It’s 7 am in Varanasi, Northern India. The ghats are already swarming with devotees bathing themselves in the holy ganges. The sun is still low in the sky but the temperature is already becoming unbearable and the humid air is heavy as we anxiously await the delicious dahl.
We sit at a small table, tucked in a corner off the street. Wide-eyed, we stare at the chaos of the buzzing market. Hundreds of people, a few cows, and the odd mischievous monkey watching from the rooftops.
The steaming bowls arrive almost immediately. So simple, yet so complex, dahl is a staple of Indian cuisine and is found across the country. Often served at breakfast on its own, it’s also an accompanying dish with nearly every meal throughout the day.
Don’t let the ingredients or preparation intimidate you. Remember, it’s just a simple stew. Most of these ingredients should be available in most large supermarkets, but if you’re lucky enough to have an Indian market – even better.
If you’re vegan (I’m surprised you follow us – but thanks!), you can simply swap out the ghee for oil and use vegetable stock.
Red Lentil Dahl
1 tbsp Oil
1 tbsp Ghee or butter
1 cup Red lentils, picked through for stones
2.5 cups Chicken stock, vegetable stock also works
2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
1 yellow Onion, diced
1-inch knob of Ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 Tbsp Yellow curry powder
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Cumin, ground
1/2 tsp Thyme
1/2 tsp Coriander seed, crushed
1/2 tsp Garam Masala
1/2 tsp Cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp chili flakes, adjust for taste
1 Tomato, diced
1 Green onion, thinly sliced
1 small bunch Cilantro, roughly chopped
Bagaar (recipe below)
Lemon juice, to taste
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan on med/high, add the onion and ginger sauté for 10 minutes until onion is lightly browned. Add the garlic and sauté for 5 more minutes.
Mix in half amount of each curry powder, turmeric, cumin, coriander seed, and garam masala. Stir to incorporate fat with spices and turn heat to med/low. Add lentils and stir for two minutes to coat with oil and spices.
Slowly add the stock to the pan and stir, scraping up any bits that stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the other half of the spices as well as the thyme and cinnamon.
Turn down heat and let simmer for 20-25 minutes stirring to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. If it becomes too thick add a little more water as needed, it should be the consistency of a thin stew.
Stir in the hot bagaar – Carefully – The hot oil will splatter. Add the green onions and cilantro and stir thoroughly to combine.
Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.
Serve on rice or with flatbread.
1 tsp Oil
1 tsp Ghee (If you don’t have ghee, double the oil. Regular butter will burn.)
1/2 tsp Cumin seed, whole
1/2 tsp Coriander seed, whole
1/2 tsp mustard seed, whole (Preferably black, but brown or yellow will do.)
1/4 tsp Paprika, ground
1/2 tsp Turmeric, ground
2 Dried red chilis, or 1 tsp red chili flakes
Mix together the seeds in one bowl and powders in another.
Heat oil and ghee on medium-high heat and add the whole dried chilies. Be careful, as they can burst open. When the chilies start to sizzle add the seeds and stir to coat with oil. A few seconds later, stir in the ground spices.
This part is a little tricky, simply because it happens very fast. The spices can go from toasted to burnt very quickly. They should be in the pan no longer than 30 second; considerably less depending on the temperature of the pan.
The spices should smell strong and fragrant but not burnt. A good indicator is when the mustard seeds begin to pop. However, not all varieties will. Stir the hot oil-spice mixture directly into the dahl.