Wednesday, 15 June 2011

How to make dahl

(Originally posted on facebook by Snigdha Nag on Wednesday, 30 June 2010 at 19:41, rewritten June 2011, with pictures).

Call them 'roots' or 'genes' or whatever, but now and then I get a compelling urge for the taste of wonderful Indian food. Only now is it being recognised that the turmeric, cumin and chilli used in Indian food are actually GOOD for you. Yes, gastronauts; the turmeric is a powerful anti inflammatory and is now thought to prevent bowel cancer; the cumin has a anti bacterial effect and chillies are loaded with antioxidants (more than oranges gramme for gramme!). So now is the time to say: I'm eating Indian and it's part of my health regime!

So, the dahl recipe I will share with you is as a result of many years of experimentation. It is a basic dahl with a tarka thrown in at the end. Yes, all those years you've been wondering what exactly 'tarka dahl' is, and now you've discovered the answer: it is simply lentils with hot fried spices stirred in at the end. You can add the tarka to any type of lentils you use, making it a tarka dahl.

There are many other dahl recipes. Some good, some bad. There are two secrets to this recipe. The first is that I use chana dahl, split black chickpeas without the skin, for its unique flavour and excellent texture when cooked. The second is that because it is cooked for well over 1 hour, the lentils slow cook, absorbing water slowly, causing them to swell and soften in a gradual manner. I find that other recipes which call for only 40 odd minutes of cooking don't achieve the same comforting texture.

For a very interesting article on the different ways of achieving perfect dahl (if not the perfect spelling of the word!), have a look at:

Serves 3 as a main meal with rice or 4-6 as a side dish with rice and curry.

For the dahl:
250g chana dahl (now even available in Tescos!!)
1 litre water
2 peeled slices of ginger of about 7-10mm thick
3 bay leaves
1 tsp turmeric

For the tarka:
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped into fine dice (about 1.5-2mm)
1 onion, halved and then sliced finely
1 and a half tsp 'Panch Phoran' (a Bengali spice blend available in Indian grocers, but if you can't be bothered, equally good is half a tsp of cumin and half a tsp of black mustard seeds)
A slurp of groundnut (peanut) oil

1. Put dahl and water in a saucepan (make sure it has a lid). Put on high heat on the hob. Bring to boil and boil for about 5 mins. Get rid of the horrible foamy scum as best as you can and then turn down heat to a simmer.
2. Add the ginger, bay leaves and turmeric. Stir thoroughly to mix up.
3. Put on a very low simmer. Place lid so that most of the pan is covered, but leave a small gap for the steam to get out, about half to 1 cm.
4. By about 40 mins the dahl should be getting tender. Take the lid off completely.
5. At about 1hr to 1hr 15mins the dahl will have lost a lot of water and should be thickening nicely. Now is the time to make the tarka.
6. Heat the oil in a frying pan. When hot add Panch Phoran and keep stirring. 
7. After about 1 minute, add the onion, and fry, stirring occasionally for 4 minutes.
8. Add the garlic. Fry for another 4-5 mins, keeping stirring the mix. When the onions have started to brown, you are ready for the final step. 
9. Now chuck the whole tarka into the saucepan of dahl. Mix up thoroughly. Serve.

Optional final step: add a handful of chopped coriander leaves for extra yummy flavour!

1 comment:

  1. aaaah WOW this is just what I needed.. last time I attempted to make it from scratch with green lentils, ended up with horrible SLIME. Karin x