(Part II of this series is here.)
Lentils are eaten all over the world. But the one used in India is called masoor. When whole, it looks much like a bigger French lentil, brown and UFO-shaped. Remove the husk and split it, and one is left with a orange flat disk. This is how masoor is available most of the time. Once cooked, it loses it orange and turns yellow like other dals. This dal has a very subtle flavor, and I find it works well to cook aromatics in the dal when it is simmering, rather than add it in fat later.
Simple masoor dal
- 3/4 cup masoor dal (red lentils)
- half a teaspoon turmeric powder
- half an onion, chopped
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
- half an inch piece of ginger, minced
- 1 serrano or jalapeno chili, sliced
- 2 small or 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 3-4 kokum pods, if you don’t have them, leave them out
- 1-2 tablespoons ghee
- a sprinkle asafetida
- a sprinkle or more of red chili powder
- half a teaspoon cumin seeds
- half teaspoon mustard seeds
- salt to taste
Rinse the dal and soak it in hot water for just 15 minutes to see the volume double. Longer is fine. Put the turmeric, the drained dal, and two and a half cups of water in a thick-bottomed pot. Add the chopped vegetables except the ginger.
Bring it to a boil, uncovered. Watch it carefully as it is about to boil, because the foam will rise to the top suddenly and overflow if it is covered. Once it does come to a boil, turn it down to a simmer, with a lid partially on. The dal will take 45 minutes to an hour. When the dal is softened (test it by squeezing between your finger and thumb), you can turn it off, or leave it at a very low simmer.
Whisk it with a whisk, or with one of these handy-dandy instruments, called a mandheera. Add salt to taste and cover.
Meanwhile heat the ghee in a small pan. In this recipe I find that the ghee really helps bring out the flavor of masoor. When the ghee is melted, sprinkle in the asafetida and the red chili powder. They will foam, now put in the cumin; when it sizzles put in the mustard seeds; when they pop, put in the ginger. In a minute or two the ginger will appear shriveled and cooked. Now turn off the flame and pour into the dal. Stir the ghee in.
At this point, the dal is ready. Adjust the salt. Garnish with chopped cilantro, or add lime juice. This goes well over rice and a dry or fried vegetable on the side.