I love Indian food and cook dal once a week or so. This delicious, satisfying and aromatic dish contains dry split peas or lentils, onions, tomatoes and spices. Even my picky daughter eats it.
Like kitchen sink soup, frittata and vegetable fritters, you can improvise with dal, adding a bit of this and a smidgen of that, depending on what ingredients you have on hand. Cooking this way, you’ll reduce food waste, make fewer trips to the store, save money and overall run a more efficient kitchen.
The loosey-goosey list of ingredients
For the basic recipe you will need:
- 2 tbsp coconut oil for sautéing
- 1 cup lentils (I used red)
- 3 cups water
- 1 chopped onion
- 4 cloves (or so) minced garlic
- 2 to 3 medium-size tomatoes
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds (use ground if you don’t have seeds)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1 tsp dry mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- Juice of 1 lime or, in a pinch, 1 lemon (I have lots of lemons from the yard but forgot to include one in the pic above)
- 1 tsp salt or more to taste
- 1/4 cup (or so) cilantro (I didn’t have any today but that’s just fine)
(Update 11/23/17: I’ve reduced the amounts of some of the spices here. I had been adding a tablespoon of each one but that can be a bit overpowering.)
You can also add:
- Minced serrano or jalapeño pepper (my younger daughter prefers it without)
- A cup or two of chopped vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, zucchini and so on. I often don’t add any additional vegetables other than the onion and tomatoes but I have some zucchini I need to use up and so added one today. I have made this with sweet potato and so much wanted to like it but did not one bit.
- Fresh ginger (I added this but again, forgot to include it in the pic)
- Other spices such as garam masala or amchoor powder
- Black sesame seeds. The largest jar in the pic contains a lifetime supply of black sesame seeds. My daughter bought them a few years ago for (I think) a fermented porridge dish she really liked at the time. I always add a teaspoon or so of these.
Vegan and vegetarian dishes like dal are easy to make without producing packaging waste if you have access to good bulk bins. We have wonderful bulk stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I can buy pretty much anything, including spices and coconut oil.
If lentils cause you intestinal discomfort, the night or morning before you cook them, soak them in water and toss in a few pieces of kombu. I have such a hippie kitchen now that when my daughter looked up how to prevent gas caused by eating legumes and said we needed kombu, I reached into the cupboard and handed her jar of it, which I had filled at the bulk bins.
1. Rinse lentils and add to a medium-size saucepan along with the water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until tender. They will look soupy once cooked.
2. Heat coconut oil in a large saucepan. Add onions, garlic and if desired, ginger. Saute over medium heat for five to ten minutes until the onions are translucent.
3. Add spices and cook for a minute.
4. Add tomatoes and vegetables and cook for about five more minutes.
5. Add cooked lentils and their water. Heat through.
6. Turn off heat and add lime or lemon juice and salt to taste. Stir in cilantro.
7. Serve the dal with yogurt (or not if you’re vegan) and rice, naan or roti, or for more of United Nations kind of meal, sourdough tortillas. Once or twice a week, I make tortillas with my discarded sourdough starter, following this recipe.