A Winning Dinner: Daal

On nights when I want it all — that elusive combination of a proper home-cooked meal that’s nutritious, speedy and delicious — I think daal.


(Or dal. Or dahl. Or dhal. It’s a confused place, my brain.)


Upload from January 10, 2012Whichever way you spell it, this impressive little dish derives its suite of superpowers from protein-rich dried pulses that have been scrubbed of their skins and sliced down the middle — daal means “split” — in the name of increased tastiness, digestibility and cooking speed. That being no small feat, cooks across the world, and across time too, have been harnessing these teeny half-marvels to serve up satisfying and convenient vegetarian meals. 


Given their long and global history, it’s no surprise that there are roughly a zillion ways to prepare daals. So the daal I’m sharing with you today — one of three that is in regular rotation in my kitchen — is by no means definitive. But it’s definitely good.


Upload from January 10, 2012

Made from my pulse of choice, super-speedy red split lentils, this daal goes from prep to plate in about 25 minutes (which, conveniently, is about the same amount of time it takes to make a batch of basmati rice). And the prep is simple: knife-work is kept to a minimum and the spices are called for in identical quantities, meaning you can head to the cupboard with a single measuring spoon in hand. 


The end results are awesome: intensely spiced but with no one ingredient overwhelming the rest, the daal gains the right amount of lightness from the sweet acidity provided by the tomatoes, lemon and yogurt. Throw in a bit of cool, bright cilantro and you’ve got a filling and fully satisfying meal. 


Upload from January 10, 2012

Serve it to guests (which I’ve done), throw it together on a rushed night in (I’ve done that too) or, you know, prepare it using a makeshift stove set up at the base of a mountain after a day of outdoor adventure (yep). Like I said: daal can do it all.


Simple Daal

Recipe courtesy of David (thanks, David!)

Serves 3-4 with rice (a speedy side of vegetables optional, but encouraged)

2 tbsp butter or oil 

1 small onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 cup red split lentils

3 cups water

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 dried hot red chili

1/2 tsp salt

1 medium fresh tomato or 4 teeny fresh tomatoes, diced (1/2 cup in total)* 

For serving: cooked basmati rice, fresh cilantro, lemon and yogurt 



1. Heat butter or oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot.
2. Add the onion to the pot and sautee, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and sautee, stirring frequently, until garlic is softening and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the curry powder, garam masala, ground coriander, ground cumin, and ground turmeric, and cook for another minute, stirring frequently. 

Upload from January 10, 20125. Add to the pot the lentils, water, tomato paste, chili pepper and salt. Increase heat to high, bring everything to a boil, then reduce heat to low/medium-low and simmer uncovered until lentils are tender, stirring often and adding more water as necessary (the end result should be the consistency of a very thick soup**), about 15-20 minutes.

6. Once the lentils are tender, stir in the tomatoes and cook for one minute more.
7. Remove daal from the heat, taste and adjust salt as necessary. 
8. Serve over hot basmati rice, and top with a small sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lemon and a big spoonful of plain yogurt


Upload from January 10, 2012

 *If your tomatoes aren’t super-ripe, add them at the same time you add the garlic so that they have time to soften and sweeten. 
**I cooked my lentils a little too long, so the end result is a bit thicker than it should be. If you follow the instructions as written, yours will be a bit thinner (and super-delicious!). 

« Previous post Next post »