|I'm not claiming this recipe for Red Lentil Dal is 100% authentically Indian, but it's easy and delicious.|
One of the classic dishes in Indian cuisine is dal (also spelled dahl, daal, or dhal.) There are endless variations of this dish of split legumes or dried beans, simmered with spices until they are falling-apart soft and then often combined with a mixture of oil or ghee, fried onions, peppers and more spices. The world dal refers to the cooked dish and also the split legumes or beans it's made of and in various parts of India different types of dal are eaten with rice, vegetables, or Indian flatbreads such as Roti. I suppose the Mexican dish of refried beans is something you could compare this to if you're completely unfamiliar with Indian food, although that's an enormous simplification of something that's such a vital part of Indian cuisine.
I've admitted many times to being intimidated by Indian cooking, but recently I spotted a little book called Betty Crocker Easy Indian that had a lot of recipes that looked tasty, easy, and not completely Americanized (despite the name Betty Crocker on the book.) I made this recipe a couple of times to get a version I was happy with, and the one I'm sharing here produces slightly-spicy dal that's fragrant and delicious. I ate this with low-carb flour tortillas, but any kind of Indian bread or even pita bread would be good. And I'm feeling a little proud that despite my aversion to blogging schedules I've managed to have a meatless recipe on the blog again in time for Meatless Monday. (You can use that link to see the other meatless recipes I've shared since I started doing Meatless Monday or check Vegetarian Recipes in the archives for more meatless options.)
It's essential to use red lentils for this dish, because they cook quickly and dissolve, producing the creamy texture that makes dal so good. Rinse the lentils with cold water until there is no more cloudiness; then drain.
Simmer the lentils with 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric added for about 20 minutes. (Turmeric is the ingredient that makes curry powder yellow if you're not familiar with it.)
Here's how the lentils look when they're done. They should be soft, turned a slightly golden color from the turmeric, and most of the water should be absorbed.
This is completely inauthentic, but I used a small can of diced green chile peppers to replace the chopped fresh chiles the recipe called for. (I'm kind of a lightweight on spicy food and I know how hot these canned chiles are, but if you like it hot use fresh Thai, Seranno, or Cayenne pepper, chopped.)
Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet, then add the cumin seeds and "sizzle" for 30 seconds. Add the onions and saute for about 1 minute.
Add the ginger and cook about 2-3 minutes, stirring a few times. (If you're using chopped fresh chiles, add them with the ginger.)
Add the softened lentils and liquid, adding about 1/4 cup more water if there isn't much water left in the pan. Season with 1 tsp. salt and simmer on low heat until the lentils are mostly dissolves and the liquid is mostly evaporated.
I'm guessing it's a personal preference how "soupy" you like the finished dal to be, but here's how mine looked when I stopped cooking it. You can see the lentil shapes a little, but if you touch them they're mostly dissolved and they're slightly thick. Eat hot, with chopped cilantro or green onions sprinkled on if desired.
(Makes 6-8 servings as a side dish or snack, recipe adapted from Betty Crocker Easy Indian.)
2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed, and drained
1 tsp. ground turmeric
5 cups water
2 T grapeseed oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 small onions, chopped
2 T finely diced fresh ginger root
1 can (4 oz.) diced anaheim chiles with juice (or for more heat use 3 fresh Thai, Serrano, or Cayenne peppers, seeds removed and chopped)
1 tsp. salt
chopped cilantro or sliced green onions for garnish (optional)
If you buy lentils in bulk you may need to pick over the lentils to see if there are any stray rocks or other types of legumes mixed in. Rinse lentils with cold water until the water is not cloudy, then drain into a fine strainer. Put 5 cups water in a medium saucepan, add lentils and turmeric, and simmer until the lentils are starting to soften and water is mostly absorbed. This will take 15-25 minutes, depending on how fresh your lentils are.
While lentils are cooking, chop the onion, peel and finely dice the ginger root, and chop fresh chiles (if using). Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet, add the cumin seeds, and "sizzle" them for 30 seconds. Add the onions and stir-fry about 1 minute. Add the minced ginger root and stir-fry 2-3 minutes more or until the onions and ginger are both starting to soften and slightly brown. (If you're using fresh chiles, add them with the ginger.) Add the can of diced green chiles with juice and cook about 2 minutes more.
When lentils are soft, add them to the pan with the cumin seeds, onions, ginger, and chiles, and season with 1 tsp. salt. If there isn't much more water left in the lentils add 1/4 cup more water and then cook at a low simmer about 10-15 minutes more, or until the lentils are mostly dissolved and liquid is mostly evaporated.
I think it's a personal preference how soupy you like this dish, but I cook it until the lentils are mostly dissolved and the mixture is slightly thick. Eat hot, garnished with cilantro or sliced green onions if desired. This is good eaten with something like Indian flatbread, flour tortillas, or pita bread to scoop up the lentils.
Lentils and other low-glycemic legumes are approved for any phase of the South Beach Diet, but serving sizes are limited to 1/3 to 1/2 cup for phase one. I'd probably eat this for phase 2 or 3, with some whole wheat or low-carb tortillas or flatbread to scoop up the dal.
More Tasty Dal Variations to Try:
(Recipes from other blogs not always South Beach Diet friendly; check ingredients.)
Bengali Red Dal Curry from Jake from Kalyn's Kitchen
Spiced Vegetable Dal from Andrea Meyers
Dal Makhani, Oberoi Style from A Life (time) of Cooking
Andrha Tomato Dal from Sailu's Kitchen
Basic Yellow Split Pea Dal from Viet World Kitchen
(Want even more recipes? I find these recipes from other blogs using Food Blog Search.)