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Eating In: No more dilly-dallying

29 May, 2020 — By Tom Moggach

MY virtual date with Amrita has inspired a new passion – getting to grips with dal.

Until lockdown, my experience of dal was limited to Indian restaurants. It was confusing dish – called dal, dhal or daal – with countless variations.

But an online cookalong, hosted by a home cook called Amrita, has shown me the light: dal is quick, simple, nutritious and highly adaptable. It’s also fantastically cheap. A kilo of red split lentils costs £1.80, so each serving is around 20p.

In essence, you just boil pulses until soft then add your favourite flavours and spices.

The first step is choosing the “dal” itself. This is a word that describes pulses that have been split.

A lentil, for example, is generally sold in three forms: whole, with the husk intact; split in half, still with the husk; or split, with the husk removed.

The quickest to cook are red split lentils, which take 20-25 minutes. Amrita used these to make her Tarka Dal, pictured, which is finished with chopped green chilli, tomato, onion and spices.

You could also use other colours of lentils and pulses such as chickpeas, mung beans and urid beans, but they may take longer to cook.

For this recipe, you need the red lentils, turmeric powder, salt and ideally some other spices. Amrita used cumin, mustard seeds, fenugreek and curry leaves.

Start by weighing 100g of dal per person. The quantities here are for four people, so scale accordingly.

Soak the lentils in cold water for 10 minutes and thoroughly rinse. Tip into a saucepan and cover with around 3cm of cold water. Add a tablespoon each of turmeric powder, fenugreek seeds (if you have them), plus a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, scoop off any froth, then simmer, lid on, until cooked. Top up with boiling water from the kettle if it might boil dry.

When the lentils are soft, gently mash them until they are the consistency you prefer. In a separate pan, heat vegetable oil, groundnut oil or ghee.

Add a tablespoon each of mustard seeds, cumin and curry leaves, then add chopped onions and fry gently until golden. Amrita then stirred in chopped tomatoes and green chilli. You could also add garlic and ginger. Stir this into the lentils and serve, perhaps, with a few sprigs of coriander.

This is only one method, but you can experiment as you wish. You can add a sour note with a squeeze of lemon juice. Some cook chopped rhubarb with the lentils for a similar effect.

Next time, I’m trying chopped up gooseberries – my favourite soft fruit and soon coming into season.



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