There are only a handful of recipes that have the power to take me back to my growing up years. And I’m not talking about those foods that remind me of grand memories or any sort of life-changing event. It’s a simple dal that my mom placed on our dinner table that we spooned over rice on the most average of weeknights that stands out in my mind and takes me back home. For many of my favorite childhood meals, I have to call my mom to find out exactly what ingredients to get, how to make a spice blend, or the right order to assemble it all together.
This easy dal, on the other hand, is my favorite recipe to make because it’s endlessly flexible, doesn’t require sticking to any hard and fast “rules,” and rarely results in having to call my mom because it didn’t turn out right.
There are so many dal varieties in Indian cuisine and for the most part, the different kinds we grew up on all followed the same formula. Some kind of lentil simmered in water with salt and made to varying degrees of soupiness. You could easily swap out any other lentil, green lentils, yellow lentils, black lentils, you name it. My mom makes hers a bit more watery at home, and I prefer mine a bit thicker so I can scoop it up with roti or naan. The thing that will make this simple or special is the tarka.
Tarka is basically roasted spices in ghee that helps you release the fragrance and flavor of spices and chiles before adding them to dishes. For a simple dal, you heat up some ghee and add cumin seeds to it. I’ll add a sprinkle of asafoetida to my tarka as well. For a tarka with a little something extra, you can add some finely chopped onions, garlic, ginger, or chiles to your ghee and then add that to the dal. I used to absolutely loathe finding chunks of onions and ginger in my dal growing up, so my mom would just make it with cumin for me, and that’s still my favorite way of making it.
This is one of those recipes that I turn to when I don’t feel like cooking at all. It comes together in fifteen minutes and is the ultimate cozy dish for me. I hope give this one a try and take a hand at trying some different flavors and spices in it!
- 2 cups of dried red lentils
- 3 1/2 - 4 cups of water* if you prefer less thick dal, add the extra water.
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tbsp of ghee
- 1 tsp of cumin seeds
- (optional) pinch of asafoetida
- Rinse the lentils under water two or three times. I add the lentils to the pot I will cook them in, add water to the pot and run my hand through the lentils. I then strain the lentils through my fingers, catching them in my hand. You could also use a strainer if preferred.
- Once the lentils are rinsed, add the water, salt, and turmeric to the pot. place on the stove and bring up to a medium/high heat, bringing the lentils up to a rolling simmer. stir the lentils and then cover the pot, lowering the heat to a low/medium heat so the water just has a light simmer.
- Cook the covered dal for about 7 minutes.
- While the dal cooks, in a small pan, add the ghee, melting and bringing it up to a medium heat. add the cumin seeds and optional asafoetida and heat through for just about a minute. Remove from heat.
- Once the dal is done cooking, remove from heat and add the melted ghee and cumin into the lentils, stirring to combine.
- Serve warm with rice or naan. Enjoy!