Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Authentic Red Lentil Dhal (Tarka Dhal)

Since my Trader Joe’s channa masala re-cooking experience, I proclaimed to my (Indian) friend S. that I would ‘cook’ India dishes and figure them out. An autodidact of Indian cuisine! She smiled politely and looked concerned at the same time (What I would do to those dishes?). Yesterday I said “Today, I will cook dal. Dal is a really bland dish, right?” she at last volunteered a recipe of how to cook it authentically. “It is really easy, you do……..”


And so, here we have it, authentic Indian dal. Naturally, I had to check the internet if others cooked it in the same way. Only Jamie Oliver and Madhur Jaffrey, the Marcella Hazan of Indian cooking, came close. The style of cooking it is also specific to Indian cooking. First, the lentils are cooked with water and a few spices, and then they are ‘dressed’ with hot, spiced oil with chilies and fried onions (the ‘tarka’). Normally, I would start with oil, onions, garlic, spices, and then add lentils and water, and cook it all together. But, alas, I was willing to do it the authentic way. 

The lentils are cooked to a really mushy, mashed potato like texture. When I sent S. a photo of the finished dish she remarked I could add some water. I guess, the texture is not quite so mousse like. Jamie Oliver recommends “They should have the consistency of porridge – thicker than soup and looser than houmous.”

Nevertheless the texture, it tasted really great.


Tarka Dhal (Red Lentil Dal)

  • 1 cup of dry red lentils (dal)
  • pinch of ground turmeric (1/8th – 1/4th of teaspoon)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (1/8th – 1/4th of teaspoon)
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 TB ghee or butter (ghee == clarified butter)
  • 1 shallot, small diced
  • 1 hot green chili, diced (I did not have any at hand, so I used hot chili oil)
  • salt to taste

In a heavy bottomed pot (best: le creuset dutch oven, or faster  in a pressure cooker), place the picked over lentils, water, the turmeric and cayenne pepper, and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce heat significantly, close with a lid, and let simmer for 50 min. Occasionally stir, and check for water levels, add more water if necessary.

At the end of the cooking time, heat the ghee in a pan, add the diced shallots and chili, and cook until browned and crispy. Add to the dal, and close the lid to capture the flavors for the dal. I mixed it in, and served it.


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