Dahl is perhaps the simplest yet most reliably gorgeous curried dish that you can make. Though lentils have a bad reputation: dismissed as the preserve of hippies and vegans, they are packed with protein, vitamins and trace elements and are low calorie as well. They also make for a very filling dish so they are ideal if you are on any kind of diet. Did I mention that they are delicious?
This dahl is made with chana dahl, which is very similar to the yellow split pea but cooks quite differently. Chana dahl will hold its shape well when cooked, while yellow split peas will go mushy when cooked. That said, for this recipe they are easily interchangeable so substitute one for another if you cannot find chana dahl on your supermarket shelf.
RECIPE – feeds 3, with rice and a side salad
250g chana dahl
1 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making it for a vegan)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 onion, peeled and diced
3 whole green chillies
a large knob of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp hot chilli powder
2 tsp ground coriander
a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped
Rinse the lentils thoroughly in three changes of water; the water will turn milky and you will know when they have been sufficiently rinsed because by the third rinse the water will be much clearer.
Cover the lentils with clean water, allowing a good inch of water above the level of the lentils. Bring to the boil, and skim off any scum that forms on the surface. Simmer for around 45-60 minutes, topping up the water as necessary, until the lentils are tender. Drain and set aside.
CAUTION: Do not season the water, the lentils will never be tender if they are salted before they are fully cooked.
If you have a pressure cooker the chana dahl will cook perfectly in around 18 minutes, but consult the instructions for your particular device.
Using a sharp knife, cut four small slits in each whole chilli, this will allow the sauce to penetrate and will flavour the sauce as well as tenderising the chilli. It makes them great to eat whole as part of the dish.
Put the ground turmeric, garam masala, hot chilli powder and ground coriander in a small bowl, add a little water and mix to a paste. Set aside.
Heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a large pan, when hot add the cumin seeds and fry for 30 seconds or so until aromatic, then add the onions, ginger and chillies and fry for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are starting to go brown. Add the spice paste and stir thoroughly so everything is coated.
Meanwhile, put the tinned tomatoes and crushed garlic in a blender and blitz to a puree, then add it to the onion mixture. Combine well, add a further 100ml of water and bring to the boil. Season and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the cooked lentils to the sauce, adding a little more water if necessary. At this point you can allow the dahl to sit for a few hours so the flavours can infuse.
When ready to eat, heat through thoroughly and garnish with the fresh coriander.
Serve with some plain steamed or boiled basmati rice. This goes perfectly with a side of onion salad.