working the big thick coat and bright scarf look by day, I have also been looking out more wintery recipes. Time for filling, spicy food.

I’ve been making quite a lot of dal recently. This is an Indian dish, which is a bit like a thick, spicy soup,  made either with split yellow peas or red lentils. I always go with the lentil option, as I like the texture when they are cooked. I love this recipe as it is simple, quick and can be made from things that you more than likely have in the cupboard, so it is perfect for those days when you don’t want to venture back outside into the cold, and possible snowy, streets. Yes, we could be getting snow soon! I am looking at pictures of friends in Australia and New Zealand lying on beaches and enjoying barbecues. Meanwhile, I am sorting out my scarves.

But the dal. While it is simple to make, you can play with the recipe quite a lot. You can make it thin, and use piles of fluffy hot rice to mop up the sauce, or go for a thicker version that is more like a curry. Also, the spices can be adapted – more or less cumin, a spot of curry powder, a little paprika, powdered ginger. It can also be jazzed up with spice seeds – cumin seeds, mustard seeds or black onion seeds can all be dry roasted and added to the dal to add a bit of visual interest and little bursts of flavour. You can even make this into a complete meal by adding pieces of paneer, chunks of vegetables or tofu. Quite how authentic this all is I cannot say, but it’s tasty, and at the end of that day, that’s what matters!

Just a couple of points to note: I think the turmeric is essential. It provides a pleasant, warm flavour, but more importantly, it makes the dal a bright yellow colour, which looks amazing on the table.

Also: butter isn’t really part of this recipe, but I find that adding a knob at the end of cooking makes a slightly richer dish. Hey, it’s cold out there, and we need to keep warm!

To make lentil dal (serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main):

• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
• small knob fresh ginger, finely grated
• 150g red lentils
• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
• 1/4 teaspoon chili or paprika
• 1 litre water
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 25g butter
• juice of 1/2 lemon
• salt, to taste
• pepper, to taste

Add the onion, garlic, ginger, lentils, turmeric, chili/paprika and water to a large pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the lentils are soft and the dal is creamy. If you like a very smooth dal, beat the mixture with a whisk, but I don’t do this as I prefer a bit of texture.

In a saucepan, heat the cumin and coriander (without any oil) until fragrant. Add the coriander, cumin, butter and lemon juice to the dal, and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice and naan bread.

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